A divorce is a legal proceeding that dissolves a marriage. Following the finalization of a divorce, each party is free to remarry if they desire to do so.

The laws that govern divorces are divorce laws. Divorce decrees are final rulings from courts which provide judgments and orders which make the termination of the marriages official.

Each party’s divorce decree will be different and will be based upon the unique facts and circumstances of each case. A divorce decree serves to outline the duties and rights of each of the parties in connection with their divorce as well as to provide instructions related to child custody as well as division of property, if applicable.

Divorce decrees are important because the process of the divorce is not complete until the divorce decree is issued. Because of this, the parties’ status as either married or divorced will not change until the divorce decree is ordered.

A divorce proceeding that is not yet finalized may affect numerous different areas of an individual’s life, including:

  • Debt;
  • Property possession;
  • Taxes;
  • Employment benefits; and
  • Other legal rights.

Divorce decrees typically address issues including, but not limited to:

  • Division of property between the parties;
  • Spousal support or alimony;
  • Issues related to children, if applicable, including:
    • custody;
    • support; and
    • visitation; and
  • The financial obligations of each of the parties, for example, if debts are to be paid by one or more of the parties.

In addition to these types of legal issues, divorce decrees will usually contain basic information regarding the divorce case, including:

  • The names of the parties;
  • The effective date of the divorce decree; and
  • The case number.

This information may be helpful when an individual attempts to locate the records of their divorce at a future time. Divorce records are usually kept at the local county records office.

Divorce records provide evidence that the parties to the case were married and that they legally and officially terminated their marriage. Divorce records can also be referred to as marriage dissolution certificates.

A divorce record is usually a copy of the divorce decree that was issued during the divorce proceedings. The documents related to a divorce are usually filed for safekeeping in the county recorder’s office where the divorce occurred.

Divorce records may be official, which means that they can be accessed from state records for a fee, or they may be indexed, meaning that they are accessible through various organizations or websites.

Where Can I Get a Divorce?

Every state requires that the spouse who is filing for the divorce is required to be a resident of that state for a certain length of time. Being a resident means that the individual has a physical presence as well as the intent to remain indefinitely in that state.

An individual, however, may work outside the state while they are establishing residency, so long as they actually reside in the state where they are attempting to establish residency.

Numerous counties also have their own specific residency requirements.

How Long Must I be a Resident to Get a Divorce?

How long an individual must be a resident to get a divorce will vary by state. In addition, as noted above, many counties also have their own requirements.

In general, states require that the filling spouse be a resident for 6 months to 1 year prior to filing for divorce. For example states that have a 6 month, or 180 residency requirement, including:

  • Vermont;
  • Texas; and
  • Pennsylvania.

States with a residency requirement of 1 year include:

  • Connecticut;
  • Iowa;
  • New York.

There are a few states that have shorter required periods. For example, there is only a 60 day residency requirement for a party to file for divorce in the following states:

  • Arkansas;
  • Kansas; and
  • Wyoming.

What if My Spouse Now Resides in a Different State Than I Do?

If an individual and their spouse reside in different states, they both have the right to file for divorce in their current home states. If an individual believes that their spouse is going to file for divorce another state, they may want to consider filing first for their own convenience.

If an individual’s spouse does file for divorce in another state, the individual may be required to travel there for the divorce proceedings as well as to modify property settlement agreements, child support, and custody orders in the future.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Divorce?

A divorce may take a short amount of time or it may take a while. This will depend upon how the parties are able to cooperate and come to mutually agreeable settlement terms.

In addition, a state will have a waiting period between when the divorce is filed and when the divorce decree can be issued. The waiting period is intended to allow the spouses enough time to:

  • Consider the divorce;
  • Consider any settlements they wish to negotiate; and
  • To ensure they do not wish to reconcile.

Although the waiting period varies from state to state, the waiting period is often around 60 days.

What about Property Division after a Divorce?

It is common for individuals who are filing for divorce to come to an agreement regarding the division of their debts and property on their own. In cases where the parties cannot reach an agreement, the court has to step in and apply the laws of the state in order to settle the dispute.

The state laws which govern the division of marital property during the divorce are classified in two categories, community property states and equitable distribution property states. States that have the community property system include:

  • Arizona;
  • California;
  • Idaho;
  • Louisiana;
  • New Mexico;
  • Texas;
  • Washington; and
  • Wisconsin.

In the states listed above, all of the property of the married parties is classified either as community property or as separate property. Community property is property which is owned equally by both of the spouses.

Separate property is the property of one of the spouses. When individuals divorce, community property is usually divided between the spouses equally and each spouse will keep their own separate property.

Every other state uses the equitable division of the property system. With this system, the assets and earnings of the individuals that were accumulated during the marriage are equally divided. A court will consider many factors and will examine the financial situation of each of the spouses in order to determine how to fairly divide the marital property.

The factors a court may examine includes the duration of the marriage as well as the earning potential of each of the spouses.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Get a Divorce?

The legal process for obtaining a divorce may be very confusing and stressful for all parties involved. If you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to divorce in your state, it may be helpful to consult with a divorce lawyer who can help you understand how the law in your state will impact your divorce.

Your lawyer will also represent you in court if a dispute arises during the proceedings. Having a lawyer on your case will help ensure that your rights are being protected and the divorce proceedings are as fair as possible.