If you’re reading this it’s likely that you are contemplating divorcing from your spouse, or have maybe already begun divorce proceedings. In the U.S., after all, half of all marriages end this way.
Now, there’s no substitute for professional counsel and the support of your friends and family during such an emotionally fraught time. But for extra help, consider the following list your overarching primer on what to expect as you take steps to bring your marriage to an end and start a new chapter of your life.
Dismantling a marriage can be traumatic for you, your spouse, and especially your children, so before you put things in motion, make sure that you can honestly say that you did everything you could to make it work.
After all, you don’t want to go through divorce wondering if you left any proverbial stones unturned. Did you seek couples therapy? Did you seek to exorcise your own personal demons? If you feel that you explored all the options before filing for divorce, the difficult process will be a little bit more manageable.
Once you’ve decided that filing for divorce is the best course of action, it’s time to commit to it 100% and set about the often difficult process ahead in a calm, clear, businesslike manner as possible. Do your utmost to separate the maelstrom of emotions that divorce can bring to the fore and focus on an outcome that is fair to you and unlikely to unnecessarily antagonize your soon-to-be-ex spouse.
Perhaps you never want to see your ex-husband or ex-wife for as long as you live. But given that you may have children or, at the very least, good friends in common, it’s more likely that you will interact in the future. So how do you want that relationship to look? As you move ahead with your divorce, consider how the actions you take will color those regular or occasional interactions. Remember: Just because you’re legally separating doesn’t mean you’re moving to different planets. Your paths will undoubtedly cross again.
While you can (and should) read books and articles about divorce—and have meetings with attorneys and mediators—getting a few first hand accounts of what the process of divorcing actually entails can be invaluable and help you end up with a post-divorce reality that’s as good as it can be.
Have you told your partner you want to divorce? If not, take some time to think about how to express your decision in as clear and calm a manner as possible, then try to anticipate how your spouse is going to absorb and react to this news.
When you tell him or her, have a bag packed and a place to stay if either one of you feels that you need to spend some time alone. If you are in an abusive situation, please seek professional help to advise you.
Even if your divorce is amicable, it’s going likely going to cause you some stress and take an emotional toll. In the melee it can be easy to forget to tend to your wellbeing, and one of the best ways to do that is to lean on your friends, family and confidantes.
If they don’t already know, tell them about the feelings you’ve experienced and the decision it’s lead you to make—or simply have fun and spend quality time with them to help alleviate some of the stress you may be dealing with.
In fact, some days will seem insufferable, but now is the worst possible time to do what many people feeling battered by divorce proceedings do: they self-medicate with alcohol, prescription or non-prescription drugs, or have s*x with the wrong people.
Any of these things has the ability to make you feel temporarily better, but they are just as likely to make you feel worse, slow down your divorce, get in the way of your ability to parent, and possibly threaten your custody plan. Internalize the idea that the only way out is straight through.
Divorces, especially contentious ones, can feel completely overwhelming. So overwhelming, in fact, that you may be tempted to withdraw from the hard work of unpicking your life with your spouse.
Don’t. Becoming a bystander in your own divorce is a sure way to walk away to come away with less than you deserve. Do the work and do it well. Listen to the counsel of your professional team, but make own decisions. You’ll reach a better settlement as a result of taking control and what’s more, you’ll be helping to accelerate the whole process so that you can get on with your life.
Depending on the family law in your state, if you have a relationship outside of your marriage during your divorce—regardless of when it began—can open up Pandora’s box during the formal divorce process.
What’s more, in a state where this is an issue, any e-mail, notes, computer records, phone calls, and other communication can be used in a legal proceeding in an at-fault state to prove infidelity. If you’ve already started a new relationship, consider putting things on ice until after the paperwork is complete.
Think about where you, your partner, and your children—if you have them—are going to live. Factor in how looking after the kids is going to affect where you live and the type of accommodations you’ll need, then put together a working budget of your weekly, monthly, and yearly expenses to ensure that your plan is workable.
Nobody wins in divorce, but if you focus on the future and resist the urge to fixate on past, you’ll have a much better chance of not only of remaining civil with your spouse but also but achieving a settlement you can feel comfortable with.
As important as your friends and family are, you’re going to benefit from professional help which, at a minimum, is going to take the shape of a divorce attorney or a mediator.
Research and interview at least three attorneys in your area and make an informed decision about which one is right for you. For example, if you want to foster a civil relationship with your spouse, you may not want to hire an attorney with a reputation for taking their clients’ spouses for everything they have. You’ll be sending the wrong message immediately.
According to an article on Forbes.com, with the average cost of a contested divorce ranges from $15,000 to $30,000. One way to cut down on these eye-watering expenses is to use a mediator.
A mediator facilitates agreements you make together and doesn’t work on behalf of either party. If you think you and your spouse can come to a consensus on what’s fair, a mediator might be the best bet for both you and your bottom line.
Yes, you’ll need to think about how you’ll explain the situation to them and consider the tools they’ll need to cope with the upheaval. You’ll need to think about which of you will have primary custody, where will the kids live and any changes in where they go to school.
The better organized you are, the more likely you are to walk away from your marriage with an outcome that is acceptable to you. One of the best and simplest ways to do that is to start a divorce file. In this file, keep every bit of paper that could have an effect on how your divorce proceedings. Keep it organized and easy to navigate.
A fair and informed divorce agreement is going to depend on having an accurate picture of your finances, assets, and debts. Gather copies of all important financial documents and access to all account information for: tax returns for the past 3-5 years, recent pay stubs for you and your spouse, insurance policies, retirement account and pension statements, social security estimates for you and your spouse, and employment contracts and other employer provided benefits for you and your spouse.
Also include an accounting of any personal property you owned prior to the marriage, in addition to wills, trusts, power of attorney and any medical directives, stock options, mortgages and property tax documents, recent credit card statements and any other loans, recent credit reports for you and your spouse, and copies of the last 12 months of bills for recurring household expenses (utilities, school tuition, kids activities). Phew! You’re going to need it all.
It’s often the case that one person in a marriage takes the lead in dealing with money stuff. If that person is you, you’re in a good position as you head into divorce proceedings. If it’s not you, you’ll need to get yourself up to speed with the situation if you want a fair settlement.
Ditching debt from jointly held cards can be difficult. Credit card companies aren’t bound by divorce decrees, so they can go after you for jointly incurred debt if your former spouse doesn’t pay. The best move is to clear up any jointly held credit card debt before you go into proceedings.
When it comes to getting a good divorce settlement, knowing the value of what you jointly own is supremely important. You can’t get your fair share of your home if you only have a vague idea of what it’s currently worth. Do your homework now and you come out ahead down the line.
More than any other purchase, we have strong emotional attachments to the homes we live in. But don’t let those emotions get the better of you with regard to property you shared with your spouse.
You many end up discovering that you gave up other assets just to keep a home in which you can no longer afford to live.
Many people believe that their house is their biggest asset when in fact its their retirement or pension account. The court may well consider its future value when dividing assets.
If you are moving out of the home you shared with your spouse, opening a post office box so that you will not lose any important paperwork in the mail may be a relatively small investment that pays off big in the long run. Also, if you haven’t spoken with your spouse or filed for divorce yet, a P.O. box is a secure place for your legal documents to be sent.
When planning to de-couple, it’s imperative to establish your own financial life as soon as possible.
According to a 2016 TD Bank Survey, 76 percent of couples said they shared at least one bank account. When on the path to divorcing, immediately open your own bank account and start funding it. The state you live in will have something to say about how much you can remove from joint accounts, but you can begin shifting direct deposits from your paycheck into the new account.
At the same time, take ownership of your own credit score and any personal debt. If you don’t have a credit card in your name alone, apply for one and make small regular charges to it to build your credit history.
Open your new checking and savings accounts at a bank where you don’t share a joint account with your spouse. This is going to reduce the chance of overlap between accounts, which may alert your spouse of your plans to push ahead with a divorce before you are ready for them to know.
Now that you have your own checking and saving accounts at a separate intuition, save as much as you possibly can because, as you’ve already gleaned, divorce is expensive.
Sure, there are the legal fees, but there’s also the reality of running a household on one income when you’ve been tag-teaming the situation for years. The last position you want to end up in is at a financial disadvantage to your spouse during a messy divorce, where a lack of available funds can sometimes affect the outcome of your case.
As long as it stayed in your separate name, you can usually take inheritances and personal savings that pre-date your marriage away with you. But if you threw everything into the general pot of assets acquired after the marriage, the state will have a say about how it gets divvied up.
You could get a larger settlement if you can show that money you brought to the marriage was used to finance the family business or your ex’s professional education.
If your family’s health coverage came from their employer, you can usually stay in that plan for up to three years. But depending on your agreement, either you or your spouse will be picking up the tab.
Remember: You have to apply within 60 days of your legal separation or divorce to qualify for these COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) benefits.
Many states issue automatic financial restraining orders which prohibit people from making large purchases or liquidating assets once a divorce is filed. If you’ve been thinking of buying a new car for example, make your purchase prior to setting things in motion.
You won’t be able to completely remove your spouse from your will until your divorce is finalized. However, you may want to consider taking steps to remove them to the extent that your state allows in the meantime.
If something were to happen to you during the divorce proceedings, taking this step would help ensure that the majority of your money will go to your kids and not your former spouse. While you’re at it, you may want ensure that your soon-to-be-former spouse can decide whether to turn off life support in the advent of a serious injury or coma.
If you’re the one moving out and anticipate having limited access to the home you shared with your spouse, thinking about taking photos, mementos, heirlooms or irreplaceable items of personal significance to a secure place.
Hiding your assets is one way to come out ahead in a divorce. It’s also illegal, and, if your attempts to deceive your spouse are discovered you could face stiff penalties and fines and you’ll also lose credibility in the eyes of those adjudicating the settlement. A better tactic for protecting yourself and your property is to declare all assets upfront.
Keep records of what you spend on housing, insurance, groceries, clothing, and car payments so that you have a accurate idea of what things cost. Doing this will help you maintain quality of life after a divorce.
Don’t be too hopeful about a payout if your partner has been the main breadwinner and supporting you for some or all of your marriage. Courts can impute income and expect you to be working if your kids are school-aged and you are not of retirement age or disabled.
Updating your education is a hedge against things not going your way in a settlement. You can always have a second act.
When emotions are running high and your opinion of your former spouse is at an all-time low, it’s surprisingly easy to find yourself fighting like crazy to keep a hold of assets that you may not even really want. Make a prioritized list of what you want to come away with and avoid cutting off your nose to spite your face.
If there’s a dispute between you and your spouse with regard to taking care of children, you’ll benefit by having kept a detailed record who does what with the kids. Write down who takes them to their appointments and attends their extracurricular activities and keep this information of the children section of your divorce file along with…
Having proof of which parent attends school functions and parent-teacher conferences will be important evidence of how involved you are in your children’s lives.
Make copies of any police reports or drug evaluations that can show a court why your spouse should not have custody of your children and store these documents in a safe place away from the home.
After throwing money at attorneys, financial advisors, and property appraisers, you’ll be looking forward to staunching the financial bleeding—but don’t skimp on investing in your appearance when you show up in court. It can boost your confidence.
The result of that boost is that you’ll likely feel better and fair better with the judge. Play it safe by keeping clothing neutral and accessories to a minimum.
Unfortunately, good people get bad results in divorce cases. While you should expect the best outcome from a divorce, you should prepare for things to not go your way. Keeping this in mind will help you through this challenging process and spur you on to get organized.