1. Be Certain You Want to Get Divorced
This sounds like a no brainer but filing for divorce is the number one reason people get divorced! It’s true, no one gets divorced unless they have filed. It’s like my grandfather always said about fishing, “you can’t catch anything if your hook isn’t wet.” Filing for divorce is extremely emotional and so it’s a decision you need make when you are sober minded and not upset in the heat of a recent fight. I encourage my clients to do everything they can do to save their marriage and encourage reconciliation even if there is domestic abuse or drug usage. Once the paperwork is filed and the other side has been served, it becomes much more difficult to repair that relationship. Because it only takes one person to want out, if you change your mind the court can still grant a divorce if your spouse wants the divorce.
2. Interview Attorneys
Making sure that you have qualified, competent, and experienced counsel is something that I cannot stress strongly enough. You never want to be someone’s guinea pig! You’ll want to work with an attorney that fits your style and understands your goals for litigation. Avoid lawyers who offer you solutions before listening to the particular facts of your case. Attorneys come at different price points and experience levels. If your divorce is likely to be messy or deals with specific types of assets, be sure your attorney has done something like this before. Board Certified attorneys are typically amongst the top 1% of their profession and are experts in their field. This means they have demonstrated experience, have proven their knowledge, are trusted by other attorneys, and are required to complete more continuing legal education than non-certified attorneys within their field.
3. Gather Financial Documents
Divorce cases can be heavily reliant on documentation. Your financial account records, phone records, mortgages, and car notes are all likely relevant to the divorce. Your lawyer will benefit greatly if you can have this documentation before you file for divorce. If you and your spouse have a shared file of paper records in your home, make copies of everything and provide it to your attorney. The more information you have, the less you will need your spouse to provide later. After a divorce has been filed, it is common to find spouses reluctant to provide this sort of information. Remember an essential part of every divorce is dividing the assets and liabilities, so be prepared to create a balance sheet of all this; the more documentation you have about what things are worth or is owed the better prepared you and your attorney will be to make a good decision. However, it is important to remember that hacking into another person’s information is never OK, and in many instances these actions are a criminal act- so beware!
4. Determine Your Goals for Custody
If you have children, you know that what is best for them and how your divorce will affect them, is of great importance. In most states, courts are directed to make decisions regarding children in the best interest of the child. Unless there has been provable abuse, you and your spouse will likely have some form of shared or joint custody, and the Judge is likely guided by various laws as to how and what the visitation schedule will be for your children. While things are always going to change because of the divorce, many courts try to keep things as similar as possible for your children. So, if you can come up with a plan that gives both you and your spouse time with the children, you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of most people who file for divorce. Your children should not be used as pawns in any war between the parents, and Courts are usually smart enough to recognize when a parent is not trying to co-parent with the other party to the detriment of the children.
5. Know Who You Want to Be When Your Divorce is Final
You are seeking a divorce because you have decided that your life (and likely your children’s) would be better if you and your spouse are apart, but instead of just removing someone from the picture, what does that actually look like? In fact, if you have children together you will likely never have that person truly removed from your life. Make sure you are moving in the direction of something new and not just wandering! Will your children be your priority, your career, your friends, etc.? Knowing who you will be when you are divorced, can help bring into focus what is important in the divorce process. I like to encourage my clients to make a list of things that are most important for them to achieve through their divorce (usually this means thinking about what they want their life to look like after the divorce), and then do everything with that in mind.
BONUS: Don’t Live Like You’re Single
Even if your marriage is OVER and you will never have a relationship with your spouse ever again, refrain from living the single life after filing for divorce. In most jurisdictions, even if you and your spouse are living separately, having a romantic relationship with another person is still considered adultery. Additionally, a judge may consider money you spend on a paramour a waste of property and order that money paid to your spouse. Your marriage is like the Lenny Kravitz song- “It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over.” I cannot think of any case that has ever been helped by one person unilaterally deciding they were going to ‘just move on’ and start up a new relationship. I encourage my clients to stay single for a while and make sure they are emotionally healthy before starting any new relationship, because if not, they are destined for disaster.