Whether it is something you have considered for a long time or you are facing a traumatic event in your marriage, the decision to divorce is seldom an easy one to make. If you and your spouse have children, you may be especially troubled about the difficulties in your marriage and the possibility that those troubles could bring your union to an end.
If you feel divorce is inevitable, your first move should be learning everything you can about the divorce process and the laws of Pennsylvania. An attorney can answer your questions for you and help you take the appropriate steps to ensure your best interests are protected throughout the process of property division and child custody arrangements.
The first steps
Remember that while divorce is an emotional event, much of the process involves dividing your possessions. The longer you have been married, the more complicated this may be. Before filing for divorce, you will want to gather all your financial information and make copies of important documents, such as your income tax returns, pay stubs, mortgage and bank accounts. You should inventory your assets, including retirement funds and real estate, and gather details about any debt you and your spouse accumulated during your marriage.
Once your attorney has copies of these documents, he or she will assist you in the following steps:
- Divorce petition: You will file your petition with the court, describing the grounds for your separation and summarizing your settlement goals.
- Legal separation: The court issues temporary orders such as child custody, payment of bills and living arrangements until the settlement is finalized.
- Discovery: This step when you and your spouse reveal to each other all financial information can be challenging if the divorce is not amicable. It is critical that both of you are completely forthcoming about your assets and debts.
- Property division: The best way to handle asset division is negotiating with your spouse, but in lieu of that, the courts will divide your marital property and debts equitably.
If you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement outside of court, you can expect to take your divorce before a judge. This way to settle a divorce is rarely satisfying to either party and often results in numerous trips back to court to resolve trivial matters that you could more easily settle with rational conversation.
Nevertheless, whether your spouse is willing or unwilling to negotiate the terms of your divorce, having a legal advisor from the beginning of the process will improve the chances of obtaining a reasonable and fair settlement.