Divorce is never easy, but once the decision is made, it’s easier if you take some very specific steps quickly. Taking these steps helps you protect both yourself and your assets as the divorce begins moving forward. The good news is that most of these things can be done at the same time without waiting for other things to be completed first.
Hire a divorce attorney
As soon as you’ve decided to divorce, you should hire a divorce attorney. Divorce lawyers understand the laws around splitting property, finances, child custody, child support, alimony, and other issues that come up during a divorce. They can help you fight for what you deserve. Divorce lawyers can also offer answers and options for custody and child support to ensure that your children’s best interests are met.
Gather financial documents and information
You’ll want to gather financial documents such as:
- Tax returns
- Bank account statements (including checking, savings, 401k, money market, etc.)
- Proof of income (paystubs, etc.)
- Pension plans
- Inheritances/Trust funds
- Airline miles or loyalty points
- Unvested stock options
- Assets held abroad
These all show the assets that should be divided between you and your spouse. If something belonging to one of you before marriage, you’ll want to make sure the documentation shows that.
You’ll also want to gather proof of debts owed, such as:
- Credit card debt
- Car loans
- Personal loans
- Student loans
- Childcare expenses
This will help when determining alimony and child support and dividing up the debts to ensure each spouse is paying their own debt or only their share of joint debts.
Close any joint accounts you can
Any joint accounts that can be closed, such as savings, checking, and credit card accounts, should be closed. If you’re unable to close a checking or savings account alone and your spouse refuses to help, withdraw half of the money and open your own account in your name only. Be upfront about doing this and account for all the money you spend.
If you’re unable to close a credit card account or another account, find out what options you have to ensure that the account can’t be used to create more debt than you’ll then be responsible for. You may be able to take your name off the account or freeze it with appropriate proof of the impending divorce. And remember to continue to pay on all debts, even if it’s your spouse’s and you only pay the minimum, to ensure you don’t ruin your credit.
Stay in the marital home
Talk with your attorney about the specifics of your marriage and divorce, but generally, it’s strongly recommended that you remain in the marital home. One reason is to avoid the judge factoring in that you moved out when deciding property distribution. Another reason is, when you have children, you don’t want to leave if you want to keep the marital home until they finish school. Leaving could mean changing their schools, among other things. Your lawyer can help you figure out your options if you feel you can’t stay in the marital home for whatever reason.
Divorces are difficult, usually unpleasant experiences. Even amicable divorces come with feelings of sadness, guilt, and frustration. The more you do to protect yourself and your assets, the easier your divorce can be.
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