Before you ask for a divorce, it’s important to make sure you have your bases covered — whether it’s an amicable split or not. What you do before you file for divorce is crucial; unless you want to get taken to the cleaners, make sure you’ve done your homework before filing.
Hire an Attorney – Every divorce case is different, so don’t rely solely on your divorced friends for legal advice. While you can do a lot of the initial divorce paperwork yourself, you can still hire an attorney later in the divorce process to save money. A full-service divorce lawyer will be pricey, but you can purchase legal services somewhat a la carte through unbundled law practice. This way, you go to your attorney when you need help but otherwise handle matters yourself.
Prep Your Papers – Your divorce papers are obviously on your to-do list, but make sure you’ve got all your other important papers in order. Have multiple copies of all of your important financial documents: pension statements, tax forms, brokerage and mutual fund statements, credit card statements — even cancelled checks. Get detailed information on every insurance policy you own, and get any information on stocks you own, jointly or individually. Make sure you know — and have proof of — your spouse’s annual income, in case they try to hide it in the divorce.
Take Inventory – Go through your family safe or safe deposit box, taking photographs of the contents. Also document any jewelry, furniture, paintings, or other valuable items. Of course you don’t need to keep track of all your old, dusty furniture — just the valuable stuff. Your property insurance policy can be helpful here if you listed insured valuables on the policy. You should also take your own personal belongings (yearbooks, your grandmother’s family heirlooms) and safeguard them (in case your angered spouse throws them away).
Change Your Passwords – Your privacy is key to not getting burned during divorce proceedings. Make sure your email, voice mail, social media account, and other password-protected communications are protected (with security questions your soon-to-be ex won’t know the answers to).
Consider Mediation – Utilizing a neutral third party to resolve controversies over assets or children can help you both. The presence of a mediator can help keep you and your partner from losing your cool, politely discussing the fairest way to handle your split. Mediation can also save you money as compared to a messy, contested divorce. Win-win.
Consider Waiting to Separate – If your marriage is close to reaching the 10-year mark — and if you’d be in a position to receive alimony upon that anniversary — you may want to wait until that anniversary passes before filing, as it can increase your chances of getting spousal support. Note that the day you move out of the house could determine whether your marriage is considered 10 years old, so you may want to stick it out on the couch for a few more weeks — or even months if possible. If losing your spouse’s income is going to create financial hardship for you, you may want to seriously consider waiting several months to save money before filing for divorce and moving out. Moving out too quickly can also hurt you in battles over custody or other property (unless abuse is an issue, in which case you should obviously get out), so keep your lawyer close in your decision to move out.
Build Up Your Credit – In addition to making sure you’ve got some cash saved, you should start applying for your own credit cards now, while your spouse’s income can help you get bigger lines of credit. Of course, don’t create debt for yourself to climb out of after the divorce; simply start using the cards and paying the balance off in full each month to start building credit.
Divorce is messy, and you probably won’t know what to expect from the process until you’re going through it. Take time before filing to make sure you are prepared and that you understand what could go wrong if you’re not careful. Get your paperwork in order, find an attorney, and hold off before making any rash decisions. Doing this can help you not only to navigate the bumpy road of your divorce, but to breathe a little easier once it’s all over.