No one goes into marriage intending to divorce, yet many people find themselves facing a divorce. Perhaps you tried as long as you could to make things work, until divorce seemed like the only option left. Maybe you and your spouse realized together that you needed to part ways. Or perhaps you were blindsided when your spouse asked for a divorce seemingly out of the blue.
Whatever brought you to this point, know that you are not alone. The attorneys of Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield have guided hundreds of clients through the divorce process and helped them begin the next chapter of their lives on a solid footing. One thing that we have learned through our decades of practice is that while the prospect of divorce may be overwhelming, learning how to prepare for divorce can help you feel more in control of the process, and can lead to a better outcome once the process has ended.
The time frame you have to prepare for divorce depends upon your circumstances. But whether you are setting the stage to file for divorce in the future, or you have been served with divorce pleadings filed by your spouse, the following information will help you.
Your attorney will be able to request documents during the discovery phase of your divorce case, but it’s helpful to have certain information in hand from the outset, if possible. You will want to have copies of as many of the following documents as you can:
These documents will help your attorney understand the value of your marital estate and what other, or missing, information might be needed.
Another important aspect to help you prepare for divorce is to create a budget—with both your income and expenses, during the divorce, and afterward. If your spouse has always handled the finances, you may need to learn about what your income and expenses as a couple are, but that will help prepare you to manage your own finances going forward. Creating a budget will also help to identify any gaps between what you earn and what you will need moving forward, so that you and your attorney can determine whether alimony may be appropriate in your case.
If you are facing divorce, you may have a lot of strong and unflattering feelings about your spouse, especially if their actions led to the demise of your marriage. You may be tempted to send angry and/or emotional texts or emails to your spouse, or vent about them on social media, but resist that temptation. It is natural to feel emotional before and during divorce (and child custody matters), but you should consider everything you say to, or about your spouse or children, as if it were being read aloud in a courtroom to the judge. Ultimately, if your matter does reach a courtroom—these communications will most likely be read by the judge.
Remember, if you and your spouse have minor children together, custody will likely be an issue. Communications that could be used to portray you as vindictive, unstable, threatening, or unwilling to work together with your spouse for the children’s sake could damage your case.
Because divorce, and the period leading up to it, is such an emotional time, counseling is helpful for many people. Not only does counseling give you a place to vent all of the strong emotions you are feeling, it may help you to identify and work toward forward-looking goals for the future. Some people worry that seeking the help of a therapist will make them look weak or unstable. In reality, it demonstrates insight and the ability to make mature choices. Counseling may also help you develop a more helpful framework for communicating with your spouse, which may reduce conflict during the divorce and while co-parenting afterward. And despite the cost, counseling might actually be more financially wise than utilizing your attorneys, who generally charge more and are less trained, as your therapists. Counseling can help you make better decisions during the divorce and child custody processes by channeling your strong emotions in a productive way.
Your spouse will be entitled to certain information during the divorce process. That said, if you are concerned that your spouse may seek information to which they are not legally entitled, you should take steps to protect your privacy as soon as possible prior to the divorce. This may include obtaining a P.O. box so that your spouse does not see mail from an attorney and changing your telephone, email, and social media passwords if it is possible that he or she knows the passwords.
We tend to fear what we do not know. Learning about the divorce process will not automatically make it easy, but it will help you feel less like you are at the mercy of forces beyond your control. While many divorces are litigated, there are a number of alternative legal options to end a marriage in an effort to avoid litigation. Learning about the options available to you will help you know what to expect and can help you choose attorneys and a process that is more likely to lead to the outcome you seek.
If you are planning to file for divorce, you may have many months to learn about and interview various divorce attorneys. Conversely, if your spouse has already filed for divorce and served you with a lawsuit, you may have only a few weeks. No matter how much time you have available to find the right attorney, do not make this decision hastily.
Choosing an attorney is the first, and possibly most important, decision in your case. Your attorney is both your advisor and your advocate and should excel at both roles. Every decision you make during your case will be influenced by your attorney’s guidance. To that end, get referrals from trusted sources, review the attorneys’ websites and other online sources, and if possible, interview multiple attorneys. Once you have retained a divorce attorney you trust, your attorney will provide the specific guidance you need regarding the divorce process.
If you have further questions about how to prepare for divorce, we invite you to contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation.