Legal Issues in Separation and Divorce in Kenya

The legalities of divorce and separation are not as complicated as we tend to believe. In retrospect, I believe it is probably because we approach lawyers with a lot of ‘awe’ and a ‘you are the one who knows it all’ and ‘save me’ attitude.

And this is probably because most lawyers are not willing to share the information upfront about separation and divorce issues, that you need to know regarding your case, and how you can best work together. Because if you become switched on about what you know needs to happen in your case, where would that leave them?

But I believe that once you are aware and understand what’s meant to be happening at the legal end, you can take more charge of your situation. You can ask the right questions and put forward your needs. I found that many women, I included at the time, take a helpless and powerless uninformed position with the lawyers. In so doing, give them all the control which is often (not all lawyers) used to take advantage of your ignorance and vulnerable state. 

Here are some of the issues women going through separation and divorce continue to struggle with:

  • Many women haven’t a clue about the Family Laws of Kenya

By the time a woman gets to a lawyer to represent a case, she has already been traumatized by her husband and feels powerless and helpless. This combined with the lack of awareness of her legal rights, most women hand over the case, without understanding fully what to expect. This has built the dependency and belief that lawyers know best.

  • Legal Representation Fees

Women cannot afford legal representation – because they don’t have the money. Most separations for women are abrupt. When this happens, women are left without financial support from their husbands. If you have been thrown out of the home, or you have been left for another family, or you have decided you cannot live with the abuse anymore, the last thing on many husband’s minds is supporting the original family financially – so many women are left pretty penniless.

Family lawyers start anywhere from 50,000 Kenya shillings going up to as high as 300,000Kshs! In addition to which, very few lawyers offer women a payment plan that fits in with their situation.

  • Women struggle with finding a lawyer to represent them. It is like for a needle in a haystack and they are far and few affordable lawyers with integrity, who truly understand the experience of women going through separation and divorce. For most lawyers, it’s an opportunity to make money – thus exploiting women’s vulnerable situations.
  • Lawyers haven’t any time to educate their clients. I found out that unless you know the law and the systems, lawyers will not give you the information to help you make decisions. There basically hogging and hiding of basic information that’s meant to be available to women.

One of my lawyers didn’t tell me that I needed to ‘claim’ for alimony. So, after eighteen years of marriage, I walked away without any alimony. Needless to say, there had also been corruption in my case. I know that this is an area women really struggle and the main reason as to why women end up abandoning the legal process and opting to get out of the country or move elsewhere to start a new life, or quietly get lost in the community. 

  • Child Support.

Because many women cannot afford lawyers, it means that they are not claiming Child Support – because they don’t know their children’s rights or their own.

My prayer is that this part of the book will help you make sense of what you may be faced with, as well as very general advice on the legal processes and practicalities of this phase. I hope that you will also be able to save money, time and reduce the stress that comes with it.

Differences Between Separation and Divorce

In Kenya, the terms of divorce and separation tend to be used interchangeably. Knowing whether you’re in the separation or divorce phase can be confusing. Yet, to be able to with your lawyer and save time and money, it is important to know if you are at the ‘separation’ or ‘divorce’ stage. They both have legal implications.  Had I known the differences between the two at the time, it would have given me more control in dealing with the lawyers at the time. Here are the basic differences:

Understanding Separation

1. Separation comes first in the legal process and is the emotional and physical break by a couple, from the marital relationship. This is can happen by one of the couple moving out of the marital bed and or family home, cutting themselves ‘free’ from the relationship. You and your spouse, or you or your spouse can choose to stay living apart, without the involvement of the law. Then it is a ‘separation’, ‘like breaking up’.

  2. If this separation is legalized it becomes a legal separation and a prelude to divorce, but not all couples take it to the divorce stage. Being in the legal separation stage, you can claim your legal rights.

  1. A legal separation is formalized by a written ‘Separation Parental Agreement’ between you and your spouse that says how matters relating to the end of your marriage, will be handled. Ours was a ‘Parental Agreement’ which had similar agreement details.

4. The agreement deals with custody of the children, parenting time or visits, support of children, your support- alimony, dividing your assets (including pensions), what will happen to the marital home, who will live in the marital home, dividing your debts, taking back the name you had before you got married. A Separation Agreement is only good if both spouses sign it. It usually is made part of the divorce judgment – if you go through with a final divorce.

5. When you get a legal separation, you remain legally married to each other. You are not meant to remarry but this doesn’t seem to matter too much in Kenya, because I know of many men who go ahead and remarry.

6. Often times, how you end up separating from your husband can affect the whole legal process, which determines what support you may be able to get from your estranged husband.

That is why it is important to understand the difference between separation and divorce.

7. A Non-Legalized Separation Puts You at a Disadvantage.

The non legalized scenario is the most common one for women. This puts you at a great disadvantage because you forgo any legal rights you may have when you don’t go to court.

 This kind of separation has left many women without finances to hire a lawyer to represent their case.

In such situations, there is no room for negotiating for a legalized separation because the decision was already decided and sealed by the husband. I would encourage women to find help by contacting some of the sources in the Helpful resources section, so that you can find a way of legalizing the separation, and claim yours and the children’s rights.

If you have a choice (and I know many women don’t), and you are struggling to make a decision,  it is important to consider all aspects of legal separation versus divorce and to choose the one that will best suit you and your children’s needs.

8. The legal separation is the starting point for pursuing your legal rights. Despite how you or your husband left the marriage, as long as you were legally married, or you lived together as a husband and wife for a minimum of seven years and this can be proven. If this is your situation, I urge you to seek your legal rights and those of your children. This is even more crucial if you have children.

9. There Are Women Not Claiming Their RIGHTS.  You have legal family rights as a mother and as a wife.

You need to claim these rights. That’s why they are in place to protect and provide for you and your children. I have watched women struggling so much and living in poverty, and often with abuse from the former spouse.  There are too many women not claiming their rights, and they come in different categories: 

Those women who meet all the legal requirements of a marriage which enables you to claim your rights, but are ignorant to the fact that you do have family rights to claim for you and your children in this situation.

Those women, who meet the legal requirements of, but within extremely abusive marriages. There is help out there for you, but you cannot be helped legally, as long as you are still living in your marital home with your husband. This is just a statement of fact.

Then there are those women who are separated, meet the legal requirements for claiming their legal rights but do not claim. From observation, this is because of the fear, that if they claim their legal rights, it would close the door, of any hope of their husbands taking them back or husbands returning back home.

Much as I understand that fear and the need for the hope for reconciliation, you need to think about yours and your children’s rights.

If there was to be any proper reconciliation, then it would happen whether or not you claim. More often than not, many of these husbands have already moved into their new families. Would you want to become a part of that situation? in the meantime, you and your children are struggling to get by.

You and your children need to be protected and provided for, through the legal system as a family. That is the right thing to do, especially if you are the custodial parent.

How to Pursue a Legal Separation

Due to the nature of my separation and unbeknown to me, I found myself in the midst of pursuing a legal separation. Thank God my first lawyer was an old friend from my church youth group days, whom I trusted.

This was done out of court and negations were between my former husband, my lawyer and myself. My former husband didn’t want a lawyer at the time.

What we got out of the negotiations was a document entitled “Parental Responsibility Agreement”, stamped by the lawyer’s law firm and signed by my former and myself.

This was then filed in the Children’s Court. This document dealt with the practicalities of our separation mainly:

  • the separation itself
  • living arrangements
  • maintenance (Child Support) for our daughter
  • the division of our assets

All of these issues were dealt with although not necessarily all at the same time. I thank God that I had gotten this legal document because it had clearly stated and resolved all the custody, financial and most of the property rights issues.

Advantages of a Separation Agreement

Again I thank God that my lawyer and I had worked on this agreement together.  Because it had covered my daughter and me all around, it truly ended up protecting us with issues that came up later.

This document also set the precedence for the actual divorce. If your case was to go to court, a judge would assume that if you were fine with the arrangements of the separation agreement, then there is no basis to make any big changes with the divorce. 

Therefore you should treat the separation document the same way you would divorce, and don’t agree to anything that you and your children can’t live with or without. This is why it is so important to know what your needs are and have your lawyer agree on your needs and look over the agreement and discuss the implications of it with you.

Understanding Divorce in Kenya

  1. The main difference between a divorce and a legal separation is that when you divorce, your marriage is formally ended through the courts, and the Separation Agreement signed in the legalized separation document, which becomes a part of your divorce agreements.

2. Unlike separation, divorce does not allow any room for reunification and you can remarry if you wish. It is a much more permanent decision compared to separation, with both carrying their own advantages and disadvantages.

3. The Kenya family law provides five grounds for filing a divorce petition: adultery, cruelty, extreme depravity, desertion (for at least three years), and irretrievable breakdown. In Kenya as well, a divorce can only be granted to the couple, three years after your legal separation. This is designed to give couples time to see if they can reconcile and keep the family together.

But I believe that once you are aware and understand what’s meant to be happening at the legal end, you can take more charge of your situation. You can ask the right questions and put forward your needs. I found that many women, me included at the time, take a helpless and powerless uninformed position with the lawyers. In so doing, give them all the control which is often (not all lawyers) used to take advantage of your ignorance and vulnerable state. 

Here are some of the issues women going through separation and divorce continue to struggle with:

  • Many women haven’t a clue about the Family Laws of Kenya

By the time a woman gets to a lawyer to represent a case, she has already been traumatized by her husband and

feels powerless and helpless. This combined with the lack of awareness of her legal rights, most women hand over the case, without understanding fully what to expect. This has built the dependency and belief that lawyers know best.

  • Legal Representation Fees

Women cannot afford legal representation – because they don’t have the money. Most separations for women are abrupt. When this happens, women are left without financial support from their husbands. If you have been thrown out of the home, or you have been left for another family, or you have decided you cannot live with the abuse anymore, the last thing on many husband’s minds is supporting the original family financially – so many women are left pretty penniless.

Family lawyers start anywhere from 50,000 Kenya shillings going up to as high as 300,000Kshs! In addition to which, very few lawyers offer women a payment plan that fits in with their situation.

  • Women struggle with finding a lawyer to represent them. It is like for a needle in a haystack and they are far and few affordable lawyers with integrity, who truly understand the experience of women going through separation and divorce. For most lawyers, it’s an opportunity to make money – thus exploiting women’s vulnerable situations.
  • Lawyers haven’t any time to educate their clients. I found out that unless you know the law and the systems, lawyers will not give you the information to help you make decisions. There basically hogging and hiding of basic information that’s meant to be available to women.

One of my lawyers didn’t tell me that I needed to ‘claim’ for alimony. So, after eighteen years of marriage, I walked away without any alimony. Needless to say, there had also been corruption in my case. I know that this is an area women really struggle and the main reason as to why women end up abandoning the legal process and opting to get out of the country or move elsewhere to start a new life, or quietly get lost in the community. 

  • Child Support.

Because many women cannot afford lawyers, it means that they are not claiming Child Support – because they don’t know their children’s rights or their own.

My prayer is that this part of the book will help you make sense of what you may be faced with, as well as very general advice on the legal processes and practicalities of this phase. I hope that you will also be able to save money, time and reduce the stress that comes with it.

Differences Between Separation and Divorce

In Kenya, the terms of divorce and separation tend to be used interchangeably. Knowing whether you’re in the separation or divorce phase can be confusing. Yet, to be able to with your lawyer and save time and money, it is important to know if you are at the ‘separation’ or ‘divorce’ stage. They both have legal implications.  Had I known the differences between the two at the time, it would have given me more control in dealing with the lawyers at the time. Here are the basic differences:

Understanding Separation

1. Separation comes first in the legal process and is the emotional and physical break by a couple, from the marital relationship. This is can happen by one of the couple moving out of the marital bed and or family home, cutting themselves ‘free’ from the relationship. You and your spouse, or you or your spouse can choose to stay living apart, without the involvement of the law. Then it is a ‘separation’, ‘like breaking up’.

  2. If this separation is legalized it becomes a legal separation and a prelude to divorce, but not all couples take it to the divorce stage. Being in the legal separation stage, you can claim your legal rights.

  1. A legal separation is formalized by a written ‘Separation Parental Agreement’ between you and your spouse that says how matters relating to the end of your marriage, will be handled. Ours was a ‘Parental Agreement’ which had similar agreement details.

4. The agreement deals with custody of the children, parenting time or visits, support of children, your support- alimony, dividing your assets (including pensions), what will happen to the marital home, who will live in the marital home, dividing your debts, taking back the name you had before you got married. A Separation Agreement is only good if both spouses sign it. It usually is made part of the divorce judgment – if you go through with a final divorce.

5. When you get a legal separation, you remain legally married to each other. You are not meant to remarry but this doesn’t seem to matter too much in Kenya, because I know of many men who go ahead and remarry.

6. Often times, how you end up separating from your husband can affect the whole legal process, which determines what support you may be able to get from your estranged husband.

That is why it is important to understand the difference between separation and divorce.

7. A Non-Legalized Separation Puts You at a Disadvantage.

The nonlegalized scenario is the most common one for women. This puts you at a great disadvantage because you forgo any legal rights you may have when you don’t go to court.

 This kind of separation has left many women without finances to hire a lawyer to represent their case.

In such situations, there is no room for negotiating for a legalized separation because the decision was already decided and sealed by the husband. I would encourage women to find help by contacting some of the sources in the Helpful resources section, so that you can find a way of legalizing the separation, and claim yours and the children’s rights.

If you have a choice (and I know many women don’t), and you are struggling to make a decision,  it is important to consider all aspects of legal separation versus divorce and to choose the one that will best suit you and your children’s needs.

8. The legal separation is the starting point for pursuing your legal rights. Despite how you or your husband left the marriage, as long as you were legally married, or you lived together as a husband and wife for a minimum of seven years and this can be proven. If this is your situation, I urge you to seek your legal rights and those of your children. This is even more crucial if you have children.

9. There Are Women Not Claiming Their RIGHTS.  You have legal family rights as a mother and as a wife.

You need to claim these rights. That’s why they are in place to protect and provide for you and your children. I have watched women struggling so much and living in poverty, and often with abuse from the former spouse.  There are too many women not claiming their rights, and they come in different categories: 

Those women who meet all the legal requirements of a marriage which enables you to claim your rights, but are ignorant to the fact that you do have family rights to claim for you and your children in this situation.

Those women, who meet the legal requirements of, but within extremely abusive marriages. There is help out there for you, but you cannot be helped legally, as long as you are still living in your marital home with your husband. This is just a statement of fact.

Then there are those women who are separated, meet the legal requirements for claiming their legal rights but do not claim. From observation, this is because of the fear, that if they claim their legal rights, it would close the door, of any hope of their husbands taking them back or husbands returning back home.

Much as I understand that fear and the need for the hope for reconciliation, you need to think about yours and your children’s rights.

If there was to be any proper reconciliation, then it would happen whether or not you claim. More often than not, many of these husbands have already moved into their new families. Would you want to become a part of that situation? in the meantime, you and your children are struggling to get by.

You and your children need to be protected and provided for, through the legal system as a family. That is the right thing to do, especially if you are the custodial parent.

How to Pursue a Legal Separation

Due to the nature of my separation and unbeknown to me, I found myself in the midst of pursuing a legal separation. Thank God my first lawyer was an old friend from my church youth group days, whom I trusted.

This was done out of court and negations were between my former husband, my lawyer and myself. My former husband didn’t want a lawyer at the time.

What we got out of the negotiations was a document entitled “Parental Responsibility Agreement”, stamped by the lawyer’s law firm and signed by my former and myself.

This was then filed in the Children’s Court. This document dealt with the practicalities of our separation mainly:

  • the separation itself
  • living arrangements
  • maintenance (Child Support) for our daughter
  • the division of our assets

All of these issues were dealt with although not necessarily all at the same time. I thank God that I had gotten this legal document because it had clearly stated and resolved all the custody, financial and most of the property rights issues.

Advantages of a Separation Agreement

Again I thank God that my lawyer and I had worked on this agreement together.  Because it had covered my daughter and me all around, it truly ended up protecting us with issues that came up later.

This document also set the precedence for the actual divorce. If your case was to go to court, a judge would assume that if you were fine with the arrangements of the separation agreement, then there is no basis to make any big changes with the divorce. 

Therefore you should treat the separation document the same way you would divorce, and don’t agree to anything that you and your children can’t live with or without. This is why it is so important to know what your needs are and have your lawyer agree on your needs and look over the agreement and discuss the implications of it with you.

Understanding Divorce in Kenya

  1. The main difference between a divorce and a legal separation is that when you divorce, your marriage is formally ended through the courts, and the Separation Agreement signed in the legalized separation document, which becomes a part of your divorce agreements.

2. Unlike separation, divorce does not allow any room for reunification and you can remarry if you wish. It is a much more permanent decision compared to separation, with both carrying their own advantages and disadvantages.

3. The Kenya family law provides five grounds for filing a divorce petition: adultery, cruelty, extreme depravity, desertion (for at least three years), and irretrievable breakdown. In Kenya as well, a divorce can only be granted to the couple, three years after your legal separation. This is designed to give couples time to see if they can reconcile and keep the family together.

How To Choose A Good Lawyer

To ‘sanely’ get through your separation or divorce, it’s wise to find a good lawyer, and basically, the following are the main issues that will need to deal with:

  • The separation or the divorce itself
  • What will happen to the children
  • How will the assets be divided

All these things will need to be dealt with though not necessarily at the same time.  That would be too overwhelming, as you are already adjusting emotionally to the breakdown.

I ended up working with a total of nine lawyers, in bits and pieces. Finding a good lawyer after my initial experience, was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

For some of us, this is going to be the only time we deal with the Kenya court systems. And to get through the court systems, we often turn to lawyers. Understanding the legal process in Kenya is baffling enough, but finding the right lawyer is a total challenge. 

I wondered why I was going through so many lawyers, looking back I realized it’s because, at the time, I didn’t know

what my needs were, but I now know that what I was unconsciously looking for was a lawyer whom I could trust with my future, who was honest, transparent, had compassion, not just driven by money.

 As you can see, from the number of lawyers who tried to represent me, it was extremely stressful, costly and time-consuming. Here are a few tips on how to choose a family lawyer:

Get Referrals from Friends and Relatives

If you have friends who have gone through a divorce, ask what they liked or disliked ask what they liked and disliked about their lawyer. Find out if their case was complex compared to your own. Was the lawyer equally competent in handling emotional issues such as custody and “business” issues such as division of assets?  

It’s also very important to understand your lawyer’s tactics before choosing whether or not they will represent you. Normally choosing a lawyer happens when you are clouded by emotional stress and often don’t critique your own divorce lawyer enough. 

The more you understand the lawyer’s methods the easier it is to trust them to handle all the nuances of your case.

My final divorce lawyer colluded with my former husband’s lawyer, not to bring up a very crucial part of our separation. Because of this, I wasn’t awarded any alimony after 18 years.

Meet with Several Lawyers/Pro-bona Organizations

Do not go for the very first name you are given. Make appointments with them and talk to them to see if they fit your requirements. Most of the lawyers won’t see you free of charge since they have only their time and advice to sell.

There are also pro bona organizations in Nairobi that you can contact. (see under helpful resources).

ASK the right questions

Bring a list f questions regarding your concerns in the divorce case. Ask what the charges are and how they bill you. (which you compare to others) Find out if they have a payment plan that helps you pay in parts. Find out how fast they move with cases like yours – there’s a bad habit for most lawyers to draw things out.

Find out if they have any former clients that you can talk to. Find out all that you need to know about your case regarding the benefits due to you. Be specific. My final lawyer who didn’t pursue my alimony told me I should have asked him to pursue it.

These factors will go a long way toward determining your ultimate costs.

Ask the lawyer whether or not you will receive copies of all pleadings and correspondence received and generated. Also, beware of any lawyer who guarantees certain results. They can only promise to use his or her best efforts in representing you.

Develop lines of communication

One of the most frustrating and stressful things I found was the abysmal communication skills and professional ethics.  I had situations where one lawyer would let me know of a court date the day before the court day, get me to write up the responses to the serving from my former husband’s lawyers, then she’d type it up, and often not turn up for meetings and worse still collude with my former husband without my knowledge.

Inquire how they will be communicating with you, how frequently, whether or not you will be able to see your file, make copies of it and of course how long they see the case taking.  

The Alternative to Lawyers. (Do.It.Yourself.)

Another option for you is to represent yourself. There are now women going through divorce and separation in Kenya who are being trained to represent themselves. (see in helpful resources at the end of the book).

This would be a worthwhile option and definitely save you loads of money and time.

 Selecting a divorce lawyer to handle your case is a very important decision to make. And make sure it is a family lawyer. Once you have your lawyer or have trained in self representation, then should you need to follow through with the divorce you will be well set. While separation and divorce is never an enjoyable process, some divorce lawyers have more success at satisfying their clients than others.

When you become dissatisfied with a divorce lawyer, one of the most common complaints women have made is that they were unable to communicate with the lawyer, they were unprofessional, expensive and had too many other cases going that they didn’t have the time to give your case the personal attention that you were paying for.

Legal Terms To Be Aware Of.

Whether you are have just recently separated or are beginning the proceedings or your well on your way, understand the confusing jargon, it will make a big difference.

Here are some terms you will be hearing a lot of to help you navigate every step of the process. Do familiarize yourself with the terms, it really does make things so much clearer in the legal processes required.

Add-on -expenses. This is the money that is paid to your child, in addition to child support. Anything that children are involved outside of the living expenses and school fees. When you are calculating your child support monies, it’s the money that doesn’t include additional things like – like tutors, extracurricular activities, holiday camps or weekend school and medical expenses.

Age of majority. This is the age at which a young person is considered In Kenya a young person is considered to be an adult at the age of 18 years.

Alimony. These are the financial ex-spouse, during a separation or following a divorce.

It is also called ‘spousal support’ or ‘spousal maintenance’. Payments are determined by spouse’s income, with the spouse who makes more money, paying to the one who makes less, often the wife.

Alternative dispute resolution/Mediation: these are methods of resolving legal issues without going to court. It’s the same as mediation’. You have a third party helping to bridge the gap and acting as an unbiased middle person or ‘mediator’ between those getting the divorce.

Arrears. This is the amount of money that is the overdue former hasn’t been paying for the last three months. The agreed amount in court was 100,000 Kshs (Kenyan shillings) per month. In court, he will have to pay you 300,000 shs in arrears, which is the unpaid amount of money that’s unpaid for support.

Child Support.  This is money that the parent who is looking after the child on a daily basis (custodial parent) has to be paid by her ex the father of her children i.e. her former. This money is to cover children’s food, clothing and shelter. This is also called ‘ child maintenance’.  This is paid only until a child reaches the age of 18 years in Kenya.

Child Support Guidelines: These are guidelines that outline the manner in which the child support is calculated, based on income and the children’s needs. They look at the income of the spouse to determine how much the child support will be.

Custody.  This is a term used determines to explain who the primary parent is. It can be either legal, which means that a person has the right to make important decisions about their child’s welfare, physical, emotional mental and medical health and is then raised by that person.

Decree. This is the court’s written order for finalizing the divorce.

Default. This is when the parent who is responsible for paying child support does not pay. They are said to be in default. There has to be a court order for them to be in default. If support payments are agreed upon by both parties without a court order and one party misses a payment, he/she can’t legally be held accountable.

Defendant. This is the person against whom legal papers are filed. Sometimes can be known as the ‘respondent’.

Deposition. This is part of the court process in the legal proceedings where the plaintiff’s (the one who served you the papers) lawyer, asks you (defendant) questions while his/her attorney is present (or vice versa). In court, there will always be someone (a stenographer) taking notes of the exchange.

Discovery. This is an exchange of information between your lawyer and your spouse. This includes requests for documents and the taking of depositions.

Dissolution. In divorce cases, the reference to a relationship’s endpoint.

Divorce. This is the final legal termination of a marriage.

Domestic violence. Abuse or threats Abuse or threats of abuse occurring between members of the same household.

Emancipated. This is a legal term that is used, that terminates parent obligations and duties of support towards a child 18 plus years.

Equitable distribution. The division of marital assets in a way that is considered to be fair to both parties.

Joint legal custody.  This is the sharing by both parents of the right to make important decisions about their child’s welfare.

Joint physical custody.  When both parents share the actual physical care and custody of their child.  Often times, this can be a fifty-fifty split where the child lives with one parent for a week, and the other parent the following week.

Legal custody. The right of one parent/guardian to make important decisions about the raising of the child, on such issues as healthcare, faith, upbringing, school. etc.

Marital property. All property acquired during the marriage. This can be anything from the date of marriage until the time of separation and divorce action so furniture, money, business etc.

Mediation. A form of alternative dispute resolution resolves legal disputes without going to the trail, using a trained and impartial third party who tried to bring the parties together in mutual agreement.

Noncustodial parent. This is the parent who does not have the physical custody of the children. And so does not look after them on a day to day basis.

Non-marital property. This is also known as ‘separate property’. This is a property generally owned by either spouse before marriage, or acquired by them individually as a gift or an inheritance.

Physical custody. The day to day rights and responsibilities associated with having your child in your home and being responsible for their care.

Petitioner. Often the person who initiates the separation or marriage resolution. Also called the ‘plaintiff’.

Plaintiff. The person who initiates legal proceedings in family law. Also known as the ‘petitioner’.

Prenuptial agreement. An agreement entered into before marriage that states each party’s rights and responsibilities should the marriage terminate through death or divorce. Also called ‘pre-marital agreement’.

Postnuptial agreement. An agreement entered into after marriage that states each party’s rights and responsibilities should the marriage terminate by the death or divorce. Also called ‘pre-marital agreement’.

Respondent. The person who answers a petition in a legal proceeding, sometimes also referred to as the ‘defendant’. Respondent. 

Restraining order.  An order issued by the court often in conjunction with domestic violence or custody disputes, requiring the person of the order to stop doing anything which can be seen as harassing the other like texting, stalking, appearing at the other’s home, shouting and demanding to be let in etc.

Settlement conference. A meeting where both parties and their lawyers try and settle a case. It can be done before the court, after court. You can do as little or as much as you want.

Split custody. A form of custody is where some of the parties’ children are split between both parents.

Spousal support.  Payments made to a spouse or former spouse during separation or following a divorce. Also called alimony or spousal maintenance.

Stipulation. An agreement entered by the divorcing spouses that settle the issues between them.

Visitation. Access time that a noncustodial parent spends the time with his children, either agreed by the parties or ordered y the court.   

Finally and most importantly, don’t go it alone, especially financially. I did and it worked against me. You need a family lawyer, but you also need a financial planner. A divorce lawyer is not a financial planner or a certified accountant.

Their role is to assist you in settling all matters related to your divorce, but not in assuring you have an actionable plan and strategy to get yourself back on your feet financially and on the path to a more confident financial future. 

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