5 Essential Steps To Preparing For Divorce

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By Shawn Leamon, MBA, CDFA, Guest Author - January 20, 2017
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Given the stresses of divorce, you must prepare for divorce in advance for the process. Be sure to lean on a therapist, family, and friends to help you through the emotional challenges, and stay focused on the big picture. By following the steps below, you can proceed through the divorce process confidently, with a solid team and strategy to help you.

Maybe your marriage is not working and you recognize the warning signs—divorce is coming. Although the process may be painful, you should take some very important steps to prepare yourself for what will be one of the toughest periods in your life. While preparation does not guarantee a smooth process, lack of preparation will ensure complications. Follow these five steps to help you go through divorce with a confident, well-planned strategy.

1. Establish private communications and financial accounts

You must first take steps to protect your privacy and secure money that only you can access. During a divorce, spying is all too common, and joint funds have a habit of disappearing.

To start, you should set up a new and private email, phone number, and mailing address. You will need a way to transmit sensitive information without your spouse having access to that information. When you are communicating with divorce attorneys, financial analysts, family, and friends having an unmonitored line will give you peace of mind and help protect your interests.

You also need to set up separate bank and credit card accounts in your name only. Joint assets have a tendency to disappear during divorce, and the only way to protect yourself is to have your own accounts. Transferring money to a separate account will also help ensure that you have funds to pay expenses related to your divorce. An upset spouse could block access to joint credit cards, withdraw cash from joint bank accounts, and ultimately leave you in the dust. The best way to prevent that is to have accounts in your name only.

2. Organize your financial documents

Divorce requires considerable documentation about your life, and you will need to spend time gathering and organizing important personal and financial information. Your divorce attorney, financial analysts, and others will require this information to help you through the complexities of divorce.

To start, obtain a copy of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus—Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. This information will indicate your credit score, credit history, and—most importantly—what accounts you have outstanding. You will find information about all your credit cards, auto loans, mortgages, personal loans, and other accounts with your name on them.

You also need to gather a lot of financial information, such as your tax returns, employment records, monthly expense information, investment account statements, and debts. Ideally, three to five years of information is helpful.

You should keep paper copies of key documents in a binder and also have electronic copies of the same, all clearly labeled and organized so that you can quickly recall necessary information. If you gather the appropriate information up front, you will save substantial time and money in professional fees.

3. Get financial help

Some say that marriage is about love, and divorce is about money. Financial help, specifically by hiring a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), will be instrumental as you go through the divorce process. Although divorce is a legal transaction, the financial decisions made during divorce will affect you for the rest of your life.

A CDFA will assist you in protecting your financial interests and future by helping you understand the overall big picture from a financial perspective. A CDFA can also conduct the initial review of your financial documents, help you choose a method for getting divorced, and also work with your attorney to construct a well-structured financial settlement. While divorce attorneys handle the law, CDFAs handle the money. Most CDFAs also cost less than divorce attorneys, and hiring one to deal with financial issues will help keep your bill down.

4. Choose the right method of divorce for you

The cost of divorce is directly proportional to the amount of fighting involved in your case, but contrary to common perception, divorce does not have to be a war. In fact, a traditional litigated divorce is typically the most expensive route, and less contentious methods are available.

Some alternatives to litigation include mediation and collaborative divorce, where you work in a civilized manner to resolve any issues. These routes can not only save you tens of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees and fees charged by experts but also help you keep your family intact throughout the process. As long as you are not in an abusive situation or fear your spouse is hiding assets from you, you should consider pursuing these alternative dispute resolution options over traditional litigation.

5. Hire a divorce attorney

Selecting a divorce attorney is one of the most important decisions you will make during divorce. A family lawyer’s job is to represent and protect your interests during negotiations with your spouse’s attorney or a judge. A good attorney is persuasive and effective, while a bad attorney can be harmful and also affect your future.

How do you choose the right divorce attorney? The answer could fill a book, but the short response is to look for an attorney who has specialized in family law for the past several years. An added benefit is having one certified by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, which generally recognizes only the most competent and experienced attorneys.

Parting thoughts

Given the stresses of divorce, you must prepare in advance for the process. Be sure to lean on a therapist, family, and friends to help you through the emotional challenges, and stay focused on the big picture. By following the steps above, you can proceed through the divorce process confidently, with a solid team and strategy to help you.

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