Are you considering whether to file for divorce? Sometimes, it takes a while to decide to make a life-altering decision. If you find yourself in that position and are trying to decide what to do, you can take some preliminary steps that are still reversible.
If you are beginning to prepare for a divorce, here are some things you can do to help yourself.
1. Gather all the financial records you can. Make copies and download all the financial records you can for at least the last year, or even better, for the last three years. These include pay stubs from work, investment account records, credit card statements, phone and utility bills, bank statements, mortgage records, insurance information and tax returns. There may be other relevant financial records as well. When in doubt, keep a copy. Put the copies in a safe location where your spouse cannot get them. Maybe store them with a friend or family member. Don't leave them where they may be found by your spouse.
2. Have access to some money to get started. You will need money for an attorney. You will also need money to pay your bills. You may need funds to pay for new housing. You will probably need money right away. Many people going through divorce end up charging expenses, including attorney's fees, on credit cards. Others borrow from parents, other family members or friends, or take out a loan. Be creative and think about as many sources as you can so that you are prepared for difficult times.
3. Find a good, experienced attorney you are comfortable with. Invest a little time to find the best fitting attorney for you.
a. Referrals: Ask for referrals from family, friends, attorneys, other professionals or other trusted sources. It's a good idea to get information from several different people and then compare the suggestions and check out the candidates. Don't just take someone's word on this.
b. Interview: Make a list of questions. Meet with the attorney and ask plenty of questions. Feel free to disagree or question the attorney. Attorneys won't mind. In fact, the interaction can help the attorney decide whether or not he or she thinks the client would be appropriate. You and the attorney can each decide if you want to work together.
c. Approach: Find out the attorney's suggested approach and decide if that is the way you would want to proceed.
- Some attorneys take basically the same approach to every case. Sometimes it is very aggressive, while others may be very conciliatory. You and the attorney need to be on the same wavelength.
- Other attorneys may explain a wide range of options and help you evaluate which would be in your best interest. (Our approach.)
- Some attorneys try to make all the decisions and tell their clients how things will be handled. That may be great for certain clients who don't like having to make decisions. If you want to be the decision maker, you should clearly tell the attorney. This type of approach may not be obvious at the beginning.
d. Chemistry. The chemistry should be right with you and your attorney. You need to feel good about things when you get started.
4. Plan ahead so you don't just react to your spouse or the situation. Plan when to start (file). It's usually a good idea to be the first one to file. You need to carefully consider whether you should go ahead and file and then notify your spouse. For some people it works out better if you discuss divorce and then file later. The first approach is a little more aggressive than the latter one. Sometimes just filing can lead to bad feelings. You have to try to anticipate your spouse's reactions.
5. Put yourself in your spouse's position and try to understand his/her point of view. You need to think about what s/he wants, how s/he will react, what s/he will say and how to motivate him/her. If you only think about what you want or need, you will have a harder time getting the divorce resolved on favorable terms. Like it or not, courts take into account the desires of both parties to the divorce. If you can meet your spouse's needs as well as yours, you will do a lot better in negotiations or court.
Planning ahead, and not just reacting, will give you a head start on your divorce. If you are unsure about whether to file for divorce, there are some small steps you can and should take to get ready just in case. You can always back out if you change your mind.