Deciding to go down the path of divorce isn’t something couples plan for and, once it happens, it isn’t an easy process. One common misconception is that your divorce case will automatically be decided for you. Unfortunately, most couples find, instead, it can be a long grueling process of negotiation between sides.
Many courts require mediation because judges don’t really want to decide your case for you—they’d much rather a couple come to their own terms. If you can’t come to a mutual agreement on your own or with the help of attorneys, a judge will of course make the decisions for you. However, it may be less than what you were hoping for.
What Can Judges Decide?
A court can make a ruling about most anything asked of it in a divorce case. Although not strictly limited to, below are the most typical issues a court will see in a divorce case.
- Dividing Property. This can be marital property or individually owned property and the outcome ultimately depends on state law.
- Dividing Debts. This can be anything from loans, credit cards, and any outstanding bills—marital or individual.
- Assigning Assets. This goes hand in hand with dividing debts and, again, depends on state law. This can be money contained in bank accounts, houses, vehicles, retirement accounts, personal property, or any other item that has value.
- Child Custody Issues. Easily one of the most heated and controversial issues surrounding divorce cases. Joint, shared, or sole custody decisions will be made according to law if a couple can’t come to a decision on their own regarding a parenting plan.
- Child Support Issues. Which parent will be the primary custodian?
- Granting Alimony. Not every state allows room for a judge to grant alimony. For those that do, some have strict guidelines while others give judges great leeway.
- Granting Protective Orders. This isn’t an extremely common issue, but it does come up when one spouse feels threatened by the other.
How Will Decisions Be Made?
Of course, decisions may not always seem fair and there’s no single outcome set in stone. Judges will make these difficult decisions based on the specific facts of each case based on the laws and precedent of the state.
Since the issues involved are extremely personal, especially when it comes to parenting decisions, most courts prefer to stay out of it and let the couple negotiate on their own. A good strategy? Negotiate outside of court. Go to mediation. Ask for what you want and expect to meet somewhere in the middle. Leaving it up to a court could leave you with a bare-boned outcome based on legal minimums that may not always seem fair.