What Can I Ask for When Filing for a Divorce?

••• AlexRaths/iStock/Getty Images

Before a state will grant your divorce you and your spouse must resolve certain issues pertaining to your legal and financial relationship. What you can ask for in a divorce centers on those issues. Although you can generally establish any terms you and your spouse can agree to, state laws typically play an important role in divorce settlement negotiations. If you and your spouse don't reach a timely agreement, the court will decide for you by applying state law.


One of the most important aspects of a divorce is the division of jointly held property, which includes everything from a house and vehicles to bank accounts, insurance policies and retirement funds. A minority of states have a community property laws that simplify this procedure. In community property states each spouse gets exactly half of the marital property. In most states, however, a court will divide property according to what it perceives to be fair and just in the particular situation. In these states, there’s technically no limit as to what you can ask for, but the ultimate outcome will be largely determined by your spouse and state law.


Part of the division of property is the assignment of debt between you and your spouse. While a creditor can attach either spouse for a jointly held debt even after a divorce, you can ask your spouse to be responsible for certain debts as part of the divorce settlement. In many cases, this simple agreement is enough to make responsible spouses pay off joint debts on time. By allocating the debt during the divorce process you have some legal recourse to get reimbursed from your spouse if the person doesn't pay and the creditor comes after you.


Another popular request during divorce is alimony. Generally, state laws hold that you are entitled to continue the lifestyle you enjoyed during the marriage and your spouse may be required to pay you to be able to do so. Realistically, though, courts will look at the length of the marriage and your ability to finance yourself by getting a job. But they will also consider whether disabilities or obligations, such as raising a child, prevent you from working or if your contribution to the marriage increased the earning power of your spouse.

Child Custody

A extremely sensitive divorce issue is who gets custody of children. Although you can request sole, exclusive custody, courts generally believe a child is best served by having access to both parents. Unless there is a compelling reason why joint custody should not be granted, a court will require at least some access be afforded your spouse. You can request primary custody, however, which gives you a majority of physical time with the child and limits your spouse to visitation and minimal custody. Legal custody, which is the right to make decisions about how and where the child is to be raised and educated, is typically shared by both parents after the divorce unless there is a strong reason to sever a parent’s legal custody.

Child Support

If you have physical custody of a child, you can also ask for child support. In fact, many states will require some child support be considered in the divorce process and will provide specific guidelines for its calculation. While the method for determining how much child support is due varies, it’s common for the noncustodial parent to pay his share to the custodial parent and for the custodial parent to pay her share directly as the cost of providing day-to-day care. The amount of child support is usually based on the income of both parents and the cost of providing health care, insurance and other necessary items.

Temporary And Protective Orders

During the divorce process you can ask for a temporary order regarding any divorce settlement issue. This is usually done in hotly contested divorces to establish a workable environment while the divorce is pending. For example, you can ask for sole child custody during the divorce process while your spouse overcomes some claim as to why he should not be given custody. Similarly, you can also request a protective order, also called a restraining order, if your spouse is likely to commit domestic violence against you or the children during the divorce.


About the Author

Joseph Nicholson is an independent analyst whose publishing achievements include a cover feature for "Futures Magazine" and a recurring column in the monthly newsletter of a private mint. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Florida and is currently attending law school in San Francisco.

Photo Credits

  • AlexRaths/iStock/Getty Images