Beyond the considerable emotional pain, the end of a marriage is legally complex. This page reviews alternatives to divorce and failing these, the procedures for obtaining a divorce. Consult a lawyer if your marriage is ending. You will need sound professional advice to determine child custody, financial support, and make a fair division of the property of the marriage.
ALTERNATIVES TO DIVORCE
Depending on your circumstances, you may wish to consider alternatives to divorce - marriage counseling, annulment or separation. Many couples try counseling from a marriage counselor, social worker or psychotherapist as an alternative to divorce. Such counselors are trained to help couples resolve differences. The counselor may be able to help you and your spouse learn communication skills and a better understanding of one another to prevent your marriage from failing. Marriage counseling can be useful when couples find their problems have begun to affect their compatibility with each other. Counseling may also keep a relationship with your spouse from worsening even if divorce is unavoidable.
An annulment is a court ruling that a marriage was never legally valid. A marriage can only be annulled if there was a serious defect at the time of the marriage ceremony. In most states, marriages can be annulled if one of the parties was under age at the time of the marriage, if a spouse could not consummate the marriage, if consent was obtained fraudulently, or if the marriage was bigamous or incestuous.
GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE
Common grounds for a fault divorce are adultery, bigamy, cruelty, desertion, incest and insanity. Hawaii has adopted "no fault" divorce laws that allow divorce without showing that one spouse was at fault. A divorce can be obtained because of incompatibility or irreconcilable differences or if spouses live apart for a period of time.
Divorces may be uncontested or contested. An uncontested divorce can be granted when the parties agree on all issues such as child custody, support and property division. It may involve the filing of papers at the courthouse and, perhaps, a brief appearance before a judge.
A contested divorce, where the parties cannot agree to terms, resembles a standard lawsuit with a trial before a judge.
CHILD CUSTODY AND VISITATION
Child custody can be given exclusively to one spouse, or you can share joint custody. In most cases, one parent has sole custody and the children live with that parent. The other parent usually has visitation rights taking the children on weekends, holidays, or vacations. In certain circumstances, the parties may agree or the court may order joint physical custody where the children spend time living with both parents on a regular basis. Frequently, spouses share responsibility for important decisions affecting their children, such as choosing schools and medical treatment.
SPOUSAL AND CHILD SUPPORT
Spousal support is called alimony or maintenance in some states. Either you or your spouse may be entitle to spousal support depending in your income and property, your standard of living, your financial needs, and the circumstances leading to the divorce. If you and your spouse are unable to agree on support, a judge will decide who should pay it, how mush is to be paid, and how long it will continue. The judge may award spousal support until the receiving spouse is self supporting or until death or remarriage.
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