10 Things You Must Do Before You File For Divorce

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At Melone Hatley, PC, we understand that going through divorce is never easy. However, there are some steps you can take today to ease the burden and properly plan, so you don’t have a long-drawn-out process. Here is a list of 10 things we think is crucial to help you:

1. NEVER Threaten Divorce Until You Are Ready to File

If you make your partner aware that you are filing for divorce before you are ready, you run the risk of giving your spouse the opportunity to start planning and plotting to make a better case. In more extreme situations, spouses can get intimidating and even violent in these types of situations. Your spouse also now has the time to start trying to hide assets. If children are involved, your spouse can develop stories and position themselves as the better parent in their minds, which can confuse your children and ultimately hurt you. Be sure to take your time and gather all the necessary documents and information before you let your spouse know that you are filing for divorce.

2. Gather and Organize All Necessary Documents

The more efficient you are in a divorce the more time you can save. If your attorney receives your documents and everything is in disarray, then it will take time and money to organize them. Gather every important document that you can find and make copies of them all. Some of the documents may include:

  • Marriage Documents – All documents related to your marriage and estate
    • Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements and marriage license
    • Wills, living wills, trust documents, and life insurance policies
    • Powers of attorney and advanced healthcare directives
  • Financial Documents
    • List out all your assets – vehicles, property (deeds), joint bank accounts, stocks, bonds, etc.
    • List all of your debts — Joint Debt, credit card debt, medical bills, car loans, rent/mortgage, student loans, etc.
    • Gather income information — You and your Spouses W2s, Tax Returns (last 5-10 years), and any pay statements that you may have.
  • Other Essential Documents
    • It is very important to run a credit report on yourself at the beginning of the divorce process. This will serve as a good snapshot of your debts at the time the divorce was beginning.

After your divorce, you want to run a second credit report and compare that to the original report—this will allow you to make sure there was no credit taken in out in your name. You also want to write down a list of login usernames and passwords to all joint accounts. It is common for one spouse to control the family’s finances, and if you’re the spouse that doesn’t have control, you’ll want that information before your spouse has time to block you from accessing the accounts. Although courts require both parties involved to fully disclose all finances, some spouses will delay the process and make things difficult. So, it makes sense to gather all documents, even if you question its relevance, to mitigate this potential outcome. Be sure to be as detailed as possible and try not to leave any stone unturned. Do not forget items that are in safety deposit boxes.

3. Make Sure Children Understand the New Arrangement

Divorces are sometimes postponed because of the many ups and downs that relationships experience. The couple may agree that divorce is not the best option for their situation and that this period of their marriage is only a rocky patch.

Your children may find it difficult to understand the reality that their parents are not divorcing after coping with the initial plan of divorce. It is better to hold off on discussing divorce with your children until both parents are positive about moving forward with it and the process has already been begun.

The process can be made even harder on the children if one parent is trying to use the children as a pawn in the divorce. Unfortunately, we frequently see one parent try and turn the children on the other parent. In situations like this, it is important to move quickly. You must not let the other parent dictate a visitation schedule and you do not want to let the other parent monopolize all of the children’s’ time.

4. Put An Emergency Fund in Place

When you are going through divorce, it is not uncommon for one spouse to have greater access to joint funds or be the higher earning spouse. In situations like this, it is imperative that finances become a part of your divorce plan. You will want to make sure that you have your own money set aside, that you can quickly access at least half of all money in joint checking/savings accounts, and that you have access to credit, if need be.

When you decide that it is time for the divorce, and you believe that your spouse may try to cut you off financially, it will be a good idea to put one half of the joint funds into an account that only you can access.

5. Build Your Support Team and Support System

Divorce is a lonely, frigid experience. There are some days when you just want to stay in bed forever. It’s healthy to withdraw occasionally and experience the grief. But you can’t use it as your main coping mechanism. When selecting your support group, follow two steps. First, find companions who can help you in a variety of ways because divorce impacts all aspect of your life.

Second, allow everyone to contribute in the right ways. Your lawyer is not also your therapist. Your therapist is not a friend. Stick to the knowledge they can provide in their own fields rather than unfairly expecting others to perform tasks they are incapable of.

Lastly, you should find things you can do on your own to keep yourself in the most positive mindset possible. The system can look different depending on the individual. For instance, it could look like healthy activities like exercise, reading, cooking, or playing music. In some cases, it may be beneficial to establish a similar support system for the children that are independent of the parties.

6. Try To Remain as Civil as Possible

In some divorces, the spouses are very kind to each other, and both make positive steps to end the marriage in an amicable way. Unfortunately, these types of situations of rare.

The divorce process is very emotional and can take longer than expected. Because of this, it is not uncommon for even the most level-headed people to get too emotional at times. It is important to remember that most of the divorce process is an act of dividing assets and debts.

The most emotional parts of the divorce generally concern the children. This is where we see people make the most mistakes. They will try and talk to their children about the divorce, get in petty fights with the other parent, and even call the other parent names. Due to the increasing use of email and text messages, these petty arguments frequently take place in writing.

It is important to remember that anything you write you down, like a text or email, can be introduced in court and used against you. So, no matter how angry you are at the other spouse, you will want to stop and think before pushing send on that nasty email or text message.

7. Take Steps to Separate Your Life

When you are going through divorce, it is important that you take the necessary steps to start separating yourself from your spouse. This can include getting your own bank accounts and credit cards, taking steps to safeguard your credit, getting your own health insurance, and starting your own estate plan.

You can get our 7 Steps to Separate your Life in the Divorce Process guide here:

8. Choose Your Living Arrangements

When going through divorce, many couples will try and stay in the same home to save on money. However, due the very emotional nature of divorce, this can be a very bad idea. For that reason, it is very important to have a plan on who will remain in the marital residence.

It is equally as important to have a plan if you decide you are going to move out of the marital residence, especially if children are involved.

You want to make sure that you move to a place that you can afford, that is not too far away from the other parent, and if possible, in the same school district the children are currently in. Your goal should be to change as little as possible.

9. Think About Employment

It’s not uncommon for one spouse to work while the other takes care of the children at home. However, going through a divorce is the quickest way to discover how challenging it is to live on one income. If you’re unemployed and you have the skills to get a job and start making money, you should start thinking about getting a job.

If you are the lower spouse, or have been the stay-at-home parent, it will be important to seek spousal and child support while the divorce is pending. Even in the most amicable situations, it is rare for the higher earning spouse to willingly give an appropriate amount of support. Because of this, it is important to have a plan in pace so that you can move quickly try and get support turned on.

As part of the divorce, it will be important to determine what the appropriate amount of child support will be and if continued spousal support is appropriate. It is important to have a strong understanding of the rules that govern each, know the incomes of you and your spouse, and have a solid understanding of all the costs that you will face in the future.

10. Get Help Immediately If Domestic Abuse is Involved

If you have experienced any sort of domestic violence or bullying, it is important to move quickly to get help. There are many options for you to protect yourself; from planning to move out of the home to going after court invention.

Ignoring domestic violence can have awfully bad consequences on your overall case. If you wait too long to address the issues, the court may believe that it must not have been that bad since you stuck around

*As a bonus step, try to imagine what your future life will be like once the divorce is over:

You had a life before the divorce, and you will have a life after the divorce. For many people, the end of a marriage serves as a crucial turning point in their life—one that is generally positive in the long run. It is important to imagine the life that you want to have after the divorce and start planning for that future right now.

Contact A Divorce Attorney

Melone Hatley, PC was started in 2014 with the sole purpose of helping people going through divorce. With offices throughout Virginia and North Caroline, we pride ourselves on truly being a partner that our clients can count on—we are your partner in divorce.

Not only will we work with you on the legal issues that you will be facing; but we understand the real-world impact that divorce will have on your life. So, we will work with you to find the best realtor, mortgage person, financial advisor, or even someone to fix your car—we truly are you partner.

Rebecca Melone

Written By Rebecca Melone

Rebecca Melone established Melone Hatley P.C. in 2014 with the goal of helping families with a range of legal services from estate and family law to traffic tickets and misdemeanor criminal matters.
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