Preparing for Divorce: 7 crucial first steps

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Deciding to get divorced can be a long process. Maybe you’ve been thinking about it for months, or in some cases even years. Then, once you finally decide divorce is what’s best, you’re faced with a new set of challenges. Where do you begin? Divorce is a big decision that will affect your life in many ways, from finances to family.

You know there are steps you need to take, but you’re not exactly sure what they are, or how to order them. Hiring a lawyer, talking to your kids, deciding if one of you will move out of the house, separating bank accounts… It’s a lot to manage, and much of it is interconnected.

It can be hard to know how to start such a daunting process, but following these seven steps will put you on track to make divorce as smooth as possible. Taking things one step at a time preserves your mental energy, which is important during an emotional time. Every couple and every divorce is different, but a few crucial first steps remain the same no matter your situation.

1. Get your emotions in check

It’s normal for divorce to be emotional, but as much as possible you should try to come to terms with your emotions before doing anything else. Speak with a therapist or someone else who can help you work through and stabilize your emotions to a point where you can think clearly about the many decisions you will need to make in the coming months. You want to be able to make decisions with your head, not your heart, and that will often require some time. Some decisions–like when to remove your wedding ring, what will happen to your house, and where your kids will live–will take an emotional toll, so you want to be in the best mental state possible ahead of time.

2. Learn as much as you can about the divorce process

The more you know about anything, the more comfortable you’ll feel while it’s happening. That’s especially the case with divorce. Do as much research as you can about the process and your state’s laws, so you’re not surprised by things when they come up. Don’t believe that your lawyer will handle everything or count on others being fair to you. You need to take action into your own hands and learn everything you can to help you stand up for your rights. This will not only give you a better outcome, but will also make you feel less anxious and more informed throughout the process.

3. Determine what’s important to you

There are a lot of decisions during divorce, and often a lot of fights. Take some time to decide what really matters most to you, so you can know which things are worth fighting for, and which aren’t worth your energy. Often during divorce, people make decisions in the spur of the moment because they’re caught off guard and haven’t thought through what they really want or need. Determine what the most important things are for you, and make a divorce strategy before any proceedings take place. Not everything will always go as planned, but at least you’ll be prepared and won’t make last minute decisions that hurt you in the long run.

4. Plan for life during divorce

Most people think about what they’ll do after a divorce, but fail to think about life during the process, which can last for months or even years. You need to figure out the logistics of where you’ll live, where your kids will live, and how finances will be handled. Are you keeping joint bank accounts until the divorce is final, or splitting them? Who will pay what bills while you’re waiting for things to be settled? These are important considerations that could turn into big fights if you haven’t thought them through ahead of time. These are issues to discuss with an attorney, who should provide you with guidance.

5. Gather your paperwork

Financial information is extremely important in divorce. Start gathering any and all financial information and organizing it as soon as you can. It will help things go much more smoothly throughout the process.

6. Make a plan to tell your spouse

This seems like it should be one of the first on the list, but it’s lower down because being emotionally stable and thinking through plans will actually help you break the news to your spouse. You’ll be calmer, which will be helpful to both of you. Of course, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Telling your spouse you want a divorce is an incredibly difficult conversation, and how you broach the subject can set the tone for the entire process. Serving divorce papers with no conversation is a good way to hurt someone and make them angry. A conversation that’s filled with anger or simply cold and callous might work for some, but isn’t always the best route. In general, try to be calm and compassionate, and explain why and how you came to this decision. There may also be strategic considerations in deciding when and in what manner to tell your spouse. These should be discussed with your attorney. 

7. Assemble your team

Finally, you’ll start working with others who will actually make your divorce a reality. You’ll need a lawyer, a financial coach, a therapist, potentially a real estate agent, and family and close friends. Choose people who are on your side no matter what (meaning no matter how close you are, your in-laws cannot be part of your team). Divorce is stressful and emotionally draining at times, so you want people who are there for you both on a personal and professional level to do some of the heavy lifting.

Once you know you want a divorce, it’s important to move forward. Knowing how is difficult, but if you take these seven steps one at a time you’ll be on the right track. Schiffman Family Law is a small, family-owned law firm invested in our clients’ well being. Our top lawyers work personally on every case, helping you to find solutions and move forward with your life. Schedule a free one-hour consultation with Mike Schiffman today.