It might surprise you that divorces are much more complicated than you may think. Right now, your focus may be on how hard it will be to lose your spouse or how your children will adapt to the new normal. However, a divorce encompasses more than the emotional aspects and digs into legal and financial tussles too. Moreover, the processes can drag on for months, leaving you drained, tired, and wondering when it will all come to an end. We understand that the times ahead will not be the rosiest and have compiled seven steps to get you on the right path.

Find a Divorce Attorney

Have you ever seen someone get a horrible settlement in a divorce, and you wondered how that happened?

Let’s be honest.

Not having the right legal counsel before, during, and after your divorce can land you in a similar situation. Take the example of where your spouse decides to file for a divorce, accusing you of adultery and claiming a large share of the property division. As an individual, you may not understand what defenses are available to you, and you can end up on the losing end. Even if you are legally aware of your rights, your emotions can still get in the way of winning the battle.

Thus, whether you are a legal professional or not, once you know that a divorce is imminent, please seek legal counsel. Do not wait until you have a few days to the divorce hearing to start looking for an attorney. Prep early and get referrals from people who have been through divorces.

Is legal counsel expensive? It sure is!

In fact, if you and your partner can find a way forward that does not involve lawyers, that would be the best approach. You can even try a collaborative divorce which is less time-consuming and highly cost-effective. However, if you cannot see eye to eye and are set on battling it out in court, you will pay a pretty dime for the legal services.

Here’s the thing, though - it’s worth it if the value of the outcome is more than the ongoing expenses. It would not make much financial sense to fork out $5,000 to an attorney only to get an asset worth $2,000. Figure out what you are fighting for, if you can get it in another way and if your partner is willing to try an alternative dispute resolution approach.

Please note that litigation is time-consuming, expensive, and takes an emotional toll on the parties. If you would rather avoid heated arguments and dragging each other in court, talk to your partner and see if you can reach an agreement. If not, don’t end up like a deer caught in headlights- seek legal counsel as soon as you can.

Gather Personal Information

It’s time to start getting your ducks in a row by understanding where you stand as an individual and as a couple. All this information will help your attorney put things in perspective. Ensure you understand your:

Individual Info

During your divorce, you should be ready for your spouse to show their dark side. It is during these times that you get to see who you truly married. To avoid getting blindsided, start by safeguarding your personal information.

Whether or not your spouse has previously had access to any of your accounts, it’s time to start changing your passwords.

Log out of any signed-in devices and set new pins and security questions for all your important accounts. If you share any accounts with them, it’s time to start deleting your details and applying for new accounts. It’s going to be hard to walk away from a marriage and the shared aspects that brought you closer. However, it’s a hard pill that you will have to swallow.

Besides, if you share a PO Box, you’ll need to get a new one. You would not want your spouse intercepting important mail to sabotage your divorce proceedings. Assume the worst and stay safe.

Additionally, it’s time to start digging into how much your spouse makes at this point. If you want to make a case for child support or alimony, you’ll need to show how much your spouse can afford. If roles are reversed, and you feel that your spouse will come after your money, it’s time to show the court how much you think they can afford and how much you are willing to provide. Here’s a simple checklist to get you started:

Info You Your Spouse
Full legal name ✔️ ✔️
Date of Birth ✔️ ✔️
Your Mailing Addresses ✔️ ✔️
Proof of state residency ✔️
Social security number ✔️ ✔️
Employer’s Information ✔️ ✔️
How Long You Have Been Employed ✔️ ✔️
How Much You Earn ✔️ ✔️
Information On Your Online Accounts ✔️

Marital Info

Your attorney will also want to know some pertinent details about your marriage. It’s time to be candid, and while it may be painful to relive the memories of your union, it will help the attorney determine the best way to handle your divorce. Be prepared to get into:

  • When and where you tied the knot
  • The names of the people who witnessed your marriage
  • A copy of your marriage certificate
  • If you were married before, a copy of your divorce certificate
  • Why you are getting a divorce, e.g., abandonment, adultery, etc.
  • If you ever went to counseling, detail when you went and whether your spouse was present

It’s easy to get emotional when describing your relationship. However, you should not let anger or any other emotions cloud your judgment. Keep the conversation brief and be professional about how you talk about your spouse.

For example, instead of saying that ‘That idiot upped and left me five years ago,’ you can state, ‘My spouse abandoned me and the marital home in July 2015 and has not been back since.’

If it gets to be too much, you can always lean on your loved ones for support. It also helps to get counseling as you prepare for the divorce to be more objective during your meetings with your attorney.

Divorce Info

If the divorce proceedings have already started, you and your spouse may have already agreed on some matters. The court may also have put some orders in place. If you’re seeking an attorney at this point, you should show them your:

  • Separation Agreement
  • Visitation Orders
  • Child Custody Orders
  • Restraining Orders (when dealing with abusive spouses or stalking)
  • Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreements

Your attorney can review these and figure out the best way to handle the divorce to help you come out on top.

Kids’ Info

Suppose your divorce will also affect your kids listed as dependents in the court papers. Your attorney needs to know who these are. Please note that you will not require information on all children. Instead, this step relates to children as follows:

Kids Categories Are Under 18 Are Over 18 Are Over 18 with a long-term disability
Biological Children Born into The Marriage Yes No Yes
Adopted During the Marriage Yes No Yes
From Your Past Marriage and Adopted in The Marriage Yes No Yes
From Your Spouse’s Past Marriage and Adopted in The Marriage Yes No Yes

What exactly does your attorney need?

Pretty much everything!

You’ll need to show each child’s:

  • Full name and date of birth
  • Birth certificate and social security card
  • Medical history, any medications they are on, any allergies, and any needs for special care
  • Contact information for any specialist who handles the child, such as the family doctor
  • Current care arrangements
  • Custody agreement and where visitation is in place, where the visits take place. A calendar showing the visitation times and dates is essential.
  • Requirements for child support
  • Expenses per period, e.g., medical bills, tuition, and other needs
  • Insurance cover and the name under which the cover is shown
  • Adoption records where applicable

Please note that the earlier you start retrieving all this information, the better it will be for you. As the divorce progresses, your spouse may hide the documents. Suppose your spouse wants to play dirty games and force you to engage in such hide and seek games, you can ask your attorney to file a formal motion to access the documents. Preparation is crucial, and the earlier you can get a hold of the papers, the easier it is to avoid this child’s play.

Identify Your Personal Property

Do you know how much you own?

It’s time you did.

During a divorce, it might be tempting to hide your finances. That’s mistake number one, and you should not try to do this.

Instead, follow your attorney’s advice and understand how much you own as an individual and how much you own with your spouse. Be sure to break down each item by value and make sure you have the documents necessary to prove that you own the assets.

To make sure you get the correct value, you can perform some market comparisons.

For example, if you own a three-bedroom apartment in a complex and your neighbors sold theirs at $240,000 in the last six months, that would be a good comparison. Alternatively, you can bring in professionals to assess the values of assets. With smaller items, you can leave the value as unknown.

Does it matter if you don’t have the receipts? Not so much.

As long as you have the proper paperwork, the judge will not be hard on you. It’s another thing if you have a questionable number of missing receipts as it may start looking like you are hiding your money. Please get your documents organized to avoid raising eyebrows and giving your spouse an upper hand.

Here’s an overview of the asset groups you can create and what paperwork you’ll need to present to the court:

Personal Property Examples Paperwork
Real Estate
  • Vacation Properties
  • Primary Homes
  • Land
  • REITs
  • Rental Properties
  • Deeds to the Homes
  • Insurance Policies
  • Property Tax Details and Payments
  • Mortgage or Credit Line Statements
Vehicles
  • Cars, Trucks and SUVs
  • Sports Cars
  • Two-Wheelers
  • Aircraft
  • Watercraft
  • Registration and VIN Numbers
  • Insurance Policies
  • Loan Statements
Machinery
  • Lawn Mowers, Tractors, Excavators and Snowplows
  • Light and Heavy Machinery
  • Implements
  • Bills of sale and Serial Numbers
  • Insurance Policies
  • Loan Statements
Household items
  • Kitchenware
  • Bedding
  • Furniture
  • Appliances
  • Receipts
  • Loan Statements
  • Warranties
Personal items
  • Collections, Jewelry and Antiques
  • Tools
  • Sports Gear
  • Memorabilia
  • Receipts
  • Warranties
Pets and livestock
  • Cats and Dogs etc.
  • Domestic Animals
  • Animal care products and equipment e.g., crates
  • Adoption, Vaccination and Registration Records
  • Bills of Sale
  • Care Requirements e.g., vet’s contact info, prescriptions etc.

Organize your Legal Documents

Where do you stand from a legal perspective? For example, have you kept up with your tax returns? Do you have the documents to prove it? The court will also want to have a look at some legal documents. Luckily, these are easy to access and fall into four main categories: your end-of-life plans, insurance policies, tax returns, and businesses. For the latter case, please note that this applies to businesses owned by you and those owned by your spouse or together as a couple. Here’s a look at what you need to get in order now:

End-of-life plans:

  • Wills
  • Powers of attorney

Insurance policies:

  • Homeowner’s or renter’s
  • Auto
  • Life
  • Long-term disability
  • Long-term care
  • Umbrella
  • Identity theft

Tax returns:

  • Three years’ worth of W-2s OR three years’ worth of 1099s

Businesses (owned by you and/or your spouse):

  • Registrations, patents or trademarks
  • Receipts
  • Tax returns
  • Payroll information

If you cannot find these papers or need to push your spouse to get them, you can involve your lawyer to help you access the documents faster. It’s better that you start changing what you need to at this point rather than waiting until the divorce has progressed even further.

For all the documents, make sure you keep a copy. Let’s look at some key examples:

Update your insurance

You have to remember that divorces can bring out the worst in people, and you’ll want to protect yourself as much as you can. On the same note, you and your spouse will no longer be a couple, and you should not look after them unless otherwise stipulated by the court.

Let’s take an example of where you have been insuring their business.

If you are no longer together, it’s time to take your name out of the policy. Otherwise, if something happens to the business, you will still be liable as your name will be on the policy.

Here’s another example - health policies.

As a couple, you get to enjoy a family cover that allows you or your spouse to cover you and the children. You cannot take your name out of the cover or remove your spouse’s name until the divorce is complete. If you are on the losing end and will soon be without a cover, it’s now time to start weighing your options.

Other than health, you also have to think about your life policy. Please note that this one is urgent. Suppose anything happens to you, and your spouse is the beneficiary, the money will go to them because that’s the name on the policy. You need to update the plan and make it clear that the money will go to someone else. It’s also time to update your policy and see if you can get an even better deal now that you’ll be the one providing for your dependents.

Have you noticed the surge in identity theft?

Think about it this way.

While we are not in any way implying that your spouse can stoop this low after the divorce, they know almost everything about you. They know how you talk, walk, dress, act and are likely aware of most of your moves. Thus, if they want to scam you, they would have the upper hand compared to the common criminals. It’s probably time that you changed your financial details or invested in an identity theft cover.

It might seem like a stretch but making all these changes now allows you to have peace of mind rather than being on edge in the times to come.

Update your will and powers of attorney

Where will your money go once you are no longer in this world?

Most people do not want to think about this. Some are even superstitious and believe that thinking about their wills pushes them closer to the grave. Regardless of how you feel about it, it’s now time to create or update your will to cover your dependents. You are still free to include your spouse as a beneficiary though most people go with their children and other friends and family. If you intend to ensure that your spouse will not get anything when you die, make this clear.

Please note that you cannot be very accurate about what you will leave to your children at this stage as the divorce is not final. However, some assets will remain unaffected by the hearings. For example, if you own a share of your family’s business and know that this will not be subject to division, you can include it in the will.

Here’s something you should not miss - the powers of attorney.

Do you know what this means?

Anyone who has these powers can make financial and medical decisions for you. If you had previously accorded your spouse these rights, it’s now time to take them back. You would not want an instance where they get to make life or death decisions on your behalf. While they may make the right choice, divorces can turn ugly, and so can your spouse’s actions when it comes down to it.

Get Your Finances in Order

Is it time to hide your finances?

Not quite!

Doing so would only sour your chances of coming out on top of the divorce. Sure, divorce is not a competition, and nobody wins, especially in litigation. However, some people lose more than others, and you would not want to mess up your chances. That said, disagreements over money can worsen the situation at home, and things can get bad fast. Seeing as you never know what will happen once the proceedings start, it’s time to start securing the bag. Here’s how you can do it:

Gather Financial Documents

Start by accessing all your accounts and changing the passwords, ensuring that your spouse can no longer access them. Even if you think that they do not have the pins, they may surprise you. Also, change the recovery modes on the accounts such that even if your spouse tries to access your accounts via email or phone, they will not be successful. You don’t want to be in a situation where your spouse wipes your account clean to sabotage your divorce process.

With that out of the way, it’s now time to figure out how much you and your spouse own. It requires collaboration, but you may not have a successful spouse at this time. Be ready to do most of the fact-finding alone as you look into all the following categories:

Category What you and your spouse should provide
Bank Account numbers

Current statements

Cash Amount of money in the home
Credit report Your current credit report
Health savings account Account numbers

Current statements

Inheritance Any money you inherited before the marriage

How you spent the money

Mortgage debt and home equity lines of credit Current loan statements

Loan statements since separation

Proof of any mortgage payments you made after leaving the house

Non-mortgage debt (cars, student loans, credit cards, etc.) Current loan statements

Loan statements since the separation began

Personal loans A list of anyone who owes you money and how much they owe you

When they’re supposed to pay you back

Retirement account(s) Account numbers

Current statements

Separate your Finances

When entering a marriage, most people decide to combine their resources.

After all, there is power in numbers, and it becomes much easier to access bigger credit lines and qualify for mortgages. However, now that you want to go your separate ways, it’s time to break away from the ‘we’ mentality and accept that you’re currently working with a ‘me’ approach. It’s time to take your money and put it into a new account.

How should you do it?

First, if you are on a payroll, you need to get another account and notify your finance department of this change. The new payments will go into that account. If you are doing business, start another account and save your money instead of putting it into a joint account.

Secondly, if you’ll be living in the home, it’s time to get the bills in your name. Make sure you get the subscriptions sorted, too, to avoid any hassles in the future. The good news is that these changes are fairly easy, and you’ll not need to go through lengthy processes.

Here’s some bad news, though.

If you co-signed on any loan with your spouse and they haven’t paid it yet, you are still liable to contribute to the payments. The court may order your spouse to clear the debt on their own. However, if your spouse wants to make things difficult for you, they can lag on the payments, forcing you to dig into your pocket. It may seem unreasonable, and it is, but it’s better to get it over and done with as you start forging your way into the future.

Close Joint Credit Accounts

Do you and your spouse have joint credit lines?

It’s time to close such accounts.

Some people tend to be malicious during divorces and can go on shopping sprees or misuse the money to get on your nerves. Unfortunately, you will still be liable for the debt incurred even if only your spouse used the card. Additionally, your spouse can decide not to keep up with the payments just to hurt your credit. When this happens, you will have a hard time accessing loans in the future and purchasing another home could remain but a dream. Close the account while you can.

Put an Emergency Fund in Place

You might be saving money towards moving out of the house, paying your attorney and other things you feel are important during the divorce. However, you cannot plan for everything, and you can end up facing an unexpected issue that takes you back to square one. To avoid being at the mercy of one wrong turn, start saving some money in your contingency fund. The easiest way to do this is by reducing your expenditure and putting off any payments that are not urgent at present. That way, even if your spouse throws you a curveball, you’ll be ready to face it.

Make a Monthly Budget

Have you ever noticed that some people earn a lot of money yet they cannot account for where it goes?

While this will not be a lesson on budgeting, we will focus on one important thing - without planning how you will spend your money, you can end up in a financial mess. To start with, divorces are costly, and the money you will spend on paying your lawyer and organizing your paperwork will be a lot. Additionally, your emotions will likely be on a roller coaster, and you will feel out of control at times.

You must have a budget as it allows you to have control over one important aspect of your life. Understand how much money you will spend on legal fees, the house, your children and other dependents, shopping, and other areas. Figure out places you can cut back on spending and come up with an estimate of how much you’ll need every month. The goal is to end up with some money at the end of each month to work towards your savings goals. Otherwise, you can come out of the divorce in debt, and this can curtail your desire to move on and build your new life.

Prepare an After-Divorce Budget

With your spouse out of the home, what will your life be like?

Many people suffer a deep dive in their finances after divorce and end up with less money to spend.

Take an example of where your spouse catered to the shopping needs and even paid the mortgage, enabling you to have a lot of disposable income to run the home.

If you divorce, they can still give you alimony, but it probably won’t be enough to run the home as you did in the past. Figure out how much you will need to run the house and use this when negotiating your alimony in the court proceedings. Otherwise, you can get a settlement that barely meets your needs.

If you are the more financially stable spouse, figure out how much you will spend and how much you can comfortably give your spouse after the divorce.

Raise your Income

Now that you no longer have two incomes supporting the household, you’ll need to think about how you can make up for the lost income. Some people go back to work, take second jobs, start businesses, invest more, cash out on their money markets, etc. The goal is to bridge the gap between what you had before and what you will now have once the divorce is final. If you’re going to end up with less money, the time to start finding a plan B is now rather than later. It might not be what you had in mind those years ago when you got into the marriage, but it’s a reality you have to face.

Find a Place to Live

Your living arrangement will likely change during the divorce. Some people opt to live together to reduce the expenses as the divorce ensues. Others cannot live together and require to separate even before the divorce is final.

Take the example of where your spouse is abusive, and living in the home would not be ideal. It hurts to move away from a place you regarded as your home, but where it is the easier choice, you have no option but to do so. As you move from home, you will realize that the reality of the divorce will hit you and can bring up emotions that you had earlier not felt. Plus, it takes a toll on your finances.

Let’s review some options during this stage:

If you Stay in The Home

Suppose you and your spouse decide that you’re the one who gets to keep the home, you will have the advantage of not leaving.

However, is it affordable?

Ideally, your rent or mortgage payments should be less than 25% of what you make each month. If not, the costs are too high, and you cannot comfortably afford to live in the house. Where your spouse is willing to pitch in even after the divorce, you can manage the expense. Alternatively, you can raise your income and afford the space. If not, you may have to sell the home with your spouse, and each of you can find another place to live. You will notice that after divorces, most couples downsize as they try to bounce back to the life they had. It’s quite normal to do this, and you should not keep a house to save face.

If you Move Out

Moving out still requires that you find an affordable home that won’t strain your financial resources. You can choose to rent a house or even mortgage a new home depending on your credit score and savings at the time of the divorce. Consider downsizing and cutting back on your expenses at this point to make it easier to afford your new home.

Moving could Affect your Kids’ School

Divorces often upset the normalcy in the home, and having to uproot your kids and move them to another neighborhood may not be ideal. Thus, you and your spouse can decide to keep the house for the sake of the children. Please be careful about the negotiations lest you end up losing your rights to the home. Have the interests of the children at heart and try and compromise with your spouse on what’s best for them. Suppose you want to keep the house and have an abusive partner that will not budge, you may need to involve the court to have the spouse removed from the home.

Moving could Affect the Interest you Have in the Marital Home

As the divorce progresses, property division will also come into play. If you want to keep the home, make sure that you keep up with your end of the mortgage payments. Otherwise, the judge can rule in your spouse’s favor if they have been diligent with their payments. Ensure that you have proof of payments and use this in your trial.

Take Care of Yourself

While preparing for the storm ahead, you might forget to take good care of yourself. It’s important to spend some time being good to yourself and distancing yourself from the negativity of the divorce. Here are some tips that can help you manage the stress that comes with a divorce:

Give Yourself Permission to Grieve

Your marriage is an important part of your life, and losing the person to whom you made a commitment cannot be easy. You’ll no longer have a partner to share your day with, or have holiday dinners with or even take on vacations. While you may not be on good terms now, this is a person who wore so many hats in your life- friend, confidant, lover and co-parent, among others. Grieve- let it all out.

Keep it Civil

Divorces can be messy, and people can go to great lengths to hurt each other. It’s not a war, and you should not treat it as such. Instead, you should aim to preserve what you can of the relationship and ensure that all parties remain protected. For example, you should not use children or other family members as weapons against each other.

It can feel great to be mean to a spouse who was not good to you during the marriage. However, inflicting pain on them will only give you temporary satisfaction and will only worsen the situation. Your kids will suffer, your relationship will sour, and people who were not part of your marriage will bear the brunt of it. Plus, when this anger spills into the court, you weaken your chances of getting a good settlement. Take an example where you physically attack your spouse and they present evidence of this, how would that look to a judge?

Be civil, seek therapy and have a strong support system to help you control your emotions as much as you can.

Create a new Picture for Your Life

People often lose their individuality in relationships. You might have been in the marriage so long that you no longer remember what you wanted in the first place. What do you want? Who are you? You’ll start figuring out your wants and needs again to ensure that the rest of your life is better than your present and past.

Eat well, sleep well, get a massage now and then, seek therapy, join a dancing class, try yoga, travel the world etc. Whatever takes the pain away and helps you evolve as a human being is welcome!

Get More Support

You are not alone. It might feel like it’s you against the world right now, but people are rooting for you. It’s time to allow them to steady and guide you as you walk away from your marriage. Whether it’s a team of friends, a therapist, a financial coach, a personal trainer, a life coach, family members, or a spiritual guide, start connecting with other people. They will help bring you out of the dark and into your new being.

It might seem like the walls are closing in on you now, but it’s only the beginning of the next phase of your life. Grieve what you’re losing and look forward to what the future holds. It will be well in time.