There’s a reason it’s called “the divorce process.” Odds are, you’re anxious to get the ball rolling. But remember, it’s a long, complicated endeavor, one with a ton of moving parts. This has a massive impact on your future, influencing everything from finances to your living situation to how much you see your kids. Not only that, ending a marriage is highly emotional time and we don’t always think rationally. It’s important to have a plan and strategy to aim for an optimal outcome. Following that train of thought, here are ten things to do before divorce. This list is far from exhaustive, and every case is different, but this checklist is a solid starting point.
1. Educate Yourself Before Divorce
Laws governing the dissolution of marriage vary from state to state, often in substantial ways. Before divorce, hit pause and make sure to educate yourself on the specific laws of your state. For instance, Washington is a community property state. When it comes to dividing assets, the court views everything acquired during a marriage as joint property. This is different from Oregon, which practices equitable distribution. As you probably guessed, this often impacts the look of the final divorce settlement. And this is just one example of many.
2. Save, Save, Save
Surprise, surprise, divorce isn’t cheap. Shocking, right? Even in the simplest, most straightforward cases, those where both spouses are in complete agreement and there’s no need for lawyers, you face fees. At a minimum, you have to shell out a few hundred bucks to file the paperwork. And the more complex the case, the more expensive it gets. Every time you appear in court or at mediation, file or respond to a motion, or pretty much do anything, there’s a cost. Add to that the division of property, child support, spousal maintenance, and even setting up a new household. Before divorce, set aside money to offset these and other unexpected costs that pop up. It’s better than getting blindsided.
3. It’s Time To Organize
With all the moving parts, divorce comes with a great deal of detail. You’ll have court appearances, meetings with attorneys, mediation, and other places to be. It may look like a pen explode on your calendar and you’ll likely have to take some time off work. You have to submit various forms to the opposition, and collect others for your case. In addition to that, there are forms on top of forms to fill out, and you need ready access to all the pertinent information. To be blunt, dissolving a marriage is a mess of details. Before divorce, take the time to organize everything. Sure, it’s a pain in the moment, but in the long run, organization saves you time and hassle.
4. Get Your Finances In Line
A big part of being organized is collecting all of your financial records. The division of property is where you split up all shared assets and debts. You need to disclose everything. Collect all the related documents, including all accounts, 401(k)s, pensions, insurance policies, and tax records. Assemble any debts, including car payments, mortgages, student loans, credit card bills, and anywhere else you owe. List significant assets, homes, boats, real estate, jewelry, and even furniture. It may even help to break down your work, time, and financial contributions to the marriage. This has a huge impact on the next phase of your financial life, so before divorce, get your books in order.
5. What About The Kids?
It’s important to take steps to ensure that your kids are looked after during divorce. A stressful, hectic time for you, that often goes double for them. Learn about child custody laws and how child support works. Make arrangements for child care while you’re running all over the place from appointment to appointment. If you and your spouse live in separate places, you may need a temporary custody plan. The court may even order temporary child support. Not only must their daily, regular needs be met—someone has to get them to school—it’s also vital to keep tabs on their emotional well-being during this time.
6. What About You?
You’re running around, meeting here, dropping forms off there, checking in on your kids. But what about you? Divorce is a time of great upheaval, and it’s easy to push your own needs to the side because there’s so much going on. It’s easy to fall into bad habits, drinking too much, eating junk food because it’s easy and quick. Before divorce, it may be of use to set up a support system. Have people to talk to when things get tough. This may be family or friends, or even professional therapists and support groups. It’s often enough just to know you’re not in this completely alone.
7. Know When To Fight, and When Not To
If you and your spouse are on the same page, or in cases of shorter marriages without children and with little property to divide, your divorce may go smoothly. But if not, there will likely be disagreements and conflict. There are times to fight and times to stand down. Before divorce, figure out what’s important to you and what you can live without. If you fight every step of the way, you may wind up spending time and money on items of little consequence. Picking your battles isn’t backing down in divorce, giving up, or a sign of weakness, it’s a smart move.
8. Hire A Divorce Attorney
This may sound self-serving, but you may want to hire a divorce attorney. At the very least, consider whether or not you need representation before divorce. Even in the simplest cases, things can get complex in a hurry. An experienced divorce lawyer knows the ins and outs of the process and can steer you in the right direction. In hectic times, it’s often comforting to know you have a voice of reason to turn to for advice. And if your spouse has an attorney, give this serious thought. Going up against a professional on your own, unless you have legal experience, puts you at a serious disadvantage.
9. Stay Off Facebook
Okay, this goes for all social media. To be honest, if you hire a lawyer, he or she will probably tell you the same thing. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the rest have become a minefield in divorce. As people share intimate details about their lives online, this becomes fodder for the process. Posting nasty things about your ex can lead to fights or increase conflict, complicating negotiations. If you show yourself blowing money on elaborate vacations or expensive nights out, it can impact the settlement. Don’t post photos of yourself doing things that negatively portray your parenting ability if you want to prove you’re a responsible parent. People are watching, so be careful what you post. Before divorce, consider giving social media a rest, or at least stick to PG-rated Seahawks rants and cute animal memes.
10. Consider What Comes Next
Divorce is such a dramatic, life-changing event, it’s easy to let it consume you. It does require a great deal of energy and focus. Just make sure you don’t get lost in the process. Look ahead to sunnier times. After all, that’s why you’re doing this, because you hope things will get better. Before divorce, think about life on the other side. What are you going to do that you couldn’t do before? How’s your life going to improve? A little optimism goes a long way and can help you through the rough patches.
You also have practical concerns to consider. Finances change, you may have to pay child or spousal support, your tax status goes from married to single, and you may have to pay all the bills from a single paycheck for the first time. If you have kids, the custody arrangement and visitation impact your schedule and likely your living situation. Before divorce, take steps to plan for a new budget, new schedule, new home, and other changes.
Going into a divorce with a strategy often helps smooth out the process. These are just a few things you can do before divorce to ease financial worries, support your case, and make sure you look after your best interests. This list is by no means comprehensive, but these ideas are a good place to start.
If you have any divorce questions, feel free to contact Goldberg Jones at our Seattle office.