There is plenty of step-by-step advice out there on how to file for divorce. But in our experience, there’s almost no discussion of the preparations you need to do before filing. Filing for divorce is like skydiving: there’s an awful lot of logistical planning to do in the weeks and months prior to the jump.
So before you start filling out forms, consider these five steps:
1. Plan your basic needs. Once you’ve filed for divorce, many aspects of your life will change, including some you take for granted. Where will you live? Will you need a job, or even a second job? A car? Child or pet care? A separate bank account? You may want to make a list of short- and long-term strategies for meeting these basic needs on your own.
2. Prepare a budget. Many people assume their expenses will stay unchanged until after the divorce — but that’s usually not the case. Two really can live more cheaply than one, and the extra costs of being single will be a huge burden if you don’t plan for them. Think about some of the “hidden” expenses. Is your cell phone on your spouse’s “family plan” as a second line? Do you and your spouse share an auto insurance policy? Are you on your spouse’s health insurance? In all of these cases, you’ll need to pay for a separate account of your own once you’re divorced, so budgeting for these extra costs now may save you some headaches later.
3. Analyze your finances. Run your credit report, make a list of marital assets and debts, and if you don’t have credit cards of your own, get some — you’ll need to establish credit in your name alone. Have your most recent tax returns readily available, and any 401K or IRA account reports as well. You’ll not only need these for the divorce proceedings, but they’ll also be useful if you sign a lease or take out a loan to buy a new house or car.
4. Interview divorce lawyers BEFORE filing. Think about it: do you want to get deep into the process of your divorce and then realize your lawyer isn’t as responsive or knowledgeable as you want or need? Divorce is stressful enough without having to change lawyers under pressure. So take your time and find a quality divorce attorney for your needs before you start the process—we offer additional tips for finding the best divorce lawyer as guidance.
5. Don’t overlook your health and well-being. And speaking of stress, take care of small details that will save big on stress as you go through divorce: have a physical check up, get the car tuned up, start exercising, make a plan to eat right, and if necessary, see a counselor to resolve emotional issues related to your breakup.
An ounce of preventive maintenance can truly go a long way toward making your divorce easier.