When I mention to people that I'm a divorce lawyer, they usually joke about how they hope they'll never need me. But then, privately, they pull me aside and ask me the questions that they have clearly been carrying around with them for some time -- questions about child support, alimony, property division and child custody. It's understandable, considering that the divorce rate in America is already about fifty percent. That probably means that about half of the married people you meet in any given day are at least thinking about divorce.
These people are wrestling with the question, "Should I stay or should I go?" and need help in weighing the consequences of divorce with the positive changes in their life that they obviously are seeking.
"Every case is different," I tell them, because the issues embedded in the "stay or go" dilemma are never simple and there are many factors that should be considered and weighed before making one of the biggest decisions of your life. And not all of these factors are legal considerations. There are mental and emotional health issues for individuals and their children. Indeed, "divorce is not a simple act," states Laura Roman, LCSW, a Relationship Coach in Wexford, PA.
"Marriage is complicated. I liken it to an underground cable, you can cut the main cable, but then you find these fine wires that link you together. Sometimes it takes months or years to sever those connections," says Roman. Being able to understand how all of these factors are impacted by divorce is critical before making the decision to pursue the legal process in divorcing a spouse.
While there's no substitute for sitting down with a divorce attorney for a complete assessment of your situation, there are some truisms that apply to most situations across the board:
- Your divorce may take longer that you anticipated. In Pennsylvania, unless both parties consent to the divorce, in which case there's a 90-day waiting period, they must be separated at least two years before the court will even begin looking at dividing the marital property. Often, even if the lower income earner wants the divorce, they will not sign a consent because Pennsylvania provides for alimony pendente lite (APL), a temporary form of alimony that may be awarded while the divorce is pending that is up to forty percent of the difference of the net incomes of the parties. Even in states with shorter waiting periods, such as Georgia, which has only a 31-day waiting period, the divorce often takes as long as the slower party wants it to go.
- The finances will be complex. Often times, the payer of alimony and/or child support believes they are paying too much and yet the recipient does not feel they are receiving enough. A difference of perspective, perhaps. It's also sometimes a result of there not being enough income to go around now that the parties are supporting separate households. If either party owned assets prior to the marriage or if either party owns part of a business interest, a financial expert, such as a forensic accountant, may need to be involved. The financial side of Pennsylvania divorce law is complex and to have the best outcome in terms of property division and support requires the services of an experienced attorney that specializes in divorce.
- You most likely will not see your kids every day. Most people with children are used to seeing them on a daily basis prior to the separation. In all likelihood, once you live apart, your children will divide their time between you and your former spouse's households. Of course, the prevailing standard is best interests of the children, and what that looks like varies from family to family.
- You will be happy when your divorce is final. I have been a divorce lawyer for 12 years and have yet to see a client that was unhappy when their divorce became final. That's because regardless of the financial toll and the length of time the divorce took, they have their freedom from an unfulfilling marriage and are ready to move on. That said, Roman reminds us that although "divorce does give you freedom, if you have children, it also gives you compounded responsibility." While most clients say they will never marry again, yet many of them do, often with a prenuptial agreement in hand.