- Don’t make hasty decisions
- Find a good therapist
- Find a good attorney
- Focus on your children
- Get your finances in order
- Confirm insurance policies
- Change your will
- Use caution when dating
- Don’t make any hasty decisions
Don’t Quit Your Job!
Going through a divorce is an emotional and traumatic event, and it’s not the time to make hasty decisions. Don’t get plastic surgery, buy an expensive car or quit your job. If you’re employed outside the home and feel that you can’t work while you’re going through your divorce, speak to your boss and ask for time off. It’s natural to want to go a little wild but you’re not completely yourself right now, so take time to consider any decisions and discuss them with trusted friends and family.
Find a Therapist
If you haven’t already done so, find a good therapist. If you have children, get them a therapist as well, even if only for a few sessions. Divorce is a traumatic experience and you need someone to help you cope with the emotional aspects so you can deal with the legal and financial aspects. It will be tempting to rely on your lawyer for emotional support, and while they hopefully are a caring person, your lawyer is not your therapist and nor should they be. Not only are they not qualified to help you with that aspect of the divorce, they also don’t want to play that role, and it could set up a negative dynamic between the two of you if you rely on them for non-legal help. If finances make it hard to afford a therapist, look for free or low-cost mental health in your services. It’s also a good idea to put together a support network of trusted friends and family to help you navigate the process.
Get a Good Attorney!
Next, you need a good attorney. Though it’s possible to go online and get the forms from your state website, we recommend that you not handle your own divorce, even if it’s a straightforward divorce with no children and few assets. In that case, a lawyer will not cost very much, and it’s worth the expense to ensure everything is done correctly.
It’s the same as paying someone to do your taxes. You could do it yourself but it’s worth the money to ensure you get all the deductions you’re entitled to but can’t possibly know about. You don’t know what you don’t know. With your divorce, it’s important to make sure you’re getting everything you’re entitled to, whether it’s income, division of assets, spousal support, and/or child support. You don’t want to take anything for granted.
Just like with choosing a therapist, you want to take the time to find the right lawyer for you, and that may not be the first person you meet with. You’re going to be talking to your lawyer about the most intimate details of your life, so you need to feel comfortable with them. You need to feel that you have a new partner in helping you through this transition period, and if the person is someone you don’t connect with and don’t click with, move on to the next person. Ask trusted friends and family for recommendations. In many cases, the first consultation is free, so do your research and interview a number of attorneys.
Your state bar association will list attorneys in your area who practice family law, and you can check Martindale-Hubbell, an online resource of peer reviews of attorneys. Don’t rely on Yelp or other consumer reviews. Often, the reviewer has an ax to grind because they weren’t happy with the result of their divorce, so take all consumer reviews with a big grain of salt.
When interviewing attorneys, share the name of your spouse’s attorney if you have it. Ask them about the other lawyer’s reputation and what dealings they’ve had with them. Some attorneys are able to control a client who is vindictive or obstructionist but others can’t or won’t. If your spouse’s attorney has a bad reputation, you want to know that your attorney is prepared to operate accordingly. In the worst case, be prepared that the attorney you’re interviewing will turn the case down because of opposing counsel.
A word of caution about hiring an attorney with a difficult reputation. You might think that if they’re going to make things difficult for your spouse they must be a good lawyer, but they don’t necessarily get you a better outcome; they will likely just take longer, cost you more money and make a contentious situation even worse. If you have children, your ex-spouse is going to be in your life forever, and you want to have a cordial relationship with them if possible. You can be firm and reasonable and get what you deserve without turning your divorce into a war. That may sound tempting sometimes because you’re in turmoil, but it’s in your long-term best interest — both financially and emotionally — to end the marriage with as little trauma as possible, in a reasonable amount of time.
Focus on Your Children
Focus on your children. Many states require spouses to attend parenting classes. Regardless of the legal requirements, you want to be sure that you’re putting your children first in everything you do. Don’t make your children your therapist or your confidante, and don’t ever disparage their other parent to them or talk to them about finances.
It’s appropriate to say things like, “Daddy and Mommy or Mommy and Mommy are getting divorced and there will be changes in our lives.” If you have to downsize your home, don’t say that you have to move because your ex-spouse isn’t paying enough money. Instead, explain that your current home was a home for your family and since your family is changing it’s no longer suitable.
You want to protect your children from things that might exacerbate what is already a very difficult situation for them. It’s not fair to your children to say things that make them feel like they have to take sides, that if they still love your ex-spouse, they’re somehow being disloyal to you. If you can afford it, get a therapist for your children and/or go to family therapy. If you can’t afford a private therapist, speak to the school counselors and ask that they give your children support. You won’t scare your children by speaking with them honestly. They’re already scared and your job is to assure them that they’re safe, that both of their parents love them, and that that will not change.
Start thinking about your co-parenting plan and how you can work with your ex-spouse to put the needs of your children first. When it comes to visitation, you want to have a schedule but you and your ex-spouse should be flexible when necessary.
Get Your Finances in Order
Get your finances in order. If you don’t already have them, get a bank account and credit card in your own name. Regardless of whether you commingle your finances, do the following:
- Compile a list of assets
- Compile a list of expenses
- Get records of your spouse’s income (or business records if they are self-employed)
Think About Where You Want to Live
Think about where you want to live after the divorce. Do you want to stay in your home? Do you have children in local schools? Don’t assume that your life will stay the same if you divorce . A lawyer can help you figure out how much you’re likely to get in child support (but not alimony) and that will help you determine whether you’ll be able to afford to stay in your current home.
Make a Budget
Make a budget. Figure out exactly how much money you need every month to pay all of your bills — not only now but in the future. For example, if you have young children and you and your spouse always planned for them to attend private school, put that in your future budget. If you and your children have become accustomed to a certain lifestyle and you want to continue that lifestyle after the divorce, account for that in your budget. If you’re working at a job that doesn’t have forward momentum and you may need to go back to college or get additional education and training, incorporate those costs into your financial plan. Making a current and future budget doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the amount of money you seek, but it’s still important to have a comprehensive picture.
If you don’t have children and you’ve only been married for a short time, you may not get spousal support or may only get a small amount. Even if you had a long-term marriage, it doesn’t guarantee a high amount of spousal support or spousal support for a long period of time.
Get Health Insurance
In the case where you get health insurance through your spouse’s employer, make sure that you remain on the policy. This can be addressed in a preliminary order to ensure that your spouse doesn’t take your name off the policy. Once you’re divorced, your children can remain on the policy, but you’ll have to get your own insurance through your employer or through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Find out what health insurance will cost you so you can add it to your budget. Do the same with your car insurance if the policy is in your spouse’s name.
If your spouse has life insurance, confirm that you’re the beneficiary if you are entitled to spousal and/or child support. If your spouse dies, you want to be sure that you have the anticipated financial support you expected from your spouse as well as the ability to continue taking care of your children. In the same vein, you want to take life insurance out on yourself with your children as beneficiary, or your spouse as the beneficiary if you will owe them spousal support..
Change Your Will
Change your will, your durable power of attorney and living will if you have these items and your spouse is a decision-maker or heir of yours.
Keep Your Dating Life Private
Keep your dating life private. It’s not advisable to date as soon as you become separated. As much as you may feel lonely or dejected and want to go out and find someone new, it’s a good idea to wait. Dating in the early stages can turn a civil process into a contentious divorce and a contentious divorce into an even more vicious one. Once you do start dating (and we advise you to speak with your lawyer about this) keep it private. Don’t post on social media, publicize it in any way or discuss it with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. Again, even if your spouse initiated the divorce, and it is completely unreasonable, they may get upset to find out you’re dating. Once you do start dating and become sexually active, make sure you have protected sex and are on birth control if you can become pregnant. Getting pregnant during a divorce will complicate the process and possibly cause you emotional distress.
Once you do start dating, don’t introduce new partners to your children right away, and don’t talk about your love life with them. It’s not appropriate and they may inadvertently tell your spouse details that you don’t want your spouse to know, or your spouse may ask them intrusive questions that make them uncomfortable. Even if you think you’ve found your soulmate, wait. Your children have already suffered one loss and you don’t want to expose them to further loss if the new relationship doesn’t work out. And you certainly don’t want to expose them to those types of loss repeatedly. Don’t quickly move a new partner in, even if you need help with expenses. In that case, getting a roommate may be a smarter solution. And don’t ever bring strangers into your home with your children.
If your spouse left you and there’s a chance of infidelity, get tested for sexually transmitted infections.
We know that when you’re in the middle of a divorce it can seem like it will never end, but it will — and you will get through it. We’re here to help you thrive through the process.
Read on for information on what to consider when planning your next chapter.
This article was written with input from Susan Weider, a lawyer who practiced family law in New Hampshire and Vermont.
Do you have a question for us? Ask it HERE.
Do you have a divorce story to share? Tell us HERE.