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Pregnant and Filing for Divorce?


Pregnant and Filing for Divorce?


Question Sparks More Questions: Can You Get a Divorce while You're Pregnant?


By JENNIFER BALLESTEROS


Both Thoen and Kopit agree that getting sound advice from qualified professionals is the first step toward healing. Kopit says one of the most important factors in this situation is that the people involved are sure they want to get a divorce, and have the right legal advisors to help. “It’s steeped out in emotion. You then need to find competent counsel — wherever you live — who can advise you on the circumstances of your state.”

To get information, Kopit recommends researching your state’s legal Web sites and seeking help from a domestic relations lawyer who might be able to give preliminary advice and help with the divorce process later on. “If you’re pregnant and you’re trying to do a divorce on your own you’re really making a huge mistake. Anytime you have children, you really should be using a lawyer,” says Kopit. “These are not issues that are easily resolved and you want to make sure you’re resolving them the right way. After all, there are lives at stake and you want to make sure you’re not messing them up.”


Even in a state like Alabama that permits divorce during pregnancy, Borden says it’s not always a good idea. Couples pay divorce fees while the wife is pregnant to start the process and “once the child is here, healthy and has a social security number” might have to pay the same amount or more for “modification filing” fees. “Emotional deadlines” are usually the most important to those wanting a divorce in most of Borden’s cases. “It’s not a legal or financial challenge — it’s an emotional challenge. I can respect that, I just need people to understand they will pay extra to do that.”

In the case of Fox and her unborn baby, the emotional deadline was there, but financial hardship and uncontrollable circumstances delayed her plans. When it came time to fill out the divorce papers, she had to check the “wife is pregnant box” and found out she would have to wait until her baby was born to finish filing. “It’s affected my relationships,” said Fox. “We both feel like we can’t move forward until that chapter of the book is closed. So it’s almost like we’re at a standstill,” Fox said. “I understand why there has to be a law but I don’t think they should give women no choice.”

In some cases, Borden says, even when both the husband and wife know the husband is not the father it is not necessary to rush to get divorced. In many cases, allowing the wife to remain on the husband’s health insurance through the course of the pregnancy can lessen the financial burden to the mother as well as keep things “stabilized” until the baby arrives.
 
“Being an expectant mother is a hard job. If there’s anything mom can do to stay healthy and sane, that’s money in the bank,” says Borden. “If you are a husband of a woman who is giving birth to a child who is not yours, have a measure of compassion and give her a break. You may know it’s not your child, but that doesn’t mean you hate the child. Give her some space, let her be healthy and take care of the child and then get the ball rolling on the divorce.”  


ABOUT THE LAW:

Since 2005, there’s been little media coverage on the issue of divorce during pregnancy. A woman was denied a divorce in Washington state when the judge discovered she was pregnant. However, the law was changed later that year after much outcry because the husband was abusive.
 
“Every judge looks at situation differently,” said Alan Kopit, Legal Editor for Lawyers.com. “Just hope they’re looking at totality of situation. Kopit says that it also depends on whether the husband is the father of the child. “Either party has the right to file for divorce, the effect of that filing may be determined by who the father is,” said Kopit. “The case gets litigated and you see how things work out.” In some states like Georgia and Mississippi, the wife being pregnant without the husband’s knowledge is grounds for a divorce.

Ohio Independent Paralegal Erik Smith explains that in his state there’s no law that says you can’t get a divorce while pregnant. “Rather, the courts simply have had a longstanding policy due to the child being unaccounted for -- as well as paternity issues and child support, custody, etc., being unresolved -- if the divorce is ordered before the child is actually born.” In theory this prevents people from returning with unresolved issues.            

“In some states, you can get the divorce but the baby is considered the legal husband’s even if they get divorced. You might know the legal husband is not the father and in some states they’re responsible for paternity — it’s a huge stressor,” said therapist Gail Thoen. “Seek therapy from licensed marriage and family therapists. Seek guidance, seek competent legal advice. Friends are helpful as a sounding board but we always recommend to get competent help.”            

“If I were poor, and pregnant and needed to get a divorce I would spend a good bit of my time before I would spend money to pay a lawyer to tell me the answer,” said lawyer Lee Borden. “There’s a great deal of Free legal advice out there, available on the web. Just have to be adept at using search engines.”            

For more legal forms and other important information, visit your state legislature or bar association Web site.


ON THE WEB:
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy www.aamft.org
Association of Divorce and Financial Planners www.divorceandfinance.org
www.divorceinfo.com 
www.perfectlypositive.com


Jennifer Ballesteros is a journalist with more than 10 years experience in regional newspaper and national magazine writing for publications in Arizona, California and Washington D.C. She can be reached at Jennifer.Ballesteros@gmail.com.







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