Street Law: A Course in Practical Law

Chapter 34: Separation, Divorce, and Custody

Chapter Overviews

Marriage Problems  Married couples may encounter difficulties as a result of numerous social, economic, and personal factors. When couples are unable to resolve problems on their own, they may seek help from outside sources, such as a marriage counselor.

Separation and Divorce  Some couples are unable to resolve their differences and choose to either separate or divorce. When a couple separates, they remain married but live apart. Due to the many financial, legal, and emotional hardships that come with a divorce, most states require that couples seeking this option first enter a period of separation. State laws determine the ground on which a divorce can be granted. Most states allow for no-fault divorce. Although divorce legally ends a marriage, the two parties might still be responsible to each other financially, especially if children are involved.

Child Custody  Once a divorce is final, parents must decide who will have legal responsibility for the children. This is called custody. The parent who gains custody becomes the primary provider and guardian, while the other parent, the noncustodial parent, is usually granted visitation rights and may be responsible for some financial support. In some cases divorced parents can both remain primary guardians of their children by obtaining joint custody. If a couple is unable to agree on a custody decision, the court awards custody based on the best interest of the children.

Alimony, Property Division, and Child Support  Who gets the car and the house? The distribution of money and possessions is determined by the divorce decree. The final divorce decree will also involve an agreement about support to one of the spouses—alimony—as well as child support.

Stepparents  When a divorced person marries a person with children, he or she becomes a stepparent. Stepparents are not considered parents unless they legally adopt the child or children.

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