Typical divorce settlements address all the issues involved in the break up of the marriage. These issues depend to a great extent on whether the spouses have children together. If there are no children of the marriage, the issues to be resolved include property division and spousal support. There may also be agreements about things that include pet custody and visitation. If there are children of the marriage, a divorce settlement will also include provisions about child custody, visitation and child support. You may be able to find information about the issues in a divorce settlement from your local bar association.
States have either community property or equitable distribution laws. In states with community property (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin), the property the spouses earn or create together during the marriage belongs to both of them. It is divided equally between the spouses, while separate property that the spouses had before they were married or got from inheritance or gift goes to the spouse whose separate property it is. In equitable distribution states, the marital property acquired during the marriage is divided fairly, but not necessarily equally, between the parties. It does not matter who holds title to the property. The property must be divided in a way that will provide for both spouses, and there are many factors to be considered in doing that.
Spousal support, sometimes also called alimony, can be paid by either spouse to a spouse who earns less and needs support. Support is sometimes permanent or is paid until the dependent spouse remarries. If the dependent spouse is capable of earning a living, the support may be only temporary while the spouse gets education, job training or gains work experience that will enable the dependent spouse to support him. It is also possible for the dependent spouses to agree to a lump-sum payment for spousal support that the spouse can live on or use to buy a business or income-generating property.
The two kinds of custody are legal and physical. Legal custody is the right to make major decisions about the child, such as medical decisions, where the child will go to school, and what religion the child will be raised in. Physical custody is the right to decide where the child will live and the right to care for the child day to day. Both kinds of custody can be heldjointly or solely. Joint custody means that the parents have equal power and have to agree on decisions. Sole custody means only one parent has power and can make the decisions.
Unless the parents agree to share physical custody and the child divides time between them, the parents will have to reach an agreement on child visitation. Child visitation agreements can use general language, such as “reasonable visitation,” or they can be very specific. A specific agreement would set out how often the non-custodial parent will have visitation, which holidays the child will spend with each parent and maybe how the child will travel. If the parents are likely to argue over visitation, a specific agreement is best. Some states may require a specific agreement on visitation as part of a parenting plan. Check with the clerk of the domestic relations court in the county where the child lives for the rules that apply. If the non-custodial parent presents a danger to the child, visitation may only be allowed in the presence of another responsible adult.
Parents are always required to support their children unless they are physically or mentally unable to do so. Some states give the divorce courts wide leeway in ordering child support, while others have very specific guidelines about how to calculate support. Since child support is for the benefit of the child, neither parent has the right to waive child support. Parents may not be allowed to agree to a support amount below the amount set in the guidelines unless they convince the court that their child support agreement is fair and just in the circumstances and is in the best interests of the child.
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