You have decided you need a divorce but have no idea how to begin or what you should do. Unlike most litigation, this lawsuit involves your spouse, someone with whom you have lived and been intimate for a significant period of time, someone with whom you may have children. This is a very different kind of lawsuit and needs to be approached with sensitivity.
First, you need to decide if you and your spouse can work cooperatively on this divorce or not. The less cooperation means the more money; it’s that simple. I am a fan of cooperation, but not at the expense of “losing your shirt,” or your house, or your children.
Divorce is not overly complicated but there are certain nuances that you need to understand. For example, you cannot have alimony for longer than the length of the marriage in Utah. Which one of you is entitled to claim the children for tax exemptions–the IRS regulations say one thing and the State divorce laws say another. Or what will the non-working spouse do about health insurance? Even if you agreed, the working spouse cannot continue to maintain a former spouse on his employer’s health insurance policy after the divorce, except through an expensive COBRA policy.
If you and your spouse can cooperate, then I suggest a one-time consult with a family law attorney to learn and understand your rights and obligations. Then you can attempt a resolution by mediation. Any agreement signed in mediation can be filed with the court and you can make your divorce petition and final decree mirror that agreement. Most attorneys will do that kind of a divorce for a flat fee. In our office that is $1,500, including the $365 filing fee.
There are times when a divorce is more contentious and then you need attorneys from the beginning. If that is the case, make an appointment with an attorney and bring all your financial records. The less you know about your family finances, the sooner you should make that appointment because the other spouse may be draining those finances. One thing to remember about divorce law is that the court does not usually care about whose name is on the asset (i.e. house, car, account). If it was purchased during the marriage it is usually a marital asset that is required to be divided equally.
Because obtaining a final divorce can take several months, there are procedures in place to obtain “temporary orders”. You may need this if you and your spouse cannot agree on who will stay in the house, who will maintain the marital debts, or what schedule will be implemented for the children, while the divorce is pending. Check out our website for more information on the divorce process. You have many options, but you should make the choices from a place of knowledge, not fear or ignorance.