How to Prepare Yourself to File for Divorce
The end of a marriage is certainly not something to be taken lightly. In addition to the emotional process of separating from your spouse, divorce also entails a plethora of legal and financial decisions—but while it can be overwhelming, this process can also set the foundation for a better future.
If you’re planning to file for divorce, it’s vital to be adequately prepared to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible, from finding a divorce attorney to ensuring you have the support you need.
Find a divorce attorney
It is also important to find the right attorney for your needs. Consider what your goals are for your divorce and beyond. Make a list of concerns you have, such as establishing parenting time, child support payments, or how you could approach the distribution of assets. Identifying what is important to you now will make it easier to find the right lawyer.
Don’t hesitate to speak to several attorneys during your search and ask questions about their approach to family law matters, the types of divorces they handle, and what to expect while working with them.
Gather the right information
When preparing for divorce, gather the following types of information:
While you may have taken a “what’s mine is yours” approach during your marriage, this is no longer the case when filing for divorce. As you prepare to separate from your spouse, you should also separate your information to protect your privacy.
Gather the following information:
- Your full legal name and birthdate (i.e., your birth certificate)
- An address where your lawyer can send or serve legal documents (for both you and your spouse)
- Proof of residency
- Social security number
- Employment information—employer’s name and contact details, along with your length of employment and salary
- Usernames and passwords to all online accounts (it’s also good practice to change these once they’re no longer shared)
Consolidating and separating your personal information isn’t just practical—it can also protect your safety and security. Your divorce attorney may need this information to help with the legal process, too.
Collect and organize any legal documentation, such as:
- End-of-life plans—wills, powers of attorney, and advanced healthcare directives
- Insurance policies—homeowner’s or renter’s, auto, life, disability, etc.
- Tax returns—at least three years’ worth of W-2s or 1099s
- Business information—patents, trademarks, payroll information, receipts, etc.
If you’re on the fence about whether or not a document is needed, err on the side of caution and keep it. It’s better to have more information than necessary than to scramble as you try to fill the gaps.
As much as you may want to leave your marriage in the past, you’ll still need to share its details with your divorce attorney.
Gather information including:
- Your marriage certificate (or a certified true copy)
- Copies of past marriage and divorce certificates as applicable
- Details of when and where you and your spouse were married
- Names of the people who signed your marriage documents
- Details about visits to a marriage counselor, including whether you or your spouse refused to go
- Reason(s) for the divorce
If you have children under the age of 18 (or adult children with long-term disabilities), you’ll need the following information for each:
- Full names and birthdates
- Social security numbers and birth certificates
- Medical history
- Details of current child care, child support, and custody arrangements
- A comprehensive list of expenses (such as tuition, medical bills, sporting equipment, and more)
- Health insurance information
Depending on how far along you are in the divorce process, you may already have some temporary orders in place. Gather the following documents as applicable:
- Child custody order
- Visitation order
- Separation agreement
- Restraining order
- Prenuptial or postnuptial agreement
Identify your personal property
Along with separating your information from your spouse’s, you’ll also need to take a look at your property to determine what’s yours, and how you’ll divide any assets.
Take inventory of the things you own individually, and separate those items from the things you and your spouse own jointly. Document the item and its value, along with any relevant paperwork—deeds for houses, title and registration for vehicles, receipts and warranties for personal and household items, adoption records for pets, and more. You may even want to take a photo of the items for further evidence.
Not sure about the value of an item or asset? Consider getting it appraised by a professional.
Get your finances in order
If you and your spouse were sharing a bank account, you’ll need to take some time to split up your joint accounts, figure out who owes what, and get the rest of your finances in order, including:
- Bank account information and current statements
- Any cash you have on hand
- A copy of your credit report
- Mortgage payments
- Debts and loan payments (i.e., student loans, cars, credit cards, and personal loans)
- Retirement assets
- Business assets
- Inheritance assets
Find a place to live
Some couples decide that it works best to live together amicably until the divorce is final. But in other cases, it may be that one party needs to move out of the family home. This may be the case in high-conflict divorces or situations involving domestic violence.
Whether you stay in the home or move out, be sure that you can afford it on your own. As you plan future living arrangements, be sure to consider how the new location may affect your children’s schooling and custody arrangements.
Take care of yourself
As you navigate these financial and legal issues, don’t forget to take care of your emotional and physical health. Even in cases where the divorce is amicable, it can still be difficult. Give yourself permission to grieve the life you had pictured, while also looking forward with hope to your new future.
Gather a team of people who can support you financially, legally, and otherwise, from lawyers to financial advisors to child care providers—and, of course, friends and family members that you can lean on for emotional support.
Divorce is a complex process. Taking these steps to prepare is just the beginning of the process. One of the best things you can do for yourself in this process is to work with a knowledgeable legal team that has your best interests in mind.