Get familiar with the law and your rights

Before you make decisions in your case, it's good to understand some basic laws and rules This will:

  • Help you to make more informed decisions 

  • Set realistic expectations 

  • Give you a sense of how a judge might decide if you don’t agree

These are general rules and guidelines. Talk to a lawyer to get more information or for legal advice.

General rules and guidelines

Select any topic below to learn about some of the rules that will help you with your decisions.

Basic rules for dividing property  

  • Each person keeps their separate property  

  • Money and debts from your marriage (community property and debts) are split fairly equally

Read more about what's separate and what's community property.

Some items are hard to divide or there are risks to consider when you divide them.

  • If you have a lot of debt, there are special things to consider. Read more about splitting debt.
  • Pensions are often the most valuable asset in a divorce. There are very technical rules that apply to dividing a pension. Consult a lawyer if you need to divide a pension.

Basic rules for long-term spousal or partner support  

  • Whether anyone will pay or receive spousal support is very case specific.   

  • It’s not always ordered. It’s more likely to be ordered in longer marriages or domestic partnerships when one person earns significantly more than the other person. 

Read more about long-term spousal support

If you need spousal support while you're trying to reach an agreement, you can ask for temporary support. Temporary support is support paid before your divorce or legal separation is final. You can ask for this support even if you don't ask for long-term support. Read more about temporary spousal support

Basic rules about child custody and visitation

  • It's a general policy that both parents should have frequent and ongoing contact with their child after they separate, except in certain situations, like domestic violence
  • Judges must base custody and visitation decisions on the best interests of a child

Read more about custody and visitation (parenting time)

Basic rules about child support

  • Both parents must financially support their children

  • Courts generally order support based on a guideline amount

In general, you can agree to an amount above or below guideline. But, you must:

  • Be informed about the guideline amount
  • Agree that the amount agreed to meets your child's needs and is in their best interest

Also, to agree to an amount that's different than guideline, you generally can't be receiving or applying for public assistance.

Read more about child support

Make decisions

What's next?

Now that you've reviewed some basic rules, you can continue the process for making decisions and writing up an agreement.


Next, you may want to determine if you have the information you need about finances and property. You can also propose an agreement to your spouse and begin to negotiate.

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