12 Steps to Consider When You Decide to File for Divorce

You’ve decided to file for divorce or your spouse has. It’s emotionally tough to reach a place where you believe you have no other choice but to end a relationship you thought would last forever. In the middle of the chaos and confusion of uncoupling, there are some steps you should consider as you move through this difficult time. Any of these can be done before or after you speak with your partner about beginning the process of divorce.

No two relationships are the same and so, neither are the steps if you are considering getting out of one. But here are a few things to consider during this time:

1. CONSIDER YOUR APPROACH.
If you have not talked with your spouse yet about a divorce, consider what you will say and how you will discuss this in a way that makes you feel safe. Be calm and discussion your decision in a way that does the least amount of emotional damage to you, your partner and your children, if you have them. Be prepared and have an overnight bag and a place to stay if the discussion becomes heated and you must leave the home immediately. If you are in an abusive situation, please seek professional help to advise you.

2. A PLACE TO LIVE, A BUDGET AND OTHER DETAILS FOR SEPARATING.
Consider where you, your partner – and your children if you have them — will live. Make a plan that includes that information and a budget to make it happen. Whether you have a salary or don’t, you will need to put together a working budget of your weekly, monthly and yearly expenses to make certain you can afford your living arrangements. If you are a spouse who is not working, you may want to consider a job — do not count on financial support. And if you are a spouse who makes the majority of the money, regardless of gender, make certain you understand what your financial commitments to your former spouse or your children may be once a divorce is final.

3. CONSIDER A POST OFFICE BOX.
If you are moving to another home, consider opening a post office box so that you will not lose any important paperwork in the mail. Also, if you haven’t spoken with your spouse or filed yet, this is a good place for your legal documents to be sent so they will be secure.

4. STAY SINGLE.
Do not start a new relationship yet. If you have already, consider putting this aspect of your life on hold until after the paperwork is complete. Depending on the family law in your state, a relationship outside of your marriage, no matter when it began, can become a point of contention during the formal divorce process. Note that in a state where this is an issue, any e-mail, notes, computer records, phone calls, bills or even record of your E-Z Pass can be used in a legal proceeding in an at-fault state to prove infidelity. And with upheaval in your world, you may want to avoid this emotional commitment for a number of reasons, including potential legal ones.

5. MAKE A PLAN FOR THE CHILDREN.
If you have them, make sure you have all the issues regarding your children figured out. How you plan to tell them is important to discuss. How will you explain the situation and how will you help them cope? Who will have primary custody, where will the kids live, will schools change? What about visitation? Learn what your state’s child support laws are. Talk about who will pay for what for the children. If you do not plan to live in the same geographic region after the divorce is final, consider visitation options.

6. DECIDE WHERE TO FILE YOUR PAPERWORK.
If you haven’t already, collect all the documents for your attorney. If you have moved to another state or are planning such a move, you will have to decide where you will file for divorce. Some states have residency requirements, so it may be easier in the short term to file in the state in which you were married. However, your new state may have more advantageous laws. You may want to research these options before you hire an attorney.

7. HIRE AN ATTORNEY.
Find at least three attorneys in your area that specialize in family law. Research their backgrounds and interview them to see which one you feel most comfortable with. Keep in mind that your attorney is not a therapist. Their job is to safeguard your legal rights, not deal with the emotional aspects of your uncoupling. Learn more about the divorce process so you can understand what’s happening along the way.

8. GET SOME SUPPORT.
Start talking to people who are divorced for real world examples, tips and suggestions on what’s to come. Assemble a group of family and friends, who can help you through this process, either by listening or lending a hand when need be. Consider a therapist, if you haven’t already seen one, who can help you with the emotional impact of a break up. Religious organizations often offer support groups for singles, divorced and children whose parents are going through a divorce. Teachers and counselors at schools can often offer help to youngsters whose parents are divorcing, as well. And, of course, there’s always help on the Internet, which has a number of divorce-related resources.

9. START A DIVORCE FILE.
It could become very hefty over time, depending on the length, issues and contentiousness of your legal proceedings. Try to keep it organized so that you can easily find documents for your financial, emotional or legal experts if need be. Divorce = lots of paperwork. During this difficult time, your world will be easier if you keep all of the paperwork in a place where you can find it quickly.

10. ORGANIZE YOUR FINANCIAL PAPERWORK.
In the steps to consider if you are deciding to divorce, we suggested you gather financial documents from insurance paperwork to house deeds. If you haven’t made copies, you should do that now. Have at least four copies each – your lawyer needs three and you need one for your own personal use. As part of that, you should also have a list of all your financial assets (Equity in home, cars, 401Ks) and liabilities (Credit card debt, mortgage, car payments et al) for yourself and your attorney and financial advisors.

11. KEEP SOME PERSONAL ITEMS.
If you are leaving your home, take any personal items like photographs, jewelry or papers that have special meaning. If your break up becomes heated, or already is, you may not be able to get to those items for some time, if ever. If not, having them with you may simply provide a sense of comfort as you move forward in your new life.

12. CONSIDER MEDIATORS or COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE.
In this process, a team of legal, emotional, financial and parenting experts work together to help you work through the separation and divorce process as partners. The team will include attorneys, a finance expert and a child care specialist who can keep your family focused on getting through this difficult time with the least amount of damage. Or work through a mediator, who can also help you find a compromise and save money on legal costs, which can rack up.