It’s just not working, so it’s no use dragging it out any longer. You’ve devoted as much as you can to your marriage, and still there’s something missing. It’s better to figure it out sooner rather than later, anyway.
Not every divorce is the same (just like not every marriage is the same), but there are certain similarities that we see in marriages, depending on how long they lasted. Luckily for you, you probably still have some of your own separate property (things that you earned or acquired before the marriage), but you probably also have things that were earned during the marriage–and those things will have to be divided. It’s important that you know what you’re entitled to under the law, so that you and your family will be financially secure post divorce.
You’re in the right place, and you’re asking the right questions. All divorces are different, so it’s impossible to predict exactly what will happen in your specific case. Still, there are similarities between cases with similar lengths of marriage, so we can discuss some of the things that we normally see. Two of the biggest areas where we see similarities in shorter term marriages are in spousal support and child custody and visitation.
Spousal support is really tricky. If you’re planning on asking for spousal support, you’ll probably need to talk to someone to find out if you qualify to receive it, sooner rather than later, so that you can begin to plan your case.
When attorneys and judges determine whether a person in a particular set of circumstances is entitled to receive spousal support, they are looking at three main criteria: (1) need verus ability to pay, (2) the statutory factors, and (3) the length of marriage.
The length of marriage really matters when it comes to spousal support, because it helps to determine two things–whether you’ll receive support at all, and, if so, how long you’ll be entitled to it. The length of marriage is one of the statutory factors, but it’s important for another reason, too. Awhile back, the Virginia legislature heard a proposal to make length of marriage a factor in determining how long a person would receive support. The proposal did not pass, so it never became a law. Still, because of this proposal, and because so many family law attorneys and judges were talking about it, it has become a presumption that we all consider when we determine spousal support.
Before you panic, remember that this is not law, and it’s not set in stone. It’s just a presumption, so it’s possible that you could get more, but it’s also possible that you could not qualify for spousal support at all. However, the general presumption is that shorter term marriages don’t qualify to receive spousal support at all. Again, that doesn’t mean you won’t receive it. Sometimes, women who have been married for a shorter period of time can negotiate an award of spousal support for up to half the length of the marriage. It’s probably unlikely that you’ll get more than that, though. Still, you should plan to talk to an attorney about your unique case, and, if there are any extenuating circumstances that demonstrate that you deserve to receive spousal support for a longer period of time, it’s a great time to start talking about it.
Depending on the age of your children, custody and visitation can be completely different. As you can probably already imagine, custody and visitation of a newborn is entirely different from custody and visitation of a high school aged child. Especially if your children are young, you’re really going to want to think carefully about custody and visitation. They may be young today, but they’re going to grow up, and a major goal of your divorce should be to establish a custody and visitation arrangement that will grow with the children, so that you and your soon-to-be ex can focus on co-parenting together, rather than taking each other to court year after year.
If your children are young, you may have some more flexibility when it comes to custody and visitation arrangements. For example, with breastfeeding newborns, it may be possible to negotiate an arrangement that allows dad to visit often for shorter periods of time, possibly even in your own home (to minimize the stress of separation on the baby, and to ensure you’re always on hand to nurse). As the child grows older, custody and visitation can expand. Overnights may not be appropriate for your child for a number of years, and many parents work together to negotiate a custody and visitation arrangement that starts out more narrowly, but expands to accommodate the child as he grows and is able to handle more.
For school aged kids, we often see middle of the week visitation, and extended periods of time of uninterrupted visitation in the summer, so that each parent has an opportunity to take a vacation with the child.
As the children get older, sometimes their preference comes into account. Depending on the age and maturity of the child, the judge can listen to the child (though the judge isn’t bound by the child’s opinion). We find that some of our clients with older children find that it’s best to hold on with an open hand. Children, once they have driver’s licenses, are difficult to keep in one place–especially if they’re determined to leave.
Since every divorce is different, it’s usually beneficial to talk one-on-one with an attorney to get an idea of how the law might apply in your unique case.