- Seek individual or marriage counseling
- If you’re not certain, wait to file. Once you file for divorce, it’s very difficult to save the marriage
- Find a good attorney
- Prepare yourself financially
- If you have children, consider how you will co-parent
- Don’t make any hasty decisions
If you’re thinking about getting divorced, you already know it’s a big decision. Here are some important things to consider as you contemplate this huge life change.
Talk to a Mental Health Professional
If you’re thinking about getting divorced, you may be surprised to hear that finding a lawyer shouldn’t be your first step. You should begin with talking to a mental health professional.
Lawyers are not trained to help you sort out and work out your feelings. Their job is to help you come out of a divorce in the best position possible. So start with someone who can help you determine whether divorce is what you really want. This could be an individual counselor or a marriage counselor, or maybe even both.
It’s possible that couples counseling can help fix the problems you’re having in your marriage. Sometimes people want a divorce not because there’s anything particularly wrong with their marriage or spouse per se, but because they’re unhappy. Maybe you’re unhappy with yourself — you want to be taller, thinner, younger, etc, and you can’t fix those things — so you decide changing partners is something you can fix. But if the partner or the partnership isn’t the problem, you’ll continue to be unhappy. There’s a reason you fell in love and decided to get married in the first place, and you don’t want to look back with regret because you acted hastily.
Try not to let a lack of money stand in the way of getting counseling
Try not to let a lack of money stand in the way of getting counseling. Look into low-cost or free mental health resources in your community. If you have a religious affiliation, you may be able to find free or low-cost counseling through a religious organization.
Don’t File Tomorrow
Second, don’t file tomorrow. Once you take that step and serve your spouse with divorce papers, it’s really hard to go back and save the marriage. Take the time to be sure this is what you want to do. Even if you decide to give the marriage another try, without extensive couples therapy, you may find that your spouse is so hurt that you moved forward with a divorce that they’ll have a hard time trusting in you and the relationship. A marriage without trust is usually doomed to fail.
Find a Lawyer
Once you’ve decided that proceeding with the divorce is best for you, find a lawyer. 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 telling them the most intimate details of your life, so it’s important that you feel comfortable with your lawyer. 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 also check Martindale-Hubbell, an online resource of peer reviews for lawyers. Don’t rely on Yelp or other consumer reviews. Divorces are understandably very emotional, and 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.
Prepare Yourself Financially
Fourth, prepare yourself financially and protect yourself and your personal accounts. If you don’t already have them, get a bank account and credit card in your own name. Do the following:
- Compile a list of assets
- Compile a list of expenses and whose name accounts are in
- Get records of your spouse’s income (or business records if they’re self-employed), life insurance policies and medical insurance policies
- Change the PIN and passwords for your phone, voicemail, email, and personal accounts, including online medical records and social media
- Update your legal documents, change your will, living will, durable power of attorney and any trusts that you may have that name your spouse as executor/trustee
Think About Where You Want to Be
Think about where you want to be after the divorce. Do you want to stay in your home? Do you have children in local schools? Don’t assume that if you divorce, your life will stay the same. A lawyer can help you figure out how much you’re likely to get in child support and make some estimates about whether or not you’ll receive short-term (rehabilitative support) or long-term spousal support (alimony) and that will help you determine whether you’ll be able to afford to stay in your current home.
Open a Bank Account and Credit Card in Your Own Name
If you decide not to file for divorce, it’s still a good idea to get your financial house in order and open a bank account and credit card in your own name. This prepares you in case you or your spouse initiates divorce in the future or even in case of the unexpected death of your spouse. Death and divorce are both traumatic events that will plunge you into an emotional crisis. If you’re on solid footing financially, that’s one less thing to worry about.
Consider the Children
Fifth, consider the children. If you have children at home, you have to think about how you’re going to parent during and after the divorce. Some people keep the children in the family home and the parents move in and out; some will have their own places and the children move back and forth. How will you communicate about the children with your former spouse? Do you want to have fixed or flexible schedules? Will you be able to make decisions jointly about their education, medical needs and extracurriculars?
Don’t make any hasty decisions about moving to a different geographic location. It may be tempting to move back to your hometown or another area, but that may not be the best thing for you or your children. Remember, divorce is traumatic for them too. Unless your spouse is abusive, your children need their other parent in their lives. And just because you think it would be best to move away, the court may not agree.
Divorce is a difficult and emotionally-draining experience, even when it’s the best course of action. We’re here to tell you that you will get through it and there is life on the other side.
Read on for more information on what to expect as you go through your divorce.
This article was written with input from Susan Weider, a lawyer who practiced family law in New Hampshire and Vermont.
NOTE: If you’re in a physically abusive relationship, you can find resources and support through the Domestic Violence Hotline.
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