First take a deep breath and relax knowing that you will be prepared -- and that the better prepared you are, the less stressful this marital dissolution will be.
First Things First
Purchase a large spiral bound notebook and use it to take notes of conversations on the phone or in person with attorneys, financial experts. Be sure to list important dates like deadlines for document submissions. You will be thankful that your careful divorce preparation and planning is not sitting on lots of sticky notes.
1 - Gather your documents and organize them
Any number of different websites will give you lists of what documents to gather in preparation to file. You are looking for documents relating to assets such as home value, IRAs , 401 k balances, cash value life insurance and liabilities including credit cards, mortgage payoff amount , car loans etc.
Make copies and create files for those copies by category (home, expenses, income tax returns, credit cards etc) . Put the copies in a sturdy portfolio that you can pick up and take with you at a moment's notice. "Divorce in a Box" so to speak.
2 - Determine your current and anticipated living expenses
When you have obtained at least 1 year's worth of bank and credit card statements, start categorizing the current expenses that you as a family have ( lifestyle) versus what you personally have. Don't forget the kids' expenses.
Visualize your life one year post divorce... what additional expenses might you have that you do not have now? ... new house, further education, new car, college education for the kids? This will help you to determine if a particular settlement agreement will meet your cash flow needs both today and tomorrow.
3 - Gather your team
Interview lawyers, mediators , divorce financial analysts. Look for individuals and firms that have specialized training in Family Law matters. Not every attorney or financial planner is knowledgeable or up to date with the specific changes in Family Law that could affect your outcome dramatically.
4 - Get your Credit Report
Go the www.annualcreditreport.com ( free if you haven't done so within the last year) to obtain a full credit report. Forget the FICO score - not important yet. You just want to see what open accounts and liabilities are being reported under your social security number.
5 - Know your case's timeline
It is important that you know when certain information is due to the court so that your case can proceed smoothly without the drama of the last minute rush to prepare.
6 - Secure a new email address
Just in case some of your correspondence needs to be segregated from your current email accounts, it would be helpful to have a separate email address that just relates to the issues surrounding divorce.
Lastly... Sit in as an observer with the judge who has been assigned to your case. Notice the judge's demeanor, what questions they ask and observe what the courtroom procedure is like. Unless you have done this before, you probably have no ideas how it works . . . ignorance is not bliss in this instance.
Joyce Pearson, CFP®, CDFA™ is the founder of Equitable Divorce Solutions, a divorce financial firm that provides financial informational support to you and / or your legal counsel. Her firm looks beyond the seemingly "obviously equal" for the "not so obvious equitable" solutions. Joyce can be reached at (480) 607-1131 or visit her website at www.equidiv.com.