Preparing for a Divorce - Preliminary Steps
If you are contemplating a divorce, now is the time to take the preliminary steps that will make the process smoother-and put you on a better footing. Here are some things that can help you retain your decision-making power, protect yourself financially and achieve the best possible outcome for yourself and your children.
ONE: Learn what it's all about.
In Massachusetts, you have several options, such as mediation, collaborative law and litigation. Educate yourself about these options and about the divorce process itself.
TWO: Start taking notes
Keep a personal journal. Your attorney will ask you for information about your marriage and the situation leading up to the divorce decision. Start writing it out now. This will help you sort through the facts and explain them more clearly.
THREE: Gather documents
Collect all financial, legal and other records. Be advised that your spouse may not want you to have these documents, so consider collecting them in a safe place outside the home.-maybe your workplace, the home of a trusted relative or friend, or a safety deposit box.
The documents you should collect include bank statements, tax returns, salaries, and debts including credit card statements, mortgages and auto payments. Include also legal documents, such as marriage certificate, immigration records, passports and children's birth certificates.
FOUR: Protect your finances and property
- Close or freeze any joint accounts, including credit lines and credit cards so that you won't be responsible any new charges or debts incurred by your spouse. Then open separate accounts to take care of your present and future expenses.
- Check and list the contents of any safe-deposit boxes
- Don't sign any papers without consulting a lawyer.
- Be prepared to cover the costs of your divorce. The longer the process, the more expensive it will get.
FIVE : Take care of your emotional and physical health
- Build a strong support system of friends, family or others you can talk to and who can provide encouragement.
- Set your priorities. Have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and make decisions consistent with these goals. Don't let your emotions get in the way of what is best for you and your children.
- Talk to your children. Provide plenty of reassurance and love. Answer their questions simply and truthfully. Don't blame your spouse-or anyone else, including yourself.
- Make a firm decision not to fight with your spouse-it could come back to hurt you. If necessary, leave your spouse's presence to cool down. Use your journal to document in detail any act of physical or verbal aggression on your spouse's part.
SIX : Find a lawyer very early in the process
Friends, acquaintances or your local bar Association may provide recommendations. Schedule time with several attorneys initially; then choose the one who suits you best.
Be sure to take your financial and legal information and a brief outline of your marriage situation and that of your children. Ask about attorney fees, including retainer, billing and an estimate of the total cost.
At the same time, try to keep the lines of communication open with your spouse. Keep your relationship as amicable as possible. Negotiating and resolving issues between yourselves helps make the process smoother-and less expensive.