Important: This article assumes there is time to prepare–that you and your children are not in danger. If you are in danger, you must act first to protect yourself and your children. Leave, call the police or both. When you are safe, call a family law attorney.
Most divorces are foreseeable months or even years before they occur. If you are considering a divorce, your spouse has mentioned it, you are experiencing serious marital problems or there are trust issues between you and your spouse, you should prepare.
Your first step should be to contact a divorce attorney and learn about your rights. Divorce attorneys typically offer one-hour consultations to discuss your situation, the laws that apply, the process, and they can help you plan. If you are reading this, you already have a great resource to find an attorney-just go to the “Members” tab on this website.
This first step is difficult because you want to believe the problems are not “divorce” problems.
Push those thoughts away. You can take this step without deciding to get a divorce. You are not required to hire the attorney and your consultation is confidential. No one needs to know.
You will be tempted to seek advice from the internet, friends and family. As with all other issues in your life requiring an expert, there is a lot of bad information out there. You don’t want to develop a plan based upon bad information. You want to know what you can expect from the property division, child support, spousal maintenance, etc. Invest in the one-hour consultation with an experienced family law attorney.
Preparation will include collecting information about your property and debts.
This is not necessary before you file for divorce but it is very helpful when deciding when and if to file. This doesn’t need to be fancy or professional—just start a list. List everything you and your spouse own and everything you and your spouse owe. List your home, other real estate, timeshares, bank accounts, brokerage accounts (like Fidelity or Merrill Lynch), retirement accounts, cars and other vehicles. Include bank names, account numbers, how much is in the bank on that day and whose name is on the account, car, house, etc. For debts list your mortgage, car notes, credit cards, medical bills, student loans and any other debts. Include the names of the creditors, account numbers, how much is owed and whose name is on the debt. Make copies of tax returns and account statements.
If some of this information is missing, that’s okay, include what you have. You may only know that your spouse has a retirement plan but nothing else. That tells your attorney to look for retirement information. Don’t be overwhelmed, your attorney can help. We often deal with situations when one party has very little information about the property and debts.
You should also begin to consider your plans after a divorce. Where would you plan to live? What would you expect to earn? What would your monthly expenses to be? Could you expect to receive or pay child support or spousal maintenance? Do some research and work toward a budget. In this situation, knowing is better than not knowing.
Finally, you should be aware and in control of your own conduct. Divorce, and the situations that can lead to it, are very stressful.
Conduct yourself in person and on social media as if your conduct will be raised as evidence in the divorce. Seek individual counseling if necessary. Divorce is hard.
Obviously, this article appears on a collaborative divorce website and would not be complete without a reference to that process. Collaborative divorce was developed recognizing that the preparation addressed above must be done in every divorce. In a typical divorce, each party prepares on their own but in the collaborative divorce, the parties prepare with the help of the collaborative team. The parties work with their attorneys to guide them through the process. The mental health professional assists with communication, the emotional aspects of divorce and making healthy decisions. The financial professional works with both parties to create a list of all the property and debts, to assign values to each item and to plan a future budget. In short, it is a team effort working toward identified goals.
If you find yourself thinking divorce may be in your future, call an experienced family law attorney now. To keep your options open, look for someone trained in collaborative divorce.