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Having an Exit Plan

For a variety of reasons, some people get surprised or ambushed by the news that their spouse wants to get a divorce. No matter how unhappy a spouse may have been or how many times one or both spouses talked about divorce, it is not unusual for a husband or wife to be taken off guard by the announcement that their spouse is leaving and filing for divorce.

If you get hit by the unexpected news, or if you see it coming, you probably immediately start wondering what to do. Taking a rash or dramatic action is probably not in your best interest. Instead, you should take some small, defensive steps and allow yourself time the think and the opportunity to get expert help.

From an entirely unrelated source, the Attorney at Work blog, I recently saw an article about what an attorney should do if facing a loss of a job. The suggested emergency exit plan for an employment situation easily translates into some useful steps for someone to follow who is “losing” their marriage. Here are my slightly modified suggestions for an immediate exit plan in case of impending divorce:

1. Gather your legal documents. It's never too early to gather up what you can, make copies and then put them in a safe place, which could be with a friend. Even if your spouse is just “thinking about” getting a divorce, it would be wise to get all the financial records you can while you have your greatest access to them. Waiting is not a good idea. Documents tend to disappear.

2. Get a referral for a divorce lawyer. While you still have some time, seek out recommendations from friends and other people you respect. Do some research on line. Look at web sites and blogs to find out about what to expect in the process and to get a feel for how the author would approach a case. You can look at on line directories and rating services to get more information about possible attorneys.

3. Control and limit what you say. That is true about face-to-face discussions (don't escalate arguments), as well as on line opportunities, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or list serves. Also, be very careful what you put in writing, including by texting. It's easy to do audio recording anywhere and to take movies and photos anywhere. You should always think about how what you say, do or write would appear if presented in court.

4. Protect personal information. That includes information on computers, laptops, telephones, etc. Don't leave personal information accessible. Use passwords and don't leave the hardware lying around.

5. Breathe. Remember the airline announcements just before takeoff when the flight attendants tell you to put on your own air mask (“in the unlikely event of an emergency”) before you put your child's mask on him/her. In any crisis, it sure helps to stop for a second and take some deep breaths. It will help clear your head and reduce your stress level.

These are all helpful suggestions for a sudden potential divorce emergency, but the original article also has good ideas for anyone facing a job loss, an unfortunately all-too-common occurrence. Anyway, while you are initially searching for answers and starting to come up with a plan, these suggestions are a good starting point.