Divorce First Steps
If you are considering a divorce, it may be hard to know where to start. Divorce is not only an emotional process, but also a legal and financial one. If you think your relationship may end in divorce, your first step should be to consult an experienced divorce attorney. Even if you have not fully made a decision, they can help you to understand what the likely outcomes may be in terms of financial and custody arrangements. Once you start working with an attorney, they will walk you through the steps of what you can do to protect yourself, and what needs to be done to finalize the divorce. While nothing can replace a skilled attorney’s advice tailored to your particular situation, there are common steps that apply to many couples.
Divorce usually has many financial implications. It will generally be more complicated the longer you have been married. However, if you have a pre- or post-marital agreement it may make things much more straightforward. One of the most important things to do at the outset is to gather all of your financial documents. You will want to have your own copies of bank statements, retirement account statements, mortgage statements, etc. If you have any valuables, you may want to get them appraised. Essentially, you want to put together as complete of a financial picture as possible. This can help to protect you if your soon-to-be ex tries to hide assets once the divorce proceedings begin.
Along with the assets, you will also want to gather financial information about your shared and individual debts. Student loans, credit card debt, mortgages, and other obligations are important to document as they will of course affect the overall financial picture. If you have a business with your spouse, or if either of you has your own business, the financial situation may be extremely complicated. Your divorce attorney can help you find a business valuation specialist to work with.
States have different laws around how property is distributed after a divorce. In many states, any property acquired during the marriage will be split equally between the parties. However, there are so many exceptions to this rule that only a qualified divorce attorney in your state can give you a clear picture of what is likely to happen. You may also want to open a new bank account in your name, and you may be instructed by your attorney to deposit some of the money from your joint accounts into it.
Residence and Children
In many cases, your divorce attorney will advise you to stay in the marital residence if at all possible, though in situations involving abuse you may need to leave for your safety. If there are children, then that will give you time to work out a suitable custody arrangement before parenting separately. Living separately is also more expensive than living together, since there are two households to support. Staying in the home for as long as possible can help because judges are less likely to disturb the status quo if it is working. However, every situation varies and the emotional toll may not be worth it to you.
If there are children from the marriage and you live separately, you will need to work out some kind of provisional custody agreement. Generally attorneys will advise you to give your spouse reasonable access to the children, barring any safety or other serious concerns. If you are concerned about violence or abuse towards you or your children, your divorce attorney can help you file for an order of protection. Throughout the process it is generally wise to document anything odd or concerning.
In sum, for many people the best first step in a divorce is to find an experienced divorce attorney to give you specific advice tailored to your situation. While the prospect of dissolving a marriage may seem overwhelming, having a skilled professional by your side will help you to make sure you and your children are protected.