Divorce, like all life-altering decisions, requires a great deal of careful forethought and preparation. Indeed, the divorce process is often more complicated than similarly life-changing events (like marriage, purchasing a house, or moving) owing to the potent mix of emotional and financial turmoil that frequently accompanies it. If you’re considering divorce, it’s therefore essential to create a comprehensive checklist of steps to take before formally initiating divorce.
Once you serve your spouse divorce papers and begin legal proceedings, it will be difficult to go back and change your decision. You should therefore be absolutely sure that divorce is what you want. Think about your options while you’re in a calm frame of mind and weigh up the variables: Have you exhausted all other methods of reconciliation? Would it be preferable to try a trial separation and marital counseling before deciding to divorce? Generally, it’s a good idea to visit a therapist and get some objective feedback on your situation before you start contacting legal professionals.
In order to settle your divorce case effectively, your lawyer will need documentation detailing your financial accounts (including retirement accounts), assets, and debts (e.g. mortgages, cars). It’s strongly advised that you make copies of all of your financial documents before you actually serve divorce papers to your spouse and are considering divorce. (Unfortunately, some spouses will attempt to hide vital financial information after the divorce has been announced.) If possible, you should talk to an accountant about your financial situation and ask him or her to prepare a balance report that shows your various assets and debts. This will expedite the process of dividing them fairly.
During your divorce case, the judge may prohibit you from selling, buying, or otherwise exchanging or disposing of marital property. This is done to make sure that neither spouse can ruin the other spouse’s financial situation in an act of revenge, like by selling the family home or draining the family bank accounts. As such, if you need a new vehicle or wish to sell a rental property, you should do so before you start filing for divorce.
Selecting the right attorney to meet your needs can in itself be a complex, involved process. Most experts, such as attorney Tim Moynahan, advise that you begin by seeking a number of different recommendations from friends, family, and legal professionals: “While those lawyers with good track records of success are the ‘right’ attorneys for you, one personal referral is often just one individual’s opinion,” says Moynahan.
“If you know one or more other lawyers, ask them who they would want to represent them if they had the same problem. If possible, get as many first party referrals from other attorneys and lay people as you can. That way you’ll build up a short list of competent lawyers.”
Once you have a list of highly-recommended attorneys, start interviewing them. You should pay special attention to how well you communicate with each lawyer, you will want to pick one who makes the legal process comprehensible to you and who understands your goals for litigation. It’s also important to note that you should avoid any lawyer who appears to offer “easy answers” before fully reviewing the facts of your case. Divorce cases vary widely in complexity so your attorney will need to become familiar with your particular situation before he or she can come up with an effective plan.
In all but the most extreme cases, child custody is shared equally. Deciding who should live where and when, however, can be challenging. Your lawyer will be able to help you devise a workable custody arrangement so long as you provide him or her with a schedule of your existing obligations. Your lawyer can also help you meet any goals you have for your living situation. Depending on the circumstances of your divorce, you may wish to have your spouse move out of the family home, and your behavior during the divorce process can impact your odds of meeting this objective. Your lawyer can tell you how to proceed in a way that will maximize your chances of holding onto your primary residence. Taking actions like staying with a friend or relative prior to the divorce or starting a new relationship prior to the divorce can severely impact your case.
No matter how excellent your lawyer is, you’re going to need additional emotional support during the divorce process. Make sure you have a network of friends, relatives, and mental health professionals you can turn to before you serve your spouse with divorce papers are still considering divorce. The more calm and centered you feel during the divorce process, the more clear-headed your decisions will be. As a final note, remember that there’s no harm in contacting a lawyer who offers free no-obligation legal advice if you’re thinking about divorce but have not yet made a final decision. He or she can give you a more complete picture of what to expect during the divorce process. The more prepared you are, the better able you will be to deal with the challenges of divorce.