Ok, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of it. It’s time to set aside the emotional side of your life for a little bit, and turn as logical as possible. There are several distinct portions of the divorce that you’re going to have to tackle:
- Child Custody, Visitation and Child Support
- Alimony or Spousal Support
- Splitting up the property
- Splitting up the debt
When it comes to the legal process of taking a marriage apart, the single most important aspect of the entire thing is making sure that the right thing is done for the children. Now understand that splitting up the property and the debt may ultimately affect the children, but compared to custody, visitation and child support, everything else is secondary. Working out the details of the custody and visitation is a process that MUST be undertaken with as much compassion and forgiveness as you can muster. This is NOT the time to be trying to get even with your spouse, this is NOT a great way to punish him/her for breaking your heart, this is a time when you MUST place the needs of your children above all else.
Child custody is the legal definition of the process of sharing the actual housing and care of the children. Times have changed, and most states now recognize the benefits of both parents continuing to play nearly equal roles in the day to day process of raising the children. Obvious exceptions to this are situations where abuse or neglect are involved, but we don’t have the space to go into such issues here. As long as both parents were involved in the day to day lives of the children before the divorce, they should still be involved after the divorce. This is typically referred to as joint custody. In the majority of joint custody cases, the children will split their time between the homes of the parents, and both parents will actively participate in the day to day decisions that are made affecting the children’s’ lives. The schedule that defines when the children stay with you and when they stay with their spouse is something best arrived at by you, your spouse and to some degree, the children. Be fair, give and take a little, and understand that the children will benefit from being able to share quality time with BOTH of their parents.
When custody is not joint or shared, visitation defines the timing of visits between the children and the parent that they are not living with. Visitation may be structured or very flexible, again hopefully depending on what makes the most sense for the children. In all but the most extreme situations, divorce courts will allow some form of regular visitation. Again, this is not the time nor the topic to fight over with your spouse. Attempting to remove a parent from the lives of their children will only continue to perpetuate the pain and suffering associated with the divorce. Allowing normal, regular visitation keeps both parents involved, and the children are much more likely to grow and heal normally from the divorce if they are allowed to continue to spend time with both parents.
Child support is typically defined as the monetary support that one spouse will pay to the other to compensate for the separation of households. Typically, the father will be expected to pay child support to the mother, especially in cases where the father has left the household and the mother is responsible for the majority of the day to day expenses associated with the care of the children. Again, we say typical here only where the divorce is “typical”. Once again, most states are beginning to modify the approach to divorce, and many are making child support payments a straight calculation, based on how many overnights the children stay with each parent, and how much money each parent earns. In this new approach, there is no assumptions made prior to the calculation, whoever has the children the least amount of time, and also makes the highest income, will be responsible for paying child support. Once this amount is determined by the court, it becomes a legal requirement that must be paid on a regular basis. Most states now make it relatively easy for wages to be garnished if the person responsible for child support fails to make regular payments. And the courts will usually not allow any non-payment, for any reason. For instance, if your ex-spouse skips your regularly scheduled visitation period, you can NOT withhold child support payments to get even with him/her. Child support and visitation are two entirely separate issues in the eyes of divorce judges, so don’t attempt to use non-payment of child support as a tool to control the behavior of your ex-spouse.