A Divorce Lawyer's Guide to Preparing for Divorce
By Jennifer Brandt
Ready to file for divorce? Once you’ve made the difficult decision to go through with it, it’s time to figure out what’s next. Avoid a long, emotional ordeal by knowing what lies ahead and by taking action.
The first step is to prepare and protect yourself. You may be anticipating a friendly divorce, but unfortunately things don't always go as planned and you need to be prepared for the worst. Secure an address or a P.O. Box so you can be sure to receive your mail. Change the passwords on your computer and email accounts. Run your credit report to make sure everything’s legit, and if you don’t already have one, open a separate checking account. Enlist the support of friends and family, and make living arrangements elsewhere if you’re the one moving out.
The second step is to gather all of your financial information. Get copies of important financial documents for you and your spouse relating to assets and debts including house deeds, car titles, loans, and statements from your credit cards, banks, insurance providers, and retirement accounts. You’ll need copies of tax returns from at least the previous 5 years, plus some paycheck stubs for both of you. Keep all these copies in a location that is safely away from your spouse.
Third, inform your spouse of your intention. Depending on the situation, you may want to tell your spouse that you want a divorce so that he or she doesn’t find out first from a court document. Perhaps you can agree on some interim issues such as support or custody. Decide whether alternate dispute resolution, i.e., mediation, or arbitration may be right for you.
Fourth, consult with, and hire an attorney. Advise that your spouse hire an attorney as well. Ask friends and family for recommendations or research attorneys in your area online. Make sure that you are comfortable with your attorney and can openly communicate with her or him. While cost is a factor, it should not be the sole basis in making your determination as to the attorney you ultimately hire.
The last step gets the ball rolling in the court system. What happens next depends on the complexities of your individual case. The vast majority of divorces are settled out of court, but if you and your spouse can’t agree to terms, family court is where you’ll end up.
No matter what your situation, you will need someone to help you navigate the system. Good advice will save you time, money and heartache.