Determining Divorce: 5 Types of Divorce

Divorce is the dissolution of a marriage and is usually done in an uncontested, “no-fault” legal procedure. The divorce rate in the U.S. is about 2.9 per 1,000 population or around 40 percent. Each state promulgates its own laws about divorce.
Divorce has evolved to become an easy, mostly equitable process. In the early 20th Century, a partner had to show cause to get a divorce, including adultery, cruelty, or abandonment. Only a handful of states, such as North Carolina and South Carolina, still allow lawsuits seeking damages from an interloper who “steals” a spouse. These approaches are made under tort law and are called “alienation of affection” or “criminal conversation,” accusing the spouse’s new lover of intentionally destroying the relationship as it is akin to property.
After the parties have agreed on a division of assets (or after a court has made a decision in a contested divorce) the divorce record, also known as a decree, stands as the legal document, sanctioned by the court with jurisdiction, that states who the parties are, where they reside, how assets are to be divided, whether one pays the other maintenance (alimony), and how custody of any children (or pets) is to be handled. These documents are generally not seen by the public unless the individuals are public figures or there is a contentious situation. Some divorces of celebrities and multi-millionaires make the news for the outrageous sums of money involved, such as Amazon owner Jeff Bezos paying his ex-wife $40 billion. Most divorces fly under the public radar as they are not litigated in open court.

5 Types of Divorce

1. No-fault divorce is a simple legal process that may require a separation period in some states. These divorces are most frequently filed under “irreconcilable differences” or “irretrievable breakdown” meaning the couple mutually agrees their relationship has ended. States like Massachusetts require certain steps to be taken before a divorce is granted, including mandatory family counseling on topics like shared custody if minor children are involved.

2. At fault, divorces are less common and require one party to show the court that their partner engaged in behavior that made marriage untenable, including bigamy, abuse, neglect, or adultery. Few states recognize such legal filings, which generally result in the court assigning a greater portion of the assets to the complainant. These are lawsuits in which one party sues the other for dissolution of the marriage and usually, for sole ownership of assets involved. These sorts of divorces are less common as they air the couples’ issues publicly and cost a lot of money, as the loser of the case often has to bear the expense of court costs.

3. Summary divorce is a streamlined process that couples can use to enact a divorce if their marriage meets certain requirements. This sort of legal process may not be available in every state. The following are some of the requirements that generally must be met in applying for a summary divorce:

  • being married fewer than five years;
  • having no children;
  • having limited shared assets;
  • meeting a certain threshold for debts,
  • and agreeing to forego alimony. Annulment is an alternative route to divorce that is less frequently used because it centers on the legal status of the marriage. 

4.  An annulment is a religious or legal process of declaring that a marriage was never valid and should be wiped off the records as if it had never happened. In legal terms, a marriage can be voided if one of the below circumstances applies; an annulment is another name for the discharge of the union from records. Some of the situations that can lead to an annulment include:

  • one partner was already married and therefore not legally allowed to marry another person;
  • fraud on the part of one spouse, who enticed the other to marry;
  • drunkenness or under the influence of drugs at the time of marriage, or
  • the union was incestuous.
5. Mediated divorces and collaborative divorces are considered uncontested divorces. These are similar processes that employ one or more disinterested third parties to help the couple hammer out a mutually agreed-upon division of assets and plan for future support if any. Mediators may be attorneys, and other collaborative arrangements are likely to employ an attorney for each party as well. Mediation, using just one professional as an intermediary, is often cast as a cost-savings way to divorce which may preserve some of the cordial relationships between the parties involved as there is generally less acrimony than a traditional divorce. After the mediation process (several weeks to several months, depending on assets to be divided), the agreement is usually presented to a judge for court approval. Some states may still require a waiting period for finalization after the court appearance during which time the division of assets should be finalized.

Things to Keep in Mind When Negotiating a Mediated Settlement

  • before finalizing it, each party should have the agreement looked at by an independent attorney to assure that nothing has been overlooked and that it is fair and equitable;
  • each party should consider their future needs in light of the dissolution of shared assets to determine if the division is fair;
  • most material possessions co-owned by the divorcing couple will be assessed for market value rather than sentimental meaning, so if there are a few things one person wants to keep, he may have to pay the other person the fair market value, and
  • if one party in the divorce is a more forceful, intimidating person the process may be slanted in his or her favor.