How to Prepare for Divorce Legally, Financially and Emotionally

Unhappy couple

Getting a divorce is one of the biggest decisions you will make. Choosing to end a relationship is almost never easy, and sometimes it can even be traumatic. But decisions you make early in the process can make a difficult situation easier. Find out how to prepare for divorce, and get divorce tips about everything from managing your money to maintaining a positive mood.

When to Start Preparing for Divorce

Sometimes the need for a divorce sets in right away. In cases of domestic violence, for example, you may need to take your opportunity to separate as soon as it becomes available and then work to protect yourself and your children from your abuser once you are someplace safe.

More often, though, the decision to divorce comes gradually. When possible, it’s a good idea to start thinking about how to prepare for divorce one to three months before you separate. This will give you time to gather important paperwork, resolve what issues you can on your own, even temporarily, and come to grips with the grief of losing an important relationship.

How to Organize Divorce Paperwork

Anytime you go to court, there is a lot of paperwork involved. This is especially true in a divorce action. To keep everything straight, you should take time to plan how to organize your divorce paperwork. For example, you may want to purchase an accordion file or set up folders on your computer to hold:

  • Current court orders
  • Past court orders
  • Motions and responses still pending before the court
  • Notices for upcoming court hearings
  • Contact information for the Maryland Child Support Administration (CSA)
  • Documents your lawyer needs you to review or respond to

You should also develop a habit of keeping a calendar of all court-related events including hearings, discovery due dates, and parenting time exchanges. Having everything in one place will make it hard for anything to fall through the cracks. It is also important to maintain this information in a manner that is secure. In an effort to assist you with this task, we provide our clients with a secure portal that includes calendar and communication features, as well as an electronic document depository.

Organizing Your Financial Paperwork

In most marriages, one or the other spouse is more aware of the family’s situation than the other. Before getting a divorce, you need to understand your family’s assets and debts. Your lawyer will use this information to help you decide what your ideal settlement would look like, and to argue for an equitable division of property, alimony, child support, and other issues, if the matter goes to trial. While it is helpful if you have this information when you first meet with your lawyer, it is not required at the introductory stages of the process.

Paperwork Your Divorce Lawyer Will Need to See

  • Bank statements from each account in either spouse’s name (joint or individual)
  • 401k, Pension, and IRA statements
  • Social Security or Veterans Administration benefit statements
  • Pay stubs for both spouses’ income
  • Tax returns, W-2s, and 1099s for at least the last 3 years
  • Property deeds or leases
  • Car titles
  • Insurance policies
  • Wills or estate planning documents
  • Mortgage statements
  • Loan statements (including car loans, student loans, and credit cards)
  • Balances of any other debts such as medical billing, personal loans, or utility payments
  • Lists of any important or valuable personal property (such as collectibles, guns, jewelry, etc.)
  • Children’s information including their social security numbers, doctors, health insurance, report cards, and therapists’ contact information

It may seem like a lot of paperwork. However, gathering this information before you move out of the house or separate from your spouse, if possible, can save both of you time and money and speed up the process of getting a divorce. Even if you and your spouse can’t agree on how to divide what you own, if you can both agree on what you own and owe, and each has copies of relevant paperwork, you can save costs and avoid formal discovery to get the information later on.

How to Prepare for Divorce Financially

Once you have decided to separate from your spouse, you will need to be prepared to maintain a separate household. If you have been a stay at home parent or homemaker, this can be especially challenging. You may need to consider negotiating a separation agreement with your spouse to seek temporary alimony and child support to meet your needs until the Absolute Divorce can be entered.

Even if you earn significant income, you may still need to take these steps in preparation for your divorce:

1. Budget for Your Post-Divorce Living Expenses

Going from two incomes to one or moving out when you have been a stay-at-home parent always means finances are going to be tight. Be clear about how much income you need to support yourself and your children going forward. Recognize that you may need to make some lifestyle changes, including moving into a smaller home or cutting back on luxury expenses. Then discuss your budget with your attorney, estimate what you might receive or pay in support, and make any necessary adjustments.

2. Set Up Bank and Credit Accounts in Your Name Only

If you are still living with your spouse, there is a good chance that you share a bank account to pay for household expenses. However, if your wages get deposited into that account automatically, it could create a situation where your spouse has access to your income even after you have separated. Set up a new bank account in your name only and transfer your direct deposit to that account. Timing can be important when deciding when to redirect your salary. If finances are tight, you may also want to set up a new credit card account just for divorce-related expenses.

3. Save Up for Attorney Fees and Court Costs

No one wants to spend a lot on a divorce. However, choosing the least expensive option up front can often lead to more legal expenses in the long run. Consider how well you and your spouse are able to communicate, and whether you may want to consider mediation or collaborative divorce to reduce conflict during and after your divorce. These factors can all affect the total cost of a divorce. Once you know which process is right for you, you can start saving or look for other ways to finance your divorce action.

4. Change Your Beneficiary Designations and Powers of Attorney

One financial preparation step many people forget is to change your insurance beneficiaries and powers of attorney in anticipation of divorce. Most couples name one another as their primary beneficiaries on life insurance, 401k accounts, and bank accounts. You may also have signed a power of attorney giving your spouse authority to make financial decisions on your behalf. If something happens to you while your divorce is pending, you probably don’t want your soon-to-be-ex-spouse to be the one calling the shots. As you are preparing for divorce, take the time to change those designations and revoke your spouse’s power of attorney. Then notify your financial advisor, bank, and other professionals of the change.

How to Stay Strong Through a Divorce

Most divorce preparation advice is practical -- what to do, where to go, how to file, etc. However, divorce is also an emotional experience. If you are not prepared for the anger, sadness, and frustration that the process can cause, it can be overwhelming and even threaten your chance to resolve your divorce without a trial. Be prepared to deal with a difficult spouse. Remember that divorce brings out the worst in everyone. Even if you are both committed to making divorce easy, you may need help to keep that commitment.

Build an Emotional Support Structure

Before filing for divorce, look at your friends and family to see who you may be able to work things through with. This might be your mother who always has your back, a friend who went through a similar situation, or a family member in a related career. It should not be just one person. It should not be your children. Be strategic. Consider who you will talk to about the practical issues, who will be a listening ear, and who will help you stay objective when emotions get in the way. Then let them know what is going on and ask for their support before you need it. If they are not in a position to offer you the support you need be prepared to honor their wishes and find someone else to talk to.

Remember that communications with your friends and family are not confidential and it may be important to maintain some privacy over your plans by speaking with a professional (social worker, therapist, or pastor), with whom some degree of confidentiality is ensured. You may want to hire a Divorce Coach or Therapist. Friends and family can be great emotional support, but most won’t have the skills and training to help you work through the grief and frustration of negotiating a divorce. Short-term therapy or divorce coaching can give you access to a professional who is trained to address the emotional side of divorce, so that you can process your anger and your grief and separate your emotions from your decision-making when considering a potential settlement.

How to Prepare for Divorce with Kids

You and your spouse aren’t the only one who will be affected by your decision to separate. Children can often be seriously affected by a sudden or high-conflict divorce. Depending on their age and the situation, they blame themselves, believe you and your ex-spouse will get back together, or come to resent one or both parents. In cases where co-parents are able to communicate, it is a good idea to agree on a single approach to explain why a divorce is happening and what it will mean for your kids. You should also avoid the urge to blame the other parent or to discuss adult aspects of the divorce process with your kids. This doesn’t mean you should hide what is happening from your children, but you should always discuss the process with them in an age-appropriate way.

To the extent you are able, try to give your children stability and certainty in the days leading up to your divorce. Negotiate a regular visitation schedule with your spouse and give your kids an easy way to track it (like a calendar on the refrigerator), so that they know who they will be with on any given day. Try to balance their need to stay connected to both parents with the stress of frequent visitation exchanges. Take steps to keep them connected to extended family and friends at school, even if it means being flexible with the parenting schedule. If you can stay child-focused, it will help your children maintain their own emotional support network, and keep them from feeling isolated and alone while the case progresses.

Your kids may benefit from counselors of their own during the family transition. You and your spouse may not be as emotionally available to your children while dealing with the divorce. Giving your child an independent adult they can talk to and a place where they can be honest about how they are feeling will help them process what is happening and avoid resentment which may build up over time.

There are a lot of moving pieces in a divorce. At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, our divorce attorneys can help you take a holistic approach to the process. We will guide you through preparing your finances and family for the divorce, and connect you with professionals who can help you manage your emotional needs and the emotional needs of your children, throughout the process. Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our Maryland attorneys.

Categories: Divorce