Jeremy Parham is a Tennessee-licensed attorney. This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.
The bad news: Filing for divorce can be stressful and time-consuming. The good news: If you take the opportunity to dedicate some time to prepare and gather everything together for the filing now, you can be confident when it’s time to submit the paperwork, and that will start your divorce process off on the right foot.
Here we’ll cover the essential steps to prepare for your divorce before filing. Not everything may apply to your situation, so pick what does and create your personal checklist so you don’t neglect anything. You’ve got this.
Organize your finances
Married couples often share funds through joint bank accounts, retirement funds and shared property like houses and vehicles. Whether your case is uncontested or contested, your attorney will likely need documentation of your finances and property in order to provide you with accurate advice.
- Contact your bank(s) and any investment management companies to obtain your bank and retirement account information.
- Your local DMV can provide the title to vehicles.
- If you’re looking for a deed to shared property (maybe you lost the original document), contact your county’s recorder’s office.
- Be prepared to provide your tax returns and income information for the last two to three years.
Organize your documents
Once you have all of your financial documents, you’ll want everything to be at your fingertips. Your lawyer will review these documents, and you may need them for mediation proceedings or to present to a judge in court. Save yourself from future stress and find a method of organization that’s effective for you.
Set aside an emergency fund
Creating an emergency account can help you feel more secure. Once you’ve separated your account from your spouse’s, establish an emergency fund that contains at least three to six months worth of living expenses. Then only dip into this money if you truly need to. Have a separate account that you use for day-to-day living.
Note that in many instances you may have to account to your spouse or the court for any funds transferred from financial accounts immediately prior to filing for a divorce. This means that if a court finds the money is spent frivolously, you may be required to reimburse your spouse for a portion of those funds. You may also be prohibited from transferring funds from marital accounts without court permission once the divorce is filed.
Establish credit in your own name
Having good credit is useful when applying for a loan, which you may need to do if you plan on buying a new house post-divorce or if your divorce is very expensive.
Before beginning to establish your own credit, try to settle any joint debts that you have with your spouse. This can help prevent one of you becoming solely responsible for paying them off going forward. (This is more likely to happen in contested divorces, where spouses can’t reach an agreement about the division of their assets without going to trial.)
Once you have your own credit card, make all monthly payments on time and use the card mindfully. Try to pay off your purchases and don’t amass new debt on your own.
Determine your goals for any children
When we say goals, we’re talking about:
- Physical (or residential) custody: where you’d like your shared minor children to reside
- Legal custody: who should be responsible for making major life decisions on behalf of children
- Child support
Physical custody and legal custody can be awarded to both parents. In that case, it’s referred to as joint legal custody or joint physical custody.
If both spouses have healthy relationships with their children, their goal may be joint physical and legal custody. However, if one spouse doesn’t have a healthy relationship with their children, is out of town a lot or has a history of physical or emotional domestic abuse, sole physical and legal custody by the other parent may be necessary.
Know that if one parent receives physical custody, the other can receive visitation privileges. Also, one parent can receive physical custody while both parents are awarded joint legal custody.
Laws determining child custody and support vary state by state. Consulting with a lawyer before you begin the divorce process can help familiarize yourself with the specific regulations where you live.
Protect yourself if there’s history of domestic violence
Your safety and the safety of your children is essential. If there’s a history of domestic violence in your marriage, take measures now. You can call the Domestic Violence Hotline (800-621-4673) 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
You may choose to petition for a Temporary Order of Protection (TOP) under certain situations. This most commonly occurs when there has been physical violence or threats of physical violence against you or your children. A TOP creates a forcefield around you and your children that your spouse is not legally allowed to permeate. If they do, they can be arrested. You can ask the court for many different protections depending on what you need. For example, you can request that your spouse be required to stay away from your place of work or your home. You can find a list of other requests here, along with more specific information about petitioning. If possible, speak with a lawyer. The petitioning process differs state by state, and a lawyer can guide you through it.
After receiving a TOP, keep a copy with you and other copies filed at your children’s school, at the local police precinct, with babysitters and even with neighbors. You may also choose to provide teachers and faculty at your child’s school with a list of people you authorize to pick up your child.
Also think about everything you may need to protect your and your child’s safety. This could mean escape routes from your home and an emergency bag packed with essentials for a quick exit. A more comprehensive list of suggestions can be found here.
If you can, it can be good to continue to live in your shared home for as long as possible during your divorce. Some of the divorce process unfortunately comes down to appearances. That means, in the event of a contested divorce, a judge may consider which spouse currently lives in the shared home as they review the division of assets. If you reside there, you’ll have a better chance of walking away with the property.
Also, if you’re paying a mortgage on a house you’re not living in, it may convince a judge that you can afford to pay more spousal support.
If you can’t stay in your house for the duration of your divorce process, try to wait at least until you can hire a lawyer to help you navigate this delicate situation. Of course, if you don’t feel safe in your home or don’t feel that your children are safe there, move out as soon as you can.
Be on your best behavior
There’s often a lot of anger wrapped up in divorces. It can be difficult to keep your cool if you disagree with your spouse, if you feel mistreated by them or if you’re scared of change (and divorce can be a huge change).
As much as possible, stay on your best behavior before and during your divorce process. If you can, be polite to your spouse. The more cordial you are, the more seamlessly you should be able to settle your divorce and get what you want out of it. So don’t say or write anything about your spouse that you wouldn’t want opposing counsel to see in a divorce proceeding.
Also, parents’ anger toward each other can pain children going through a divorce. While your emotions are valid, try your best to stay calm in front of your kids and find a safe, private outlet for releasing your pain and anger.
Hire a good divorce attorney
One of the most helpful things you can do as you prepare to file for divorce is to meet with a lawyer who you trust and respect. They can guide you through the process, answer all of your questions and make you feel less alone.
We know that good lawyers can feel unattainable. That’s why, rather than charging by the hour, Marble offers a flat fee for the services you need plus payment plans that work for you. You can give your team a call when you have questions or concerns without worry about it costing you an extra cent.
Whether you choose Marble or another attorney, meeting with a lawyer can be helpful. Your emotional wellbeing, assets and finances deserve protection.