Dispelling Common Divorce Myths
Divorce is a complicated process, and the rules surrounding it vary from state to state. Because of the complexity of navigating these rules, and the fact that emotions are usually running high during the actual process, quite a few myths have sprung up over the years, and several have become so widespread that they’re commonly understood to be ‘fact.’ These misconceptions range from relatively harmless to incredibly damaging, and understanding the realities surrounding divorce can be the best way to protect yourself.
- First and foremost, let me clear up the idea that more than half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. The research that reached that conclusion is over 30 years old, and since that time, the rate of divorce has been slowly declining. At this point, estimates at the higher end of the spectrum put the divorce rate closer to 30%, and it is still dropping.
There are many factors that have contributed to this change, but one strong correlation is the fact that people are delaying marriage for longer. The data suggests that the likelihood of divorce is directly tied to the age of the couple when they marry, and older marriages are much more likely to last. The average age at first marriage has gone up to nearly 30 for both men and women, and cooler heads seem to be making more wise decisions.
- Many people believe that if an asset remains in their name throughout the marriage, they will retain full possession of it after the divorce is settled. This is almost, but not quite, true. Each state determines its own rules in regards to the division of property after a divorce, but for the most part, assets owned by one spouse before the marriage are considered Separate Property, while anything gained during the relationship is deemed Marital Property.
This gets tricky because if at any point the Marital and Separate Property mix, that asset may be up for grabs. If for example, you owned a rental unit before the marriage. It was always in your name, but you paid the property taxes out of a joint checking account. That means that you used Marital Property for the maintenance of your Separate Property, and your spouse may have a legitimate legal claim to it.
- One of the most dangerous divorce myths floating around is the idea that after a divorce settlement has been reached and the property has been divided, either spouse can request that it be reevaluated later on. While divorce settlements may be opened to investigate allegations of misconduct or fraud, or because an asset was overlooked in the first negotiations, simply requesting a review due to changing circumstances or second thoughts is essentially impossible. Make sure that you’ve fully examined any settlement you agree to, and that you’re ready to live with the consequences, because there is very little chance that you’ll be allowed to change your mind.
It is commonly believed that a spouse who commits adultery will be punished severely during the divorce and that the wronged party will gain financially from the evidence of this infidelity. Many prenuptial agreements include such protections, but without one in place, betrayals like that won’t impact the property settlement or custody issues.
In the past, divorces tended to be even more vitriolic than they are now, with each party trying to convince the court that the other was at fault. Since 2010, every state in the US has offered ‘no fault’ divorces, wherein couples must only prove that their marriage is beyond repair. Although most states still offer at fault divorces, they’re rarely used, and even if your spouse is found to be at fault, this ruling will not impact the division of property. These cases generally include a very angry spouse with something to prove, but there is essentially no tangible benefit.
- Another widely circulated myth about divorce is that every ex-wife is awarded spousal support, or at least that it is awarded in every case. Again, of course the rules vary by state, but in general, alimony will only be awarded to a person who has been financially dependent on their spouse for the majority of the marriage. If you earn less than your husband or wife but still enough to support yourself, you’re unlikely to receive an award beyond your share of the property and any appropriate child support.
If your divorce is less than amicable, or if you fear that you’re being taken advantage of, the best defense will be two-pronged. First, seek professional help. Hire a local divorce lawyer who knows and has experience navigating your state’s laws and perhaps a divorce financial planner. They will help guide you through the process and fight for your rights in a complex system. Secondly, educate yourself the best you can about your family’s assets, the laws that will affect you, and what you’ll need to carry on with your life once it is over.
Alan Brady is a freelance writer who takes pride in offering accurate and useful information to his readers. He currently writes for Attorneys.com, which helps people to locate child custody lawyers and the other legal representation they need to protect themselves.