Divorce in Delaware: everything you need to know

1 min readLast updated February 21, 2024by Unbiased team

From filing and records to costs to child custody arrangements, this guide will take you through a divorce in Delaware.

Summary

  • There are two main grounds for divorce in Delaware which you must have before you can be granted a divorce.

  • The median cost of divorce in the US is $7,000, but this can fluctuate massively depending on your unique circumstances.

  • In Delaware, you must have been separated for at least six months to proceed with a divorce.

  • A financial advisor can help you navigate your finances during a divorce and rebuild afterward.

What are the different types of divorce in Delaware?

Delaware recognizes two types of divorce: contested and uncontested.  

Need help rebuilding your finances after divorce?

A financial advisor can guide you through your financial recovery both during and after your divorce.

1.      Contested Divorce: In contested divorces, couples disagree on significant issues such as child custody, spousal support, property division, and other matters. These cases often involve legal battles and require court intervention to resolve the disputes.

2.      Uncontested Divorce: Uncontested divorces occur when both spouses agree on all aspects of the divorce, including property division, finances, and child-related matters. These cases tend to be smoother and less adversarial.

Remember that the type of divorce you choose can significantly impact the procedures you’ll follow and the duration of the dissolution process.

How do you file for divorce in Delaware?

The process of filing for divorce in Delaware depends on whether you and your spouse agree on the terms of the divorce or not.

If you agree on all the issues, such as property division, alimony, child support, custody, and visitation, you can file for an uncontested divorce. If you disagree on any of the issues, you have to file for a contested divorce.

An uncontested divorce in Delaware is simpler and faster than a contested divorce, as you do not have to go to trial. To file for an uncontested divorce in Delaware, you have to:

  1. Complete and sign a petition for divorce, which states the grounds and terms of the divorce.

  2. Complete and sign a separation agreement, which outlines how you will divide your assets and debts and how you will handle alimony, child support, custody, and visitation.

  3. File the petition and the separation agreement with the Family Court in the county where you or your spouse live.

  4. Pay the filing fee, which was $165 in 2021.

  5. Serve the petition and the separation agreement on your spouse, either by mail, by the sheriff, or by a private process server.

  6. Wait for at least 20 days for your spouse to respond.

  7. Request a hearing date from the court.

  8. Attend the hearing and present your documents and testimony to the judge.

  9. Receive the final decree of divorce from the court.

An uncontested divorce in Delaware can take as little as a few weeks to complete, depending on the court’s schedule and your cooperation with your spouse.

A contested divorce in Delaware is more complicated and longer than an uncontested divorce, as you have to go to trial and let the judge decide the issues. To file for a contested divorce in Delaware, you have to:

  1. Complete and sign a petition for divorce, which states the grounds and terms of the divorce.

  2. File the petition with the Family Court in the county where you or your spouse live.

  3. Pay the filing fee, which was $165 in 2021.

  4. Serve the petition on your spouse, either by mail, by the sheriff, or by a private process server.

  5. Wait for at least 20 days for your spouse to respond.

  6. Engage in discovery, which is the exchange of information and evidence between you and your spouse.

  7. Attend mediation, which is a mandatory process where you and your spouse try to resolve the issues with the help of a neutral third party.

  8. Attend a pretrial conference, which is a meeting with the judge to discuss the status and readiness of the case for trial.

  9. Attend the trial and present your documents and witnesses to the judge.

  10. Receive the final decree of divorce from the court.

A contested divorce in Delaware can take several months to over a year to complete, depending on the complexity of the case and the court’s backlog.

How much does a divorce cost in Delaware?

The cost of a divorce in Delaware varies depending on whether it is uncontested or contested and whether you hire an attorney or not.

The main costs of a divorce in Delaware are:

  • The filing fee, which is $165 as of 2021.

  • The service fee which can range from $10 to $100 depending on how you serve the petition on your spouse.

  • The mediation fee, which is $100 per hour per party as of 2021.

  • The attorney fee which can range from $200 to $500 per hour, depending on the experience and reputation of the attorney.

An uncontested divorce in Delaware can cost anywhere from $300 to $2,000, depending on whether you hire an attorney or not. A contested divorce in Delaware can cost anywhere from $2,000 to over $10,000, depending on the complexity of the case and the amount of litigation involved.

You can reduce the cost of a divorce in Delaware by:

  • Filing for a no-fault divorce is cheaper and faster than a fault-based divorce.

  • Filing for an uncontested divorce is cheaper and faster than a contested divorce.

  • Negotiating and agreeing with your spouse on the terms of the divorce can avoid or minimize the need for mediation and trial.

  • Representing yourself in court can save you the attorney fee, but only if you are comfortable and confident with the legal process and the paperwork.

  • Seeking legal assistance from low-cost or pro bono services, which can provide you with free or reduced-fee legal advice and representation if you qualify based on your income and circumstances.

How do you split assets in a divorce in Delaware?

Delaware is an equitable distribution state, which means that the court will divide the marital assets and debts in a divorce fairly and reasonably, but not necessarily in a 50/50 split.

The court will consider several factors when deciding how to split the assets and debts, such as:

  • The duration of the marriage

  • The age, health, income, and employability of each spouse

  • The contribution of each spouse to the acquisition, preservation, and appreciation of the assets

  • The contribution of each spouse to the education, training, and earning power of the other spouse

  • The standard of living established during the marriage

  • The current and future needs and liabilities of each spouse

  • The tax consequences of the division

  • Any other relevant factor that the court deems appropriate

The court will only divide the marital assets and debts, which are those that were acquired or incurred during the marriage, regardless of whose name they are in. The court will not divide the separate assets and debts, which are those that were owned or owed by either spouse before the marriage.

How does alimony work in Delaware?

Alimony is the payment of money from one spouse to the other spouse for their support and maintenance after a divorce. The purpose of alimony is to help the lower-earning or non-earning spouse maintain a reasonable standard of living and become self-sufficient.

Alimony is not automatic or guaranteed in Delaware, and the court has a lot of discretion in deciding whether to award it, how much to award, and for how long to award it.

The court will consider several factors when deciding alimony, such as:

  • The financial resources and needs of each spouse

  • The earning capacity and employability of each spouse

  • The age, health, and physical condition of each spouse

  • The length of the marriage

  • The standard of living established during the marriage

  • The marital misconduct of either spouse, if relevant

  • Any other factor that the court deems appropriate

The court can award three types of alimony in Delaware:

  • Temporary alimony, which is paid during the divorce process to help the lower-earning spouse meet their basic needs and expenses

  • Short-term alimony, which is paid for a limited period of time after the divorce to help the lower-earning spouse transition to a new lifestyle and become self-sufficient

  • Long-term alimony, which is paid for an indefinite period of time after the divorce to help the lower-earning spouse who cannot become self-sufficient due to age, health, or other reasons

The amount and duration of alimony depend on the specific circumstances of each case, but the court generally follows some guidelines and formulas to calculate them.

For example, the court may use the following formula to determine the amount of short-term alimony:

  • 30% of the higher-earning spouse’s income minus 50% of the lower-earning spouse’s income

The court may also use the following formula to determine the duration of short-term alimony:

  • Half of the length of the marriage, or until the lower-earning spouse remarries, cohabits, or dies, whichever comes first

The court may modify or terminate alimony if there is a substantial change in the circumstances of either spouse, such as a significant increase or decrease in income, a serious illness or disability, or a remarriage or cohabitation.

What happens to children during a divorce in Delaware?

The court will consider several factors when determining the best interests of the child, such as:

  • The wishes of the child and the parents

  • The bond and relationship between the child and the parents

  • The ability and willingness of the parents to cooperate and communicate with each other

  • The ability and willingness of the parents to provide the child with love, care, guidance, and education

  • The stability and continuity of the child’s home, school, and community

  • The physical and mental health of the child and the parents

  • The presence of any domestic violence, abuse, neglect, or substance abuse in the family

  • Any other factor that the court deems relevant

The court can award two types of custody in Delaware:

  • Legal custody, which is the right and responsibility to make major decisions about the child’s health, education, religion, and welfare

  • Physical custody, which is the actual physical care and supervision of the child

The court can award joint or sole custody to either or both parents, depending on the best interests of the child.

The court will also establish a parenting plan, which is a written document that outlines the schedule and arrangements for the child’s custody and visitation.

The court may modify or change the custody and visitation order if there is a substantial change in the circumstances of the child or the parents, such as a relocation, a job loss, a health issue, or a remarriage.

How to protect your finances when going through a divorce in Delaware

Going through a divorce can be a stressful and challenging time, especially when it comes to finances.

You may have many questions and concerns about how to protect your assets, manage your debts, and plan for your future.

Here are some ways you can protect your money when going through a divorce:

  • Organize your finances: Before filing for divorce, gather all relevant financial information and documents, such as tax returns, bank statements, credit card bills, and retirement accounts. Make a list of all assets and liabilities, both marital and non-marital. This will help you and your spouse negotiate a fair distribution of property and debts.

  • Consider mediation: Mediation is a process where you and your spouse work with a neutral third party to resolve issues related to your divorce, such as property division, alimony, child custody, and child support. Mediation can be less time-consuming, less expensive, and less stressful than going to court. It can also help you maintain a cooperative relationship with your spouse after the divorce.

  • Think about Social Security: If you have been married for at least 10 years, you may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record. This can provide valuable income during retirement, especially if your ex-spouse earned more than you. However, certain criteria must be met to qualify for this benefit.

  • Seek professional help: Divorce can significantly impact your financial situation. Consider consulting with a financial advisor specializing in divorce to help you navigate these changes and plan for your future.

Get expert financial advice

A financial advisor can help you assess your current financial status, create a post-divorce budget, and develop a long-term financial plan that aligns with your needs and goals.

Unbiased can connect you with a financial advisor perfectly suited to meet your needs. Simply provide some details about what you’re looking for, and Unbiased’s platform will match you with your advisor.

Find your financial advisor with Unbiased today.

Writers

Unbiased team

Our team of writers, who have decades of experience writing about personal finance, including investing and retirement, are here to help you find out what you must know about life’s biggest financial decisions.

Need help rebuilding your finances after divorce?

A financial advisor can guide you through your financial recovery both during and after your divorce.