There are 787,251 divorces in the United States within a year. While the country’s divorce rate is no longer 50 percent, many people still navigate the exhausting process of filing for divorce.
If you’re about to work through the divorce process, it’s important to have a plan in place. Otherwise, you could unintentionally miss an important step. To help, we’ve listed the seven steps to divorce; the steps you must take before filing.
With this guide, you can prepare yourself for the path ahead.
Don’t let emotions cloud your judgment. Instead, remain clear-headed and focused by using these seven steps.
1. Consider the Decision
Before anything else, make sure you’re certain about your decision.
Divorcing a spouse is a big, life-changing choice. It can impact your lifestyle, financial situation, and family. If you have children, they’ll have to adjust as well.
Is there any chance you can save your marriage? Try to explore all the options available before filing for a divorce. For example, you might want to consider a marriage counselor.
Try talking to someone you know who went through the divorce process in the past. How did they know it was time to start the process? What was going through their mind?
Did they ever regret their decision?
Speaking with someone who was once in your shoes can give you some perspective. If you decide a divorce is the right choice, they can also help you through the process.
Remember, once you serve your divorce papers, it’s hard to go back. You can’t rewind the clock. Make sure to really think through your decision before you start speaking with a divorce lawyer.
2. Know Your Finances
Before filing for a divorce, make sure you know everything about your family’s financial situation. Have an open, candid conversation with your partner. Try to learn everything you can about your finances.
In fact, it’s usually best to have this conversation before you even get married in the first place.
Talk to your spouse about:
- How much debt you’re in
- The types of debts
- Any investments
- How your family spends monthly
During the divorce process, you’ll want to make an equitable distribution of both assets and debts. Understanding your financial situation before you file for divorce is essential. Otherwise, you might find it’s hard to have an honest conversation with your spouse during the divorce process.
Own vs. Owe
First, determine what you own. That can include:
- Your home
- Financial accounts
You’ll likely want to split these assets equally. However, there are a few less obvious assets to consider, such as:
- Possessions brought into the marriage
- Pension plans
Make a list of all assets between you both. If you can, try to gather documentation about these assets as well. You’ll want to know the value as well as when and where it was purchased.
Was it purchased with your funds or using a joint account?
Try to gather recent real estate appraisal documentation too.
Next, determine what you owe. It doesn’t matter whose name the debts are filed under. Instead, you’ll need to prepare to split marital debts based on who is more financially capable of paying the debt off.
Try to get a copy of your credit report. If you have any debts, you should see them within the report.
Try to obtain statements for your open accounts, too.
Once you have these documents, make copies for yourself and your divorce lawyer.
You’ll also need to gather documents that prove your income and your spouse’s income. If you’re both salaried employees, gather your most recent income tax return and pay stubs.
If you or your spouse is self-employed, however, you might find this step is more difficult. Try to gather bank account statements and financial business statements. Make copies of everything before filing for your divorce.
3. Think Long-Term
As you follow these steps to divorce, you’re going to want to think long-term. For example, you’ll want to consider:
- Purchases and sales
- Your living situation
Once you have a divorce lawyer, you can make a plan to put yourself in the best position before filing for your divorce. Here are a few tips that can help you get started.
How are you going to pay for expenses after you’re divorced?
First, determine your current cost of living. It’s likely your income will drop after the divorce process is over. With that in mind, you’ll likely need to adjust your cost of living accordingly.
Almost 70 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. You’re going to need a plan to keep yourself afloat.
Try to estimate what expenses you can. That way, you’ll have some idea of what you’ll need moving forward. Determining your post-divorce budget now can help you negotiate for what you need during the settlement.
Do you have any credit under your name at the moment? If not, take the time to establish some now. For example, you can start by obtaining a credit card.
Make sure the credit card is only under your name.
Most women find it’s hard to purchase a new home or car after their divorce because they shared their spouse’s credit. Making a move to establish your credit before you file will help your long-term goals.
Once you have a credit card, use it sparingly. Make sure to pay it off on time. You want to establish a good credit score (not build debt).
As part of your long-term plan, you’ll also want to consider how divorcing your spouse will affect your health insurance coverage. Do you receive health insurance through your spouse? If so, you can learn more about divorce and health insurance to prepare yourself.
4. Interview Attorneys
There are over 76,258 family law and divorce lawyers in the United States. As you follow these steps to divorce, make sure to find the one with your best interests in mind.
First, look for a lawyer who specializes in divorce cases. Ask how many years they’ve specialized in divorces. If they don’t have adequate experience, keep looking.
An experienced divorce lawyer will have the knowledge necessary to strengthen your case.
Next, consult the Martindale-Hubbell law directory. This director can provide you with a professional biography about the lawyer you’re researching.
Make sure they’re licensed to practice law, too. You can check your local bar association’s website for this information. If they’re not an active member, scratch them off your list.
Take the time to interview a few different lawyers. You can ask them about their:
- Current schedule
- Certifications and special skills
- Fee structuring
- Confidence in your case
Make sure the lawyer you choose isn’t busy with other cases. That way, you’ll know they have the time to dedicate to your case.
5. Gather Documents
Make sure to gather all the documents your lawyer needs, including:
- Financial account records
- Phone records
- Car documents
- Shared online account documents
Ask your lawyer if they need anything else to strengthen your case.
6. Build a Support Team
You don’t have to go through this alone. As you navigate the divorce process, surround yourself with people who have gone through the experience, too.
You’ll likely need to lean on friends and family members who worked through their own divorce. They might even have resources you can use throughout the process.
7. Have a Plan
Some people react out of anger when they receive divorce papers. To protect yourself, you’re going to want a plan.
First, make sure to remove 50% of the funds from your joint bank account. That way, you don’t have to worry that your spouse will spend more than their share. Make sure to document all expenses during the divorce process.
You might want to discuss any joint financial accounts with your attorney, too.
Next, you’ll want to prepare to close your joint credit accounts before you separate. Don’t close them before the divorce process begins. Otherwise, you could risk angering your spouse, which could lead to unnecessary charges.
Make sure your credit card bills are paid and that creditors know you’re going through a divorce.
Next, don’t move out of the house. Unless there’s an issue of abuse, you’ll want to remain within your marital home.
Moving out prematurely could affect the interest you have within the property. For example, let’s say your spouse pays the mortgage during the divorce proceedings. The judge might factor that into their property distribution decisions.
It could also impact your kids if you have any.
Do you need your spouse’s income to remain living in your marital home? You’ll want to negotiate that you need their income for your children’s’ sake.
In the meantime, make sure to remain on your best behavior. During a divorce, your entire life will go under a microscope. You don’t want to do or say anything your spouse could use against you during divorce proceedings.
Don’t host parties, start dating, or go out until late hours. If children are involved, make them your priority. Show the court that you’re a good parent.
If you need help, make sure to turn toward your support system.
Follow These 7 Steps to Divorce for Best Success
Don’t rush to file for a divorce. Instead, make sure to follow these seven steps to divorce, first. By following this path, you can strengthen your case and prepare yourself for the road ahead.
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