There are no two ways about it - considering divorce is a stressful, trying time. Even if you and your spouse both agree that it’s time to part ways it can be an emotionally charged experience. Most often those emotions are ones of sadness and loss, but the process can also become quite contentious and anger-fueled. Therefore, it’s best to know what you’re getting yourself into and consider as many angles as possible before diving into proceedings. By preparing in advance - without the input of your soon-to-be-ex - you’ll be able to make decisions about what approach is best, what your personal post-divorce plans will be, and what your boundaries are in terms of child custody and support arrangements, and any settlements.
Types of Divorce Arrangements
Most frequently we simply hear people talk about “getting a divorce” but there are actually multiple types of divorce to be considered.
If you’ve been married for more than five years and share assets and/or children, then this is the type of divorce you “want.” In an uncontested divorce, each party agrees that they want to divorce and agree on all issues including, division of all assets, custody, placement and time spent with children.
A contested divorce, however, is the exact opposite. When one party doesn’t want (or anticipate) the separation or when the two parties are unable to come to settlement agreements, this is considered a contested divorce. In these cases, a judge must step in to adjudicate the settlement for the parties which means that one or both parties may end up leaving disappointed that they didn’t get what they feel was fair.
When one party files for divorce and the other does… nothing… this is called a default divorce. Essentially, after a certain amount of time has passed the separate simply becomes legal with no further action since the other party’s silence is considered an agreement/acknowledgment. In these cases, the requests of the party that filed are typically granted by the judge since there was no dispute.
If you’re considering approaching your spouse about getting a divorce, it’s best to have all of your personal “ducks in a row.” Not only will this make the conversation easier, because you’ll already have concrete answers to some questions, but it will help to reinforce that you’re serious and that your decision to divorce isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to an argument.
Some of the things you should consider and hopefully have reasonable answers for are:
- Where will you live?
- Where will your children live/how will you split custody? Who will provide for their medical care, insurance needs, etc. Also, how will you address this huge change with the children? (And don’t forget to consider who will “get” the pets.)
- What is your income versus your expenses - will you be able to sustain your lifestyle? If not, what changes will you need to make? (Don’t forget to make allowances for security deposits, real estate agent fees, new/replacement furnishings, movers, insurance [renter’s and health - if you’re on your partner’s!], etc.)
- How will property and assets be divided?
- Will you be working with a lawyer? How much can you afford for your legal representation?
You’ll also want to begin gathering documentation on certain aspects of your individual and shared lifestyle so that you can present a strong case for any child support and alimony. Things to consider include:
- Family finances - Include all expenses as well as what the total family income is (both spouses!) and how things are currently paid each month (Do you split the mortgage 50/50? Does your spouse handle some bills and you pay others? Does everything go into and come out of a single, joint banking account?)
- Make copies of important financial and legal documents - bank and credit card statements, mortgage and loan applications/pay-off amounts, tax returns, estate planning documents such as wills and trusts, etc.
- You should store these copies in a safe location outside of the marital home - perhaps in a safe deposit box that’s in your name only.
- It is also extremely beneficial to meet with a financial professional prior to announcing
- Keep a diary of activities and information pertaining to your children: where do they go to school? Who pays any tuition or fees? Who takes them to their doctors’ appointments and extracurricular activities? Obtain documentation from the children's school regarding parent attendance and participation at things like parent-teacher conferences, fundraisers, etc.
- If there are any medical or legal concerns you have against your soon-to-be-ex, document them. When possible gather copies of medical records (including diagnoses and drug test results) and police records. Document any concerns you may have about erratic or violent behavior against yourself, your children, or strangers.
- These should also be stored in a safe place away from the home.
It’s also important to consider that if you do have children and are anticipating a custody battle, that you should not move out of the home unless it is unsafe to remain. (And if it is unsafe to remain you should file a police report.) Judges will sometimes grant preference in custody arrangements to the parent that remains living in the home with the children.
Do I Need To Hire A Divorce Lawyer?
To put it bluntly - yes, you need to hire a divorce lawyer. At the end of the day any legal proceedings can get complicated, but untangling finances, property, and - of course - child custody can be especially arduous. Even when a divorce is uncontested and both parties agree on all of the terms, there may be things they haven’t considered or paperwork that’s more complicated than anticipated. And, of course, emotions can get involved as the process gets deeper and things can simply change.
In addition, to ensure that the judgements are enforceable it’s important to make sure that everything has been handled appropriately from the very beginning stages. If it comes to light that a piece of paperwork was missed or something wasn’t documented appropriately, it could create a loophole down the line where one party is able to legally renege on their responsibilities. Judges will often also throw out an entire case if a single piece of paperwork isn’t filed correctly, meaning the entire process would need to be started over.