A divorce legally dissolves a marriage. Although citizens are not guaranteed a constitutional right to divorce, all states recognize divorce because it serves the public good. In order to ensure that the public good is served, many states require a “cooling off period” which constitutes time after a married couple has legally separated, that they must take before any divorce proceedings are initiated.
Courts in the United States recognize two types of divorces: absolute divorce and limited divorce. In order for a spouse to obtain an absolute divorce, courts require that the spouse show that their partner has committed some act of misconduct or wrongdoing. Grounds for an absolute divorce can include things such as infidelity or abandonment. Once an absolute divorce is granted, both parties’ statuses are reverted to single and both parties are able to remarry. Any property that the married couple has accumulated together is usually divided in half. Based on the circumstances surrounding the divorce, judgments will be made regarding child custody, alimony and child support. On the other hand, limited divorces, do not officially dissolve a marriage and the parties’ statutes are not changed to single. Limited divorces simply dissolve the right to cohabitate. Some states also allow for conversion divorces: in this instance the court converts legal separations into a legal divorce after a certain statutory period has passed.
Many states also have no-fault divorce statutes. Here, there is no need to show spousal misconduct or wrongdoing in order to obtain a divorce. A spouse simply needs to state a reason that the state recognizes as grounds for a divorce. The most common reason stated for no-fault divorces is irreconcilable differences.
After a divorce has been finalized, the court must divide the marital property. In order to do so, the court recognizes two types of property: marital property and separate property. Marital property is defined as any property the couple has accumulated during the duration of the marriage. This includes property acquired either together or individually. On the other hand, separate property is any property that a spouse has acquired prior to being married. Courts strive to divide property as equitably as possible. This does not necessarily mean that each spouse will receive half of the marital property, but rather the allocation should be based on fairness and justice given the circumstances surrounding the divorce. Courts may take factors into account such as contribution to the accumulation of marital property, earning capacity of each spouse, whether one spouse will receive child support etc.
When a couple gets divorced, alimony may also be an issue. Alimony refers to payments from one spouse to another. Alimony comes in three forms: permanent alimony, temporary alimony and rehabilitative alimony. Permanent alimony is paid indefinitely. The only way to discontinue permanent alimony is if the paying spouse dies or the spouse receiving payments remarries. Permanent alimony payments may be adjusted upward or downward depending on the surrounding circumstances. For instance, if the paying spouse losses his/her job and is unable to pay alimony at the same rate, the court may allow for a payment reduction. Temporary alimony requires payment for a short period of time so that the receiving spouse can get back on his or her feet. The period of time will cover the length of time for the property division litigation. Rehabilitative alimony is similar to temporary alimony in that it requires one spouse to pay alimony for a short period of time. However, payment for rehabilitative alimony begins after property division litigation has concluded. Alimony is allocated with the intention of allowing a spouse to continue living to the standard of living he or she has become accustomed to. If the couple has had children while married, the court may also require that one spouse pay child support to the spouse who regains custody. However, alimony and child support are two separate things.