If you have decided that it's best to end your marriage, you may be wondering how long you should wait before filing for divorce. Depending on your situation, there may be a mandatory waiting period before you can file a complaint. For example, a "no fault" divorce can only be filed after you and your spouse have lived separately for at least 18 consecutive months. On the other hand, a divorce complaint based on adultery can be filed immediately.
Regardless of how soon you can file, you should never rush into divorce unless your spouse's behavior threatens the safety of you and your loved ones. Some common examples of threatening behaviors include:
- Domestic Abuse (Extreme Cruelty)
Any incident of domestic abuse should be taken seriously, even if it's the first time. Although divorces for extreme cruelty cannot be filed until 3 months after the last incident of cruelty, you should file for a restraining order right away. Once the restraining order is granted, you will need a family law attorney to serve as a line of communication between you and your spouse. Your lawyer will also represent you in court if your spouse refuses to cooperate on issues such as custody and child support.
- Threatening to Take Away the Children
If your spouse makes threats or insinuations about leaving with the children, speak to an attorney right away about your legal options. Others, including your spouse, may accuse you of paranoia and overreacting. However, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) say that over 200,000 children are kidnapped each year by someone they know. Filing for divorce will allow you to request limits on how far your children can be taken away from their home.
- Suspicion of Hiding or Selling Assets
Is your spouse moving money out of your joint accounts without consulting you? Has he or she been selling valuable assets, although your family is not experiencing financial hardships? These are red flags you should never ignore, especially if you are contemplating divorce. If your spouse acts defensive, gives you evasive answers, or refuses to give you access to financial statements, seek help from an attorney without delay. In this case, filing for divorce will allow your lawyer to request a freeze on all your marital accounts. In addition, your lawyer will work with you to shut down lines of credit such as joint credit cards, so that neither of you will be responsible for each other's personal spending during and after the divorce.
While the majority of divorces do not involve such sensitive situations, there is a prevailing belief that the one who files first gains some sort of power or advantage. However, the outcome of a divorce case is not based on who files first, but rather on the circumstances of your marriage and the quality of legal representation you retain. Thus, it's important to slow down and seek advice from a family law attorney before making any final decisions.