Divorce in Kentucky: Basics you should know.

When potential clients call seeking to hire an attorney for a divorce, I get a few common questions.  Before I address those, in Kentucky, when dissolving a marriage, you are seeking a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.  Some states have distinctions, legally speaking, between a “Divorce Decree” or a “Decree of Dissolution”. Ohio is one such state. Kentucky, however, has no distinction, so you are divorced once the court enters that Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.

This brings me to some common questions.

  • How long do I need to be a resident of Kentucky to file for divorce? 180 days.
  • How long do I have to be separated from my spouse before I can file? 60 days. Also, separated doesn’t necessarily mean living in separate places.  Separation, as defined by Kentucky law, means the last time you were together as “husband and wife (or wife & wife/husband & husband)”. Simply put, the last time you had intimate relations. Yes, we understand it’s an awkward question–but unfortunately, you do need to answer it.
  • One of the most asked questions I get is “how long will this take?”. My answer is very simple, “I don’t know”.  Every person has different nuances in their own lives, which makes each case unique.  There may be some commonalty when one looks at generalizations across the board, but one couple’s divorce will not be exactly like another couple’s divorce.
  • Why do you not know how long a case will take? There are some timing issues that are out of my, and the court’s, control.  This includes how long it takes to get the soon to be ex-spouse served with the initial divorce papers.  There are a few ways this can be done, and any attorney you talk to should be well versed in them and be able to explain all available options to you.
  • What are the service options? Two common ways are certified mail or via law enforcement (such as sheriffs deputies or constables).  Once mail is in the hands of the post office, I can track the letter but I can’t force the postal worker to make multiple attempts at delivery or inquire as to whereabouts if a person is no longer at an address.  It is similar for using law enforcement. Once they have it, each department has their own procedures regarding how many times they may go out to the place to find a person before they’ll send something back “unserved”. It is possible to have to use several methods, which can take up to a few months, to attempt service on the soon to be ex-spouse.  Once service has been perfected, the case can really start.
  • OK service has been completed, what’s the timeline now? Kentucky has some rules on timing of things (such as exchange of financial disclosures, etc).  Some counties may be more flexible on following these timelines, others may be more strict.  How a case goes isn’t always up to the attorney. How difficult is the other spouse being, are they represented, how long is reasonable to give the other person time to respond to any correspondence/proposals, etc.  I often tell clients, I can control things you and I do, I cannot control the other side.   There are 2 hard rules on timing, however.  Once a person is served with the papers, if there are no children involved, the court cannot finalize the divorce for at least 20 days.  This is the time the other person has to officially respond to the petition.  If there are kids, a court cannot finalize the divorce for 60 days after service.    In general, most cases are not ready to be finalized before these time periods are up. There are usually discussions (temporary issues such as custody, child support, parenting time if there are kids) between the parties and financial documents may be needing to be exchanged so that settlement negotiations can begin.
  • Settlement negotiations can be quick or they can take a while and sometimes you may need mediation on both temporary issues or for a global settlement which resolves all pending issues in a divorce.  After going over your specific situation, an attorney should be able to give a general roadmap of steps that should be taken to move forward.  The process is also somewhat fluid, especially when there are children involved.  If parties are newly separated (living in separate homes), it may be more important to get some temporary arrangements in place regarding custody, parenting time and support, before work on financial issues (division of property, assets, and debts) even begins. Motions on these temporary issues may need to be filed, attending mediation may need to occur, etc.  I often suggest that once a temporary parenting time schedule is in place, we wait for at least a month before discussing whether or not that schedule will work going forward. What sounds good when talking in settlement talks or on paper, may not fit so well once it’s put into practice. Each child reacts differently and what parents may think will work for their child(ren), may not really work. Sometimes only trying for a period of time will tell.  Divorce doesn’t have to be overly combative and awful. It can be fairly amicable. It all depends on the attitudes of each party.  I often tell clients that this is one of the most stressful times in their lives and no matter your feelings/thoughts about the other person, it is still a loss and like any loss, people go through those stags of grief.
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