Divorce is a life-changing event. It’s a difficult, emotional time for both parties as they seek to end their relationship and get their lives back on track. Filing for divorce, negotiating a settlement agreement, and getting a judge to sign off on it is often a stressful and frustrating experience. If disputes over money, child custody, or spousal support cannot be resolved privately, the couple may need to ask the courts to intervene, further aggravating the situation.
The above process is made even more difficult if the couple is expecting a baby. When one spouse is pregnant, the stress and sadness that accompany splitting up can seem overwhelming. Worse, depending on the couple’s state of residency, there may be legal hurdles to getting divorced.
This article will discuss the legality of dissolving a marriage while pregnant. We’ll also offer a few helpful suggestions on dealing with the frustration of divorce and laying the groundwork for a healthy parenting plan afterward.
Is Getting Divorced While Pregnant Legal?
The answer is not as simple as it seems. Divorce laws, like marriage laws, vary from state to state. Some states – for example, Texas – will not finalize a divorce until after the woman is no longer pregnant. There is a presumption of fatherhood on the part of the husband, even if both parties profess otherwise. The courts will only grant a divorce once the child has been born and paternity has been established.
Other states have no laws prohibiting a dissolution of marriage during pregnancy, but a judge may still refrain from granting a divorce until after the baby is born. The purpose of doing so is again to establish paternity. Only then can it be determined whether child support is warranted on the part of the husband.
Judges will sometimes refuse to grant a divorce in which the wife is pregnant in order to avoid having the couple return to court later over child support and child custody rights. Waiting until after the baby is born allows the court to address all of the issues surrounding the divorce at one time. In addition, it helps to ensure the child receives sufficient support until paternity can be proven. It may take several months to establish parentage. If the marriage is legally dissolved prior to the child’s birth, the child may be left without adequate support during that period.
Establishing Residency In Another State
If a “pregnant couple” is motivated to get divorced, and lives in a state that prohibits doing so during pregnancy, the spouses have an alternative. They can establish residency in a state that lacks such laws. For example, if they live in Texas, where the courts will not grant a divorce until the woman is no longer pregnant, they can set up residency in neighboring New Mexico or Oklahoma. Once residency has been established, the couple can file in that state.
Many states, including New Mexico and Oklahoma, require that divorcing couples establish residency at least 6 months before filing for divorce. For that reason, this option is mostly used by couples where the wife has recently become pregnant.
Because state laws vary and sometimes change, it is advisable to speak with a divorce attorney regarding the legality of getting divorced while pregnant.
Dealing With The Frustration And Anxiety Of Divorce
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re pregnant and seeking a divorce. The emotions that are likely to surface, from sadness and shame at ending your marriage to anger and frustration at your circumstances, can make it difficult to function.
It is important to remember that your unborn child may be able to sense your emotions. Research has shown that babies can sense the mother’s psychological state while in the womb. Although the effect of stress, anxiety, and anger on an unborn child remains unknown, experts recommend taking steps to minimize such emotions while going through divorce.
Making Parenting Decisions As A Divorced Couple
Ideally, both parents will be involved with raising the child after the divorce. They’ll work together to ensure their child receives the care, support, and nurturing he or she needs. In practice, coming up with a plan to make that happen can seem preposterous, particularly if both parties are constantly at odds with one another.
Here it is worth remembering that divorce is not about the child. Regardless of your relationship with your ex-spouse, your child will always be attached to you – legally and emotionally. Hence, it is important to set aside grudges and disputes and work together with your ex to come up with a reasonable parenting plan.
If you and your spouse are thinking about calling it quits with a child on the way, speak with an attorney about your circumstances. An experienced family law lawyer, like Ephraim Law, can explain your options and help you to understand your rights, now and after your baby is born.