When you’ve decided to file for a divorce, you may want to get it over with as quickly as possible. It’s important to remember, though, that a divorce is a complex legal proceeding that can have a huge impact on your future rights. Therefore, you must plan carefully and take steps to prepare for your divorce.
Talk to a Lawyer
The first step to prepare for a divorce is to talk to an experienced divorce lawyer. You may remember the hit TV show The Sopranos where Tony Soprano races to meet with every divorce lawyer in town so they can’t represent his wife due to already having met with him. This is not the reason you want to meet with a lawyer and wouldn’t work in the real world.
The real reason you need to meet with a lawyer is because you need to understand the details of what you need to do to prepare and there are differences between states. There is a fine line between proactively protecting yourself and getting yourself into a worse position because you violated divorce rules. Good advice for one state could be illegal in another if you don’t adjust it for the other state.
Gather Your Records
This includes both your personal records, like your Social Security card, as well as marital documents like your prenuptial agreement, house deed or lease agreement and financial statements. Your lawyer will likely need documents related to your marriage to prepare, and you’ll need your personal documents to start a new life.
Hopefully, you and your spouse can amicably meet to both make copies. If not, it’s important to handle it in a way that doesn’t make it appear as if you’re trying to hide or take documents from your spouse.
Establish a Mailing Address
You will need a new mailing address for things like correspondence from your lawyer and personal bills. Even if you’ll continue using your marital address during an amicable divorce, you probably still want your legal correspondence going somewhere else. This could be to a family member, a rental home, or a post office box.
Open a New Bank Account
This is an area that you need to handle with great care. You will need a new bank account for divorce expenses and future personal expenses. You may be entitled to withdraw some of your joint funds and deposit future paychecks, but you must ask your lawyer the specific rules for your state.
Even if you think your spouse is hiding or wasting money, improperly moving money or opening a new bank account could be seen as trying to hide money from your spouse. Be sure to act transparently in line with the letter of the law.
Close Joint Credit Accounts
It’s usually best to close any joint open credit accounts to avoid your spouse from running up future charges. Exactly when you are no longer responsible for these charges varies by state.
Both you and your spouse will typically remain jointly liable for any debts from your marriage. You can address this debt as part of your financial settlement. You and your spouse can also agree to use joint savings to wipe out the joint debt.
Consider Staying in Your Home
Unless you’ve already come to a final agreement with your spouse about who gets the house, consider staying in your home. If the house is contested and one spouse has already moved out, judges will often lean towards letting the spouse who remained keep the house. Child custody decisions could also be impacted as the judge may prefer to keep the children in the same home.
Of course, if you have concerns about abuse or other safety issues, staying safe and healthy should be your number one priority.
Inventory Your Possessions
To prepare for divorce negotiations or a potential trial, you will need a full inventory of every item that you own and its value. In addition to bank statements, this includes physical possessions like your cars, furniture, appliances, jewelry, and even clothing. If you’ve previously done an inventory for insurance purposes, it can be a good starting point, but make sure it’s updated.
An example of why this can be important even if you don’t think you have a lot is when one spouse is frugal and one spouse is not. If your savings account is equal to one spouse’s expensive hobby equipment, it may not make sense to split the savings account in half.
Consider Electronic Accounts
It’s common for spouses to share an email address or social media account. You will probably want to stop using this account, and it’s a good idea to agree on what to do with it. This may be that you each set up your own account and agree to close the old one. However, you shouldn’t delete the old account until your divorce is final in case it contains needed evidence.
As to your personal accounts, keep in mind that your past posts and anything you say during your divorce could become evidence. Be careful of what you post, and don’t delete anything unless and until your lawyer says it is OK.
Assess Your Earning Potential
If you’ve been a stay-at-home spouse or have made your career secondary to your spouse’s it’s important to assess your earning potential. This includes what you can earn in the future, how you can increase your future earning potential, and what opportunities you gave up because of your marriage. This helps you prepare for possible alimony calculations.
Whether you have an emergency need to move out right away, you’ve agreed to move out before the divorce is official, or your divorce is over, it’s important to take care when you’re moving out. As with other steps, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re following any agreements and aren’t trying to hide things from your spouse.
It can be a good idea to have your spouse present, but in some divorces, you shouldn’t. It’s usually a good idea to have an adult witness either way.
Ask Your Lawyer
For more information on how to prepare to file for divorce or if you have questions, ask your lawyer before proceeding.