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Your Practical Checklist Before Filing for Divorce

May 28, 2024

Approximately half of all marriages end in divorce. For any number of reasons, what was once a close relationship has become distant or strained. Today, divorce is a straightforward solution to a common problem. The key to a divorce with minimal trauma is planning and preparation. Whether you are planning to part ways as friends or there is a conflict that you need to escape safely, planning can help ensure your divorce is completed as smoothly and quickly as possible. That's why having a divorce checklist can be invaluable in guiding you through the necessary steps to prepare for this major life transition.

Here's a helpful checklist to assist you in navigating the divorce process effectively. Following these steps before filing for divorce will ensure that you are ready to negotiate and close on beneficial divorce terms swiftly from the beginning to the end. A little preparation can go a long way in saving you time, money, and stress when getting divorced.

1) Find a Divorce Lawyer

The first step in preparing for divorce is to find a divorce lawyer you can trust. It's OK to go through several consultations before you choose the person who both fully understands your situation and someone you can connect with on a personal level. Seeking guidance from a legal expert is an essential component of your divorce checklist, ensuring that you have the right professional support to navigate this challenging process effectively.

Your divorce lawyer will give you useful advice and help you go through what may be one of the most difficult times in your life. So, you must find someone with whom you feel comfortable.

2) List Your Assets

Prepare your list of assets. For many people, this is the easiest place to start.

Simply create a list of everything you own, including all properties, possessions, furniture, collections, and financial accounts. Don't forget savings, investments, and retirement accounts.

Marital Assets

Marital assets, also known as shared assets, encompass everything acquired since the marriage began. This includes your retirement funds and the car that each person drives separately. In most states, you'll either divide marital assets equally or ensure each spouse gets around half the total value.

Consider which marital assets you want to keep and how you can practically balance their value on the scale with items you're willing to give over.

Pre-Marital Assets

You should also make a list of premarital assets. These include everything you owned before getting married, including family heirlooms or collections.

You may also have extramarital assets like personal family inheritance or a few gifts given to you personally from friends and family. These assets are not included in the asset split. You should consider securing them in separate storage if possible.

3) Create a Future Financial Plan

Make financial plans for your future. Consider your new lifestyle on your income and begin building yourself a practical budget.  If you're renting, selling the house, or moving out, include moving expenses and a new rent in your calculations. 

Design your post-divorce life through the window of financial planning. Ensure you'll be able to afford a pleasantly independent life and start financially preparing if you see bumps on the road to that independence.

4) Draft a Child Custody Plan

If there are children in the marriage, prepare for custody planning:

  • Consider the best schedule for swapping the kids while helping them to maintain stability.

  • Consider ground rules for keeping the children out of the emotional turmoil of the divorce.

  • Consider how to maintain your children's priorities (like sports teams or best friends) in addition to divorce terms.

  • Include 50% childcare in your financial planning

  • Draft a co-parenting schedule you think will work, including parental work schedules and children's extracurricular schedules.

  • Make sure your plan is flexible enough to adapt to life changes over the next few years.

Work with your lawyer to prepare a fair and well-thought-out custody and parenting plan to propose to your spouse.

5) Compile Your Documents

Get all your official documents together. You will want all financial documents, including current statements from every account and property ownership documents, to assist in splitting your assets. You will want all documents relating to your children to assist in child custody negotiations. It's helpful to gather all your personal records and identification documents for your use. Keep a portfolio of printed copies when necessary, and create a complete digital folder in your cloud storage.

6) Protect Yourself Financially

If you are afraid that your spouse will drain your accounts, run up debt, use up credit cards, or otherwise financially hurt you while your finances are still together, take steps. Consult with your lawyer and financial manager on how to secure private accounts and protect your shared accounts from abuse. You can also purchase an identity protection service to prevent your spouse from using your name to open new accounts.

Even if you are not worried, this is a good time to start building private savings for those initial expenses of starting a new life.

7) Consider Negotiation Strategies

Plan for divorce negotiations. Consider the terms or assets you want. This might include your car, an expensive personal wardrobe, or a favorite antique furniture set. Consider how to hold onto your separate retirement accounts and any special terms you might request.

In return, think about what you can offer your spouse to encourage their agreement with your desired terms. Offer them full ownership of their vehicle, expensive hobby supplies, retirement accounts, and any furniture or assets they cherish.

Consider what special terms your spouse might ask for and whether you can agree or devise a good counteroffer.

If you have children, list the parenting values you both agree on and identify any potential conflicts regarding custody or scheduling. Prepare for these negotiations and try to find a path of minimal conflict.

If you and your spouse are peacefully discussing divorce, finding common ground can help you minimize the expense of a divorce by pre-negotiating in good faith.

8) Prepare Yourself Emotionally and Build Your Support System

Divorce is emotionally difficult, and you will benefit from having a support system. Prepare yourself to be strong, to process strong emotions you might not expect, and to find people you can safely rely on during this challenging time—and beyond. Reconnect with friends, ask for extra emotional support from your family, and secure a therapist for venting and coping strategies.

If you have children, connect with them, but be careful how you talk about the divorce. Explain that the divorce is a decision that will help both parents be happier and that they are still dearly loved by both parents equally. Do not vent to your children or involve them in your emotional turmoil, but extra hugs can make everyone feel better.

9) Discuss Uncontested Divorce Options

An uncontested divorce is better in almost all circumstances. It will likely be smoother, easier, and more affordable.

Uncontested divorces can be conducted through mediation or polite negotiations with two representative lawyers. You'll collaborate to establish fair terms that benefit both parties, ensuring equal division of assets and appropriate child custody arrangements for each side.

10) Begin the Divorce Process

Once all preparations are complete, you're prepared to initiate the divorce filing process. At this stage, you will meet again with your lawyer to begin negotiations with your spouse, build a divorce agreement, or submit your consent order to the courts. 

If you are preparing for a divorce checklist, the Law Office of Jana K. Jones can help. You'll get the attention, advice, and legal support necessary to secure favorable divorce terms, safeguarding your assets and future. Contact us today to book your first consultation and receive personalized assistance tailored to your needs and guided by our comprehensive divorce checklist.