Divorce Checklist: How to Prepare for Divorce
For many people, divorce is never an easy decision. Like it or not, ending a marriage is a life-altering choice that can lead to many unprecedented changes in your life. Like all big life decisions, it's crucial to adequately prepare for divorce and do your best to plan for what lies ahead.
While making the active choice to plan ahead for divorce likely won’t eliminate the inevitable stress and emotions involved in the process, it can make the transition easier. You’ll be glad to know that there are ways to prepare yourself for what’s to come.
7 Critical Steps to Prepare for Divorce
There is no single “divorce survival guide” to rely on after deciding to end a marriage. Because every marriage is unique, every divorce is unique, too.
Still, there are key steps you must take if you wish to enter the process as prepared as possible—something that is in your best interests if you wish to obtain a favorable outcome in court. Keep reading to learn 7 critical ways to prepare for divorce.
#1. Retain an experienced divorce attorney.
The majority of the time, it’s essential to seek support from a qualified divorce attorney. While it may be tempting to proceed in the process without this added expense, it can mean the difference between the results you desire and losing what’s rightfully yours. Moreover, a skilled divorce lawyer can help guide you through the many intricacies of family law and divorce proceedings.
Hiring a trusted attorney is especially crucial if:
- Your divorce is contested.
- You aren’t ending on amicable terms with your spouse.
- Your partner has hired an attorney.
- You share kids with your spouse.
- You share high-value assets.
The ability to have someone in your corner who focuses on in family law is always a wise idea, as you will likely rely heavily on their experience and knowledge throughout each stage of the divorce proceedings. Furthermore, they will be there to help ground you and explain all the confusing legalities—even when emotions run high.
#2. Maintain an inventory of your personal property.
California is an equitable distribution state, meaning that the court will attempt to divide all jointly owned property (also known as marital property or community property) as fairly and equitably as possible. Keep in mind that equitably doesn’t necessarily mean equally.
However, in the majority of cases, couples are permitted to retain ownership of separate property that is individually owned. You may find it helpful for you to take a quick inventory of what you own to help prepare you for court. At the very least, it can allow you to navigate your thoughts and emotions and feel better prepared to go into the divorce.
Consider taking photographs of items, as unfortunately, some things tend to disappear after the divorce proceedings begin. Having a list of individually owned items on hand will be helpful when it comes time for the judge to decide who gets what.
#3. Establish your own lines of credit, if needed.
As you can imagine, finances are an important step while preparing for divorce. It’s important to manage your bank accounts as effectively and efficiently as possible. Consider doing the following things to set yourself up for success:
- Close joint accounts.
- Make sure you have separate accounts open in your name only.
- Establish lines of credit in your name.
- Assess your debts.
- Order a credit report as soon as possible.
- Start putting money aside to pay for court expenses and legal fees.
#4. Determine what you own and owe.
Ending a marriage often means taking a good, hard look at what you and your spouse own together and separately. As an equitable distribution state, the California courts will take many details into account when it comes time for asset distribution. This means that the judge will likely consider additional factors when dividing your property, including financial details like:
- Income amount
- Debts paid
- Debts owed
It’s helpful to have an idea of any outstanding debts you may owe, in addition to what you own in the marriage, so you can financially plan ahead for the future.
#5. Assemble your support team.
When preparing for a divorce, it’s essential to consider all aspects of your health to establish a strong support system. This will allow you to care for your emotional and physical needs and allow you to fall back on trusted supporters when the going gets tough. To accomplish this, it’s a good idea to assemble the following support systems:
- Emotional: This may be the most obvious support system you'll require during a divorce. Who are the people in your life who know you best? Do you lean on your mother, best friend, or sibling when times are hard? Know who you can trust and lean on them before, during, and after the divorce. Having support from family, friends, and a tightly-knit community can work wonders for your mental health during the process.
- Physical: Do your part to prioritize your physical health. Consider finding a gym buddy, asking a friend to join you on daily walks through the park, a fun colleague willing to join you for 5K training, or a relative who's open to trying a new fitness class. Whatever you choose, find reliable ways to stay social and active.
- Spiritual: It’s important to prioritize your mental and emotional wellbeing as well. Whether you’re religious, enjoy meditation or breathing exercises, or simply crave some one-on-one time with the great outdoors, it’s important to lean on those who understand your values and beliefs. Consider getting more involved with a church community, small group, or club to reconnect with your spiritual roots.
- Legal: It’s important to have a legal team you can count on before, after, and during divorce. Seek counsel from a trusted attorney who can advise you on legal and financial matters, and take care to guide your steps to obtain a favorable outcome in court. They will likely be a major go-to resource for you throughout the legal proceedings.
#6. Set physical & technological boundaries.
Whether you just broke the news to your spouse or you’re preparing to, it’s critical to protect your private information and set boundaries when needed. Consider opening up your own P.O. box where you can receive personal or confidential information from your financial and legal team.
It’s also important to safeguard any existing accounts or open up new ones when necessary (consider your email accounts, subscriptions, and the like). Take a moment to review any shared platforms and accounts between you and your spouse. Reset passwords and separate accounts when needed.
You should also review insurance information. Do you have health insurance set up for yourself? Do you need to update documents? Do you need to change the beneficiaries on your life insurance policies or IRAs? These are important steps to take to adequately prepare for divorce.
#7. Learn the legal process.
It’s important to have a general knowledge of how the legal system works during divorce. While you certainly aren’t expected to know every single detail of family law—that’s why you hired an experienced divorce attorney, after all—it’s still critical for you to know what to expect.
Think of it this way: you wouldn’t sign up for a recreational sports league without knowing what it takes to score a point. You have a responsibility to know the basic game plan. How do divorces work? How is asset distribution conducted? How is child custody decided? What will the judge ask of you? How long will the process take?
This is all important information to know as you prepare to enter a divorce. Lean on your attorney with any questions or concerns you have regarding the legal proceedings, and do your best to equip yourself with the knowledge you'll need for success.
Our Firm Is Here to Help You Take Your Life Back
At Fenchel Family Law PC, we know how drastically a divorce can impact your life. From finances to mental health, ending a marriage takes a toll on our wellbeing. That’s why we’re devoted to equipping our clients to take their lives back after the final papers have been signed.
Our experienced divorce attorneys are here to offer the wise legal counsel and compassionate guidance you need to prepare for and navigate each stage of divorce. You don't have to enter this fight alone. You can rely on our firm's holistic approach and personalized attention from start to finish to obtain a favorable outcome in court. Take action today.
Are you preparing for divorce in the San Francisco area? You don’t have to fight this battle alone. Call (415) 650-1112 or contact us online to schedule your initial consultation.