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How to prepare for divorce: 12 steps you need to take

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Can you ever be truly prepared for divorce? While you can’t see the future, there are some key steps you can take to get ready for the process, according to top divorce experts. 

Below, these experts share their best advice on how to prepare for divorce, providing you with a detailed roadmap before the proceedings are underway.

With these instructions as your guide, you will be better equipped to handle whatever happens next:

How to prepare for divorce beforehand

Divorce affects nearly every area of your life: your relationship, your children and extended family, your finances, and major logistics like your living situation and health insurance. It’s safe to say that many people don’t know the nitty-gritty details of divorce, the laws governing divorce in their state, or even the intricacies of their own finances off-hand. 

That’s why surrounding yourself with professionals and preparing for your divorce before filing actually takes place is so crucial. Knowing the steps you need to take for how to prepare for divorce not only will give you the data you need to navigate the process more easily, but it will also take the edge off mentally. Going into the process blindly makes it more stressful and potentially more devastating emotionally and financially.

Get our divorce preparation checklist, and educate yourself about when and whether you can file for divorce quickly.

How to prepare for divorce emotionally

More than anything, you want to make sure you’re starting the process off feeling grounded so you can make the best decisions for yourself and your children. Make your mental health a priority now before the proceedings are underway. Here are three key ways to prepare for divorce emotionally: 

1. Make a self-care plan

Enlist a trusted therapist for support. “Divorce is emotionally and mentally draining,” says Statesville, NC-based divorce lawyer Dustin S. McCrary, who was recognized by Super Lawyers as a Rising Star in 2019. “You need to be proactive in taking care of yourself.” 

Family and friends can act as sounding boards, but you need an objective professional to confide in, according to divorce and family lawyer Raiford Dalton Palmer, author of the best-selling divorce guide I Just Want This Done. Affordable therapy options, even free ones, can help reduce the financial burden of counseling. Take care of yourself: take walks outdoors, eat nourishing meals, get proper sleep, and engage in relaxing practices like meditation or yoga.

2. Set goals

McCrary suggests proactively setting goals for the divorce to help keep you on track. “You must know what you want before you can start on the journey,” he says. Write down what you want from the proceedings and revisit these goals throughout the process to help you stay focused. 

3. Lead with your head, not your heart

Divorce is a highly emotional process, and feelings can easily get in the way of making clear-headed decisions. Palmer advises against spending too much time and money on fruitless efforts to bash the other person or trying to squeeze a slightly better deal out of the soon-to-be ex. “Focus on what will get you ‘more divorced,’” he advises. “Don’t get buried in tit-for-tat retaliation and petty court battles.”

Try not to get too nostalgic about your spouse either. “Don’t underestimate your spouse and don’t trust their threats,” says Jill Spielberg, the matrimonial and family law partner at Abrams Fensterman, LLP in White Plains, NY who specializes in high-net worth cases and high conflict custody litigation. “Do not let your spouse scare you into staying married. They are likely trying to manipulate you.”

How to prepare for divorce logistically

Divorce can be complicated, so preparing for some of the logistics ahead of time will be key for a smoother overall process. Here are some of the tasks you’ll need to tackle:

4. Get familiar with the process

If you’ve never divorced before, you’re likely unaware of the steps or laws involved in divorce.  “Before filing, bone up on your state’s laws governing divorce,” advises award-winning financial journalist Margaret Price and financial planner Jill Gianola, co-authors of Single Women and Money: How to Live Well on Your Income. “Find out what legal steps are required to file, and which rules cover distribution of assets and allocation of alimony and child support.”

Also assess the pros and cons of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), such as mediation or collaborative practice, versus going to court. Although avoiding court may seem tempting, you can’t predict how amicable your spouse will be before proceedings begin.

5. Change your email, phone, and computer passwords 

You will need to be able to privately and confidentially communicate with your lawyer, as well as anyone else you might speak to about your divorce. Changing these passwords can also protect any electronic evidence you may need for the divorce, Spielberg says. “Spouses often try to delete proof of wrongdoing when they see a divorce is imminent,” she explains. 

6. Locate and secure important documents and valuables 

Aside from gathering financial documents, which we’ll soon cover in detail, put your passport, your children's passports, and any jewelry or valuables you want to ensure possession of in a secure place. “Spouses can take these items and temporarily hold them as leverage,”  Spielberg says. “This step prevents that from happening.” 

7. Assemble your divorce team

Before filing, it’s important to assess which experts you’ll need to hire. Palmer says that you may need both a lawyer and a financial planner who specializes in divorce — however most people can file divorce without a lawyer, for a tiny fraction of the cost. Learn more about online divorce services, including our No. 1 recommendation, 3 Step Divorce.

Learn more about how much a divorce will cost.

“The lawyer will help you understand what is possible and realistic within the confines of the law, while a financial professional will advise you on tax implications of a given settlement and the pros and cons of certain settlement structures,” he explains.

Price suggests consulting a real estate agent if you expect to sell your home.

Get recommendations from family, friends, or trusted professional associates. Before contacting anyone, check their credentials and experience and determine how much you’re willing to spend, Price advises. When you reach out, ask whether they charge by the hour or a flat fee.

8. Focus on low-conflict and equality

Studies find that when parenting time is shared equally between parents, the kids fare better, there is less conflict in the divorce overall, and both men and women fare better as single parents.

Learn as much as you can about co-parenting, and consider taking a parenting or co-parenting class.

How to prepare for divorce financially

The financial aspect of divorce is the most complex and the most crucial for your future well-being. Here are the most important things you need to do to stay financially secure — including what to ask for in divorce

9. Focus on earning more

Often divorcing spouses find ways to lower their incomes, forego promotions or raises, hide money or otherwise make it appear on the books that their income is lower than it actually is — all to angle for paying less alimony or child support — or qualifying for more.

Once exposed this will look bad in court or result in any negotiations breaking down. Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson advises divorcing women not to fall into the trap of financial dependency — but focus on earning and financial independence.

“The whole point of divorce is to move on into a new and better life — and you can't do that if you spend your energy trying to be financially tied to this man,” says Johnson, who wrote The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), a No. 1 Amazon bestseller.

10. Gather your financial records

The experts recommend collecting the following financial documents:

  • Current statements for all bank, investment, and retirement accounts
  • Personal and joint financial assets
  • Your three most recent tax returns
  • Pension estimates
  • Social Security statements
  • Credit reports from the three major bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) 

10. Create a post-divorce budget

You need to know as soon as possible what your new financial situation will look like and you need to be realistic — including if you are a stay-at-home mom, McCrary adds. “There is going to be a change in your standard of living,” he says. “Be prepared for that.” 

How can you best prepare? Price suggests setting up a budget your expected costs of necessities, which includes food, clothing, housing, and transportation for both you and your children, and then compare that cost with your expected post-divorce income. You should also consult Social Security for details about claiming your entitlements as a divorced spouse and take changing health insurance options into account if you’re on your spouse’s plan. 

11. Evaluate the true value of your assets 

Know what your assets are really worth. “For example, a traditional $10,000 IRA may be worth only $7,500 after you pay taxes on the withdrawals, while qualified withdrawals from a Roth IRA are tax-free,” Gialona explains.

This goes for your valuing and selling your house, too. “Don’t request to keep your home unless you can afford to,” Gianola says. “Instead, use cash from your share of the home as a down payment on a more affordable residence.” She adds that by giving up the house, you could receive a larger portion of joint savings and investments.

12. Separate your income

Once separated, transfer your income into an account that your spouse can't access. Consider withdrawing half, or all, funds from your joint accounts into this one, Spielberg says. “Angry spouses who are surprised by divorce filings typically drain the bank accounts as a first act of retribution, so get ahead of that possibility,” she advises. 

Go in prepared

Although you may never be fully prepared for divorce, being as ready as possible enables you to go into the process more confident and less worried about the outcome. Take care of yourself as best as you can, McCrary says.

“The legal process is the easy process,” he explains. “The hard part is the emotional and mental drain that it can take on person. You need to be proactive in taking care of yourself so that you can be a better person each day.” 

Putting yourself and your financial health first will help you get through the divorce process.

Natasha Burton is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Healthline, Livestrong, and Woman's Day, among other lifestyle magazines and websites. She’s the author of seven books, including What's My Type?: 100+ Quizzes to Help You Find Yourself ― and Your Match!, 101 Quizzes for Couples and The Little Black Book of Big Red Flags.

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