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It is important to stay knowledgeable and in touch as you undergo the complicated process of getting divorced. Below are some questions that should go through your mind as your separate from your spouse.
1. What are my rights?
You have the right to ask for certain custody and support features to accommodate your needs as a lower-earning spouse. While each state has its own laws and procedures when it comes to divorce, the law typically protects the financially weaker spouse and any children. Courts aim to make sure that all members of the household are sufficiently cared for and supported, which may be in the form of child support or alimony.
A judge can order your spouse to provide you with financial support during the divorce or once it becomes final. Courts usually award alimony to the spouse with a lower income so that he/she can maintain the reasonable standard of living that existed during the marriage. Spousal support gives newly divorced people the time to obtain the skills or training required to support themselves financially
You have the right to marital property. Most courts recognize that spouses have equal claims to all property they jointly acquired during the marriage. You may have a right to half of all this marital property. In Massachusetts, courts divide marital property equitably — in a way that they believe is fair given the circumstances — though not necessarily equally. Marital property includes any property, assets, or income acquired by either spouse during the marriage. Marital property does not include any “separate” property, which is any property, assets, or income acquired by a spouse prior to the marriage, or that a spouse gains through gift or inheritance during the marriage. “Separate” property generally remains with the original owner and cannot be divided by the court, unless it becomes indistinguishable from marital property.
You have the right to evaluate your spouse’s finances, assets, income, and other resources. The exchange of information is a crucial step in the divorce process because it gives you an opportunity to properly review your spouse’s financial records. All assets need to be shared because the settlement is based on the principle of equity with regard to each spouse’s needs.
In Massachusetts, “Supplemental Rule 410” ensures that both you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse cooperate early in the divorce process so that you have an accurate understanding of each other’s financial situation. The required documents reveal all bank records, tax returns, investment account statements, the last four employee paystubs, and health insurance information. Some spouses might try to hide assets. You have the right to employ legal means to compel your ex-spouse to bring all of his/her assets into the light.
You have the right to a fair financial settlement based on your needs both individually and as a parent. Consult with an attorney to learn more about the specific laws and rights you have in your state. Protect your rights with knowledge and counsel.
2. What are the first steps I should take when it becomes clear that divorce is in my future?
Get your household in order. Gather the necessary paperwork relating to your finances, keep a diary, and make lists of your assets and liabilities. Locate your marriage certificate. If you cannot find it, order a certified copy from the town clerk in the town in which you acquired your marriage license. Dig up pay stubs, tax forms, property tax bills, mortgage statements, bank statements, credit card statements, and any other documentation you think might be important. Make sure the paperwork is gained legitimately and not through scrupulous means. There are legal ways to gain access to information you do not know.
Protect your interests. Do not leave the house or make any big purchases upon the breakdown of your marriage, and alert your attorney immediately if credit cards are being cancelled or money is being removed from joint bank accounts.
Consult a lawyer promptly to help you understand the process and what is involved in moving forward. It is never too early to seek professional advice about your case. In fact, you should ask an attorney for advice and information if you are even considering a divorce. Divorce is a life-altering decision and should not be made without some serious thought and research. Gather as much information as you can about your options. Ask your lawyer about divorce, separation, support, and what to expect going forward.
Verify where and how you can file for divorce. Certain residency requirements must be met for any state court to accept a divorce petition. A divorce case can be handled in Massachusetts if either spouse has lived in the Commonwealth for at least one year prior to filing, or if the reason the marriage broke down happened in Massachusetts and you have lived in the state as a couple.
There are different types of divorce in every state. There may be variations in legal or financial requirements, or in the manner in which you and your spouse choose to approach the divorce. Understanding the differences and your needs will help make proceedings more efficient and straightforward. Choose which type of divorce is right for you before filing.
In Massachusetts, a divorce may be filed as “no-fault” or “fault”, and can be either contested or uncontested. “No fault” divorces follow a marriage that is indisputably broken beyond repair, but neither spouse blames the other. Most people file for “no fault” divorce based on an “irretrievable breakdown” of their marriage. On the other hand, there are several grounds for a “fault” divorce, in which one spouse is considered at fault for causing the marriage to fail.
Under Massachusetts law, a spouse can file for divorce in three specific ways: First, a joint petition, typically an uncontested “1A” divorce, which involves no fault and uncontested terms for divorce settlement. Second, one spouse can file an individual complaint, typically a contested “1B” divorce, which involves no fault, but contested terms. Lastly, one spouse can file for a “fault” divorce, in which that spouse must prove existence of one or more of the following grounds: adultery, desertion, gross and confirmed habits of intoxication, cruel and abusive treatment, impotency, non-support, or a prison sentence of five years or longer. A “fault” divorce is often more expensive and lengthy than either type of “no fault” divorce.
4. How do I choose the right lawyer?
Selecting a divorce attorney is one of the most important steps in the divorce process. But finding the right lawyer for you is tricky. Divorce is a complicated, emotional journey full of twists and turns, and you need someone to expertly navigate the water. You want to feel comfortable with the guide you have chosen, and see potential for a working relationship of mutual trust and openness. Find someone with whom you feel at ease discussing personal, emotional matters in a frank way. Some women, for instance, prefer to divulge personal details to a female attorney.
Choose a lawyer who has experience in the circumstances of your case. Do you need a lawyer accustomed to dealing with custody issues? Do you require the expertise of someone well versed in family businesses, property, or taxes? Are you looking at a highly contested divorce and require the services of a seasoned litigator? Perhaps you prefer an attorney with a wide range of experience.
Beyond a lawyer’s experience, you might want to consider cost. Perhaps you do not enjoy the luxury of money being no option. Consider a lawyer who will not break the bank. If your case becomes the least bit complicated, or you are unsure about how to proceed, you have to be willing to freely confer with your lawyer to protect your interests.
5. How can I minimize my legal bill?
Attorneys usually charge on an hourly basis, so it might be worthwhile to do what you can to save them time and cut down your legal bill. Prepare as much as possible for your initial consultation, with a list of predetermined discussion points, issues, and questions. Gather any relevant paperwork as soon as possible. Make sure you are prompt and prepared for every phase and meeting so that you and your attorney can focus on specific, pressing issues. Take notes during meetings for your records and try to consolidate any questions you might have. Also, you might want to save long, emotional conversations about the end of your marriage for another (less expensive) listening ear.
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