5 Things to Do Before You File for Divorce
We know that there a lot of things to think about and do before you take the drastic step to end a marriage. But, we believe there are a few things that you should really analyze and figure out before you take the next step of hiring a divorce attorney.
1) Articulate what you want to change by getting a divorce
It’s easy to imagine a laundry list of grievances that you’ve assembled demonstrating exactly why you want to leave your spouse, but that isn’t what is called for here (although that is a good exercise, too!). You can’t just say that you’ll be free of that “cheating SOB”. What you really need to do is understand and articulate exactly what you will change in your life by getting a divorce. For example, you might say, “I will live in a peaceful home where nightly conflicts over bedtime schedules and dirty laundry are no longer the norm.” Try to be very specific about what your expectations are for living without your spouse. You will be amazed how silly some grievances are and how realistic others are to remedy.
2) Analyze your finances
Understand exactly where you both as a couple are financially and where you will be when you’re solo. How much of your debt is joint? Are you able to establish credit on your own? Do you have a steady income? Does your spouse? Can you count on your spouse to contribute as he/she will need to when you have separate households? This is probably some of the most tedious work you will need to do but also some of the most important work. There are many couples who decide to NOT get a divorce after analyzing the financial situation and finding that they could not afford to establish two households.
3) Talk to an unbiased 3rd party
This is probably one of the more difficult things to do because it requires you to openly discuss your most personal problems with a stranger. Some people are so resistant to anything that smacks of “talk therapy” or requires a trip to the “shrink”. It doesn’t have to be a psychiatrist or a psychologist; it can be a social worker or a clergyperson. But, it shouldn’t be your best friend or a family member. That will not be an unbiased 3rd party. The benefit to having such a discussion is to give you a safe place to unload your fears, worries and anger and perhaps you’ll have a better understanding after your discussion that will help you to complete step 1 above.
4) Consult with a family law attorney
If you noticed that we didn’t use the phrase “divorce attorney” then you are on the ball today! We specifically said family law attorney because that is with whom you should speak before you take the official first steps to file a divorce. You need to have a very clear understanding of what the legal process is in your jurisdiction regarding divorce, child support and child custody, alimony, etc. Do not let your five friends who have all gone through divorces explain the process to you. They will be telling you about their personal experiences and will not know the legal aspects of the process despite how much they paid their own divorce attorneys, how many divorces they’ve gone through, or what they read online. You need to get the facts from a qualified family law attorney and this consultation should not cost you an arm and a leg. And, it will more than pay for itself when you’re not blindsided by a judicial order that you were prepared in advance to expect.
5) Consider a separation
This is becoming more and more a choice made by many couples after they have gone through the 4 steps outlined above. Why? Well, sometimes a divorce filing can be a knee-jerk reaction to an event that was the “last straw that broke the camel’s back.” Of course we are not talking about situations where there’s domestic violence and abuse. Get out of that situation immediately and forget the steps enumerated here. But, if it’s a divorce decision that has been a long time coming, then it’s worth thinking about separating first before filing for divorce. In some jurisdictions a separation is required (in cases without domestic violence) before the parties can file for divorce (as is the case in Maryland). A separation also gives you the time to work out the child custody and support issues, the finances, and other long-term issues before you get to the final divorce stage. Again, consulting with a family law attorney will help you to decide if this is the best next step for you and your family.
Let us know how it goes after you’ve completed your five step analysis. Divorce is often a very painful process for both the spouses and the children. It’s important to do your homework before you make such a life altering decision for everyone in your family.