How do I prepare for my divorce?

By Joyce Pearson
September 17, 2013
CA FAQ/Divorce Process

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 and financial experts. Be sure to list any 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 the past year's 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? This could be a new house, further education, a new car, college education for the kids or similar expenses. This will help you to determine if a particular settlement agreement will meet your cash flow needs both today and in the future.

  3. Gather your team: Interview lawyers, mediators and 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 (which is free if you haven't done so within the last year) to obtain a full credit report. Forget the FICO score - this is 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 idea how it works and should be prepared for whatever awaits you in your own trial. Ignorance is not bliss in this instance.

Joyce Pearson is a Woodland Hills attorney in Los Angeles, a member of the State Bar of California and a member of the California State Board of Accountancy. Visit her website at

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September 17, 2013
Categories:  FAQs

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