The decision to end a marriage is difficult and many people spend months contemplating the history of their relationship before taking the first steps toward dissolving their marriage. When the reflection has ended, the questions begin. “Where do I start? Will I have to go to Court? Do I have to sign papers?” The following is some basic information that may provide you with some answers.
The first step to divorce is separation. Separation does not require any legal paperwork or filing with the court–the marital couple must simply be living separate and apart. While separation may occur while the couple is residing in separate bedrooms in the same home and not having sexual relations, the couple must be separated for at least six months before the Court will grant a divorce or dissolution. If the circumstances of the parties’ breakup involve misconduct by the other partner (such as physical or verbal abuse, substance abuse with children in the home, or other serious behavior that is destructive to the marital unit), the six-month separation period may be shortened.
Filing a Petition for Divorce in Wilmington
The next step is filing a Petition for Divorce in the Family Court. The individual who files receives the title of “Petitioner” and the person who is served with the Petition is called the “Respondent.” There is no benefit to being the first person to file for divorce. To file for divorce in Delaware, one of the parties must have resided in Delaware continuously for the previous six months. While the divorce petition can be filed any time after separation, the divorce will not be granted until the six-month period has elapsed. The divorce petition must contain certain required information, including a certified copy of the marriage certificate, and must specifically set forth which issues the Petitioner is asking the Court to decide.
Other Steps in Dissolving a Marriage
Obtaining a divorce is only one part of dissolving a marriage. As part of a divorce, the Family Court can divide the parties’ property, award alimony to a spouse, and require one party to pay the other’s legal fees and costs. However, you should expect that each party will pay their own fees and costs. These are often referred to as the “ancillary matters.” The matters are not settled before the divorce is granted—rather, the Court grants the Petition for Divorce and then begins the process of deciding the ancillary matters.
Although the process may seem long at first, the Court imposes regular deadlines to ensure that cases do not drag on and on for years—most divorce cases are completed between 9-16 months, sooner if the parties are able to reach an agreement. Delaware is a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning that the Family Court will not consider fault when deciding property division or alimony issues.
Although child support and custody issues will often arise at the same time, these matters are considered separate from divorce and require filing separate petitions. Additionally, the court does not deal with property division, alimony, court costs, or legal fees until after the divorce, so the petition or answer must ask the court to address these issues or that right will be waived.
Work with a Wilmington Divorce Lawyer
Unfortunately, the divorce process is rarely easy. Many serious and emotional issues arise when people begin transforming their families during and after the divorce process. As a result, it is vital to seek the assistance of a competent Delaware divorce attorney as early in the process as possible. Not only will an attorney be able to explain the laws to you, he or she can work with you to resolve all your domestic issues as gently and quickly as possible.
The Family Law attorneys at Doroshow, Pasquale, Krawitz & Bhaya are available to answer your questions, explain your rights, negotiate settlements and protect you at every step of the divorce process. Call us to set up an initial consultation today!