Things I Should Do Before Filing for Divorce

By Beverly Bird

Chances are, if you’re about to file for divorce, you’re pretty sure you want one. But before you sign the papers, take a deep breath. Ask yourself if you’re reacting emotionally or angrily to a situation that occurred within the last few weeks. Will your spouse be surprised or has this been brewing for some time? If you’re sure you can’t save your marriage, it might be time to move forward. Even so, before you rush out and file the papers, get your ducks in a row.

Increase Your Earnings

When you and your spouse separate, your available income will drop significantly. You and your spouse may have had the luxury of two incomes; now you’ll have one. If you’re the higher wage-earner, this might not be a crippling problem. If not, your first order of business should be to figure out a way of supplementing your income. Most state courts decide issues of alimony or spousal support on a case-by-case basis, so you can’t count on it. Before you file for divorce, try to find a full-time job, a position that pays better or a second job. If necessary, go back to school or sign up for a training course to hone your job skills. Divorce is hard enough, even if you’re the one who wants it. Don’t put yourself through the added stress of not being able to make ends meet.

Legal Preparation

Consult with several attorneys until you find someone you’re comfortable with, and while you're at it, ask them what you can and cannot do while you’re planning your divorce. For example, in most states, you can’t hack into your spouse’s computer to find proof that he’s been cheating on you. You generally can’t take the kids and move to a neighboring state. Once your divorce is underway, your spouse might grasp for anything he can possibly use against you. Don’t make legal missteps that will give him ammunition.

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Document Your Marriage

Before you file for divorce, and ideally before your spouse realizes you’re going to, begin collecting all the financial documentation you can find around the house. This is especially important if your spouse is the one who has historically handled your finances. Look for bank statements, tax returns, investment account statements, retirement plan documentation, and mortgage and credit card bills. Don’t take the documentation you find. Copy it for the attorney you’ll eventually retain and put it back where you found it. Keep it in a safe place, preferably not at home or in your car. When and if you retain an attorney, you can hand it all over to him. Otherwise, consider renting a safe deposit box to hold everything until your divorce is underway, and you need proof of your marriage’s assets and debts.

Establish a Support Network

Even if the divorce is your idea, you’re probably not going to move through the process without some angst, anger and stress, especially if you have children. Before you file for divorce, know who you can run to when the going gets tough. Your attorney’s job is to represent your best interests, not be there every time you want to vent. Even friends may grow tired of listening or feel divided loyalties. Consider joining a support group or establishing a relationship with a therapist or counselor so you have a safe harbor in place as you deal with this momentous change in your life.

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