Divorce is a process, often a long, complicated, and drawn-out one. This can be a highly emotional time, one full of pressure and tension. So preparation is key.
With that in mind, here is a checklist of things you may want to take care of ahead of time to ensure your divorce goes as smoothly as possible. This list is not all-encompassing by any means, but it may be a good place to start.
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1. Be Certain About Your Decision
While this may seem obvious, the decision to divorce is an emotional one, and shouldn’t be made in a rush. Make sure you’ve exhausted all hope of reconciliation before you file for divorce. This decision will impact you for the rest of your life. Think seriously about the pros and cons, ask advice, and ask questions to avoid making snap judgments.
Once you’ve served your spouse with divorce papers, it’s difficult to go back on that decision, even if you change your mind. The court can grant a divorce even if only one spouse wants to end the marriage. So think long and hard before you come to a decision.
2. Educate Yourself
Divorce laws vary from state to state, and it’s in your best interest to familiarize yourself with the statutes of where you live.
For example, California is a community property state. This means that, when it comes time for the division of property, the court views all assets acquired during the marriage as being owned jointly by both spouses.
This can have a significant effect on the final judgment. As there are many laws that differ depending on where you reside, it may benefit you to become acquainted with the specific regulations in your area. This is where having an attorney will come in handy as they are knowledgable and up to date on the statutes of where they practice.
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3. Have A Plan For The Kids
If you have children, it’s important to set up a plan to ensure that they are cared for during this process. You may want to examine guidelines regarding how things like custody and child support work in your state.
Your kids still need the same level of care as before. It’s a good idea to sit down and review your work schedule, your children’s schedule, and your other obligations and come up with a schedule for custody.
If you come up with an arrangement that gives both you and your spouse time with the children, you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of most people who file for divorce. Determining mutual goals for custody is one less thing you will have to worry about later on.
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4. Start Saving
Simply put, divorce is expensive. Even in simple cases, like an uncontested dissolution of marriage, there are court fees for filing the paperwork. Beyond that, there are costs of going to court, creating, filing and responding to motions, potential child and spousal support, and the division of property.
There are also the expenses of setting up a new household to take into account. If you hire an attorney to help with the process, those fees add up quickly. As you deal with the day-to-day specifics of your divorce, it’s easy to lose sight of the expenses. Start setting money aside early to help offset any surprise charges.
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5. Gather Financial Records
A big part of the divorce settlement is the division of property. This is where the courts allocate all of the shared possessions accrued over the course of a marriage. This has a huge influence on your financial future and you need to disclose all of your assets and debts.
Below is a list of common financial records you should prepare before filing for divorce:
- Proof of income
- All known accounts with your name:
- insurance policies
- tax records going back at least a few years
- Catalog of debts:
- car payments
- student loans
- credit cards
- Name all significant assets:
- real estate
- other property
Having all of these documents readily available will only benefit you and speed the process of divorce along.
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6. Enlist Support Before Divorce
Any drastic life change has an impact on your emotions. Having a support system in place will only help you through this difficult process. You don’t necessarily need to make your situation public, but to have a shoulder or two to lean on when things get tough only benefits you.
This can be friends or family or even one of the many groups out there designed to help people going through similar trials. If nothing else, it helps to be reminded that you’re not in this alone.
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7. Have A Plan For After The Divorce
You may be so focused on your divorce that you haven’t given much thought to what comes next. It’s never too early to think about that step, and you will have a lot to consider when you do.
After the split, your finances will be drastically different:
- New child or spousal support expenses.
- Changes in your living situation.
- Adjusted tax status.
With all of this, you may need to start regulating spending. You should also keep an eye on your credit score if your ex is ordered to pay certain loans or bills.
Getting divorced doesn’t automatically alter any financial agreements you entered into while married. If your former spouse is supposed to pay certain things but doesn’t, it can negatively impact you.
If there are children involved, depending on the custody arrangement, your schedule will likely look quite different. You may have to find new sources for child care if you’re the primary guardian, or adjust for visitation if you are not. That’s just the tip of the iceberg to take into account as you move forward with the next phase of your life.
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Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of an earlier post and has been revamped for accuracy and comprehensiveness.