Divorce Procedures

The first stage of the legal divorce process begins when one or both partners file a petition. In the petition, the petitioner states what decisions he or she would like the court to make. The other party (respondent) can file a counter petition making his or her requests to the court. Sometimes, one or both of the parties may file a request for a temporary order, which will provide temporary child support and/or spousal maintenance, and may even specify who may live in the family house.

Next, the parties develop a marital termination agreement (MTA) where they determine how to divide physical and financial assets and make decisions regarding children, such as legal and physical custody, financial support, and visitation. This MTA is often completed with the aid of mediators and attorneys. The MTA also includes income allocations for child care, medical support, and sometimes, spousal maintenance.

All of the family's assets must be divided, including household items, cars, homes, cabins, and family businesses. Financial assets, such as checking and savings accounts, stocks, bonds, investments, as well as pensions, and life and health insurance, are also divided. The parties then file the marital termination agreement with the court and proceed to the next stage, which is the final divorce decree. The final decree is the final order of the court that permanently makes all the decisions official.

The final decree is separated into two parts, the findings of facts, which list all the facts of the case, and the conclusions of law, which lists the official orders, such as for child support and spousal maintenance. Often, the court follows the decisions stipulated in the marital termination agreement. Once the judge signs the final decree, the parties are officially divorced. Context of Spousal Maintenance

Spousal maintenance has received relatively little attention in social science research journals (Shehan, Berardo, Owens, & Berardo, 2008). Shehan et. al. (2008) have not that long ago requested research on the neglected issue of spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance, spousal support, alimony, and compensatory payments are all interchangeable words that refer to a monetary amount transferred from one spouse to the other that is independent of the child support order.

The difference between child support and spousal maintenance orders is that child support is meant to provide adequate financial resources for children, whereas spousal maintenance is ordered to provide for women and men, to improve inequitable post-divorce economic conditions. The United States traditions of marriage and divorce law stem from the English common law tradition, where upon marriage women lost ownership of their property and were under their husband's control (Weitzman, 1981).

Origins of spousal maintenance date back to English common law system (American Lawyer Media, 2002; Weitzman, 1981) because a husband held the right to control the marital property, and correspondingly, had the obligation to support his ex-wife, who was unable to support herself through employment (American Lawyer Media, 2002). Traditional gendered assumptions, that imposed roles for women as homemakers and men as breadwinners, influenced the need to award spousal maintenance (Shehan, et. al. , 2008).