1) Get in the right mindset. A divorce is a major life event and can potentially change everything about your life. While divorce can be an extremely emotional event, it’s important to understand that the terms of your divorce are likely final and will be the same once any emotions have worn off. Start thinking about what your life will look after the divorce is finalized.
2) Get prepared. There are three major objectives to divorce: end the relationship between the parties; divide up all property and debt acquired during the marriage; and prepare a parenting plan and finalize child support if there are children. Start thinking about how you would like to do divide community property. For most people, the major assets are their home and retirement accounts. For children, start thinking about what your desired parenting plan might look like.
3) Gather information. For property and debts, you’re going to need a list of major property items and value; a list of all accounts and debts owed, to include the account names, account numbers, and current balances; and a good understanding of what property and debt was acquired before and during the marriage. If you have children, you’ll need to know the income of both parents for child support calculations.
4) Talk to your spouse (optional): A lot of people ask, “When should I talk to my spouse?” and the truth is there’s no “right” answer. I always tell clients that they know their spouses better than I do and that they are in the best position to answer that question. I generally advise clients to talk to their spouse prior to filing because no one wants to find out they are getting divorced by having the sheriff serve them a copy of the divorce petition at work or at home. But there are times when this may be necessary: such as if you’re worried about your spouse fleeing the area with your children; shutting off access to the accounts or home; or worried about your personal safety. But generally speaking, there’s no easy way to have this conversation, but things can’t really move forward until your spouse knows you are considering divorce, have already decided to divorce, or have already filed for divorce.
5) Find a divorce attorney. This is an important step and can be done in almost any order on this list. The person you hire (and in a lot of ways, the person your spouse hires) will go a long way in determining how your divorce proceedings will play out. There’s a lot of ways to find a divorce attorney, but perhaps the best way to do it is to ask someone you know if they liked their divorce attorney. Your friend is likely to offer an unfiltered opinion that can be extremely helpful in finding the right attorney for you. The most popular way to find an attorney is likely online. As you find someone and schedule an initial consultation, try to get a feel for how that person may represent you in your case. Also get an idea of how they bill. It’s a good idea to call a few people and get a good feel for the type of representation you are looking for, as well as someone you can afford to hire. There’s literally no limit on how much money you can spend on getting divorced. However, there are a number of things attorneys can do to help reduce the costs of divorce. Keep in mind that “high conflict” is code for “extra expensive.” Some people are going to need an attorney who specializes in high-conflict cases if they are unable to reach any sort of agreement on any topic with their spouse. But for a lot of people, they can avoid the costs and expenses associated with hiring a high-conflict attorney if they look for an attorney who is able to get most cases resolved without having to go to trial.