You’ve tossed and turned at night, wrestled with the big questions, cried in the shower, talked to your friends, and the conclusion is that you’ve done all you can to save your marriage, and it’s time to stick a fork in it! That’s right, it’s done! Life certainly doesn’t get much more chaotic and emotional right now; but, one thing for sure: you have to have a game plan. Distorted thoughts, tear-blurred vision, and fear cannot be allowed to open the door for bad decisions and more disarray!
If it’s “go time”, then these are some things you need to prepare before you take your last walk out that door:
Seek legal representation. Make sure that you leaving, or the way in which you leave won’t set you up for more problems when it comes to custody and other important factors. Make sure you have your most important affairs in order before making any major moves. The temptation to leave the marital home when life there becomes unbearable is great, but not worth it if it costs you your children!
Get your finances in order. Establish your own bank account, untangle anything that can easily be established as yours versus his, and know what assets and debts you share as a couple. Do not leave without knowing specifics and having copies of bank statements and other important papers. Be prepared to report to your lawyer about any property, investments, other funds, and other valuable assets. Keep copies in a safe place or turn directly over to your counsel. Know exactly what both of you make, as well as what kind of benefits you each receive.
Set a budget for what you can manage on your own. Think about what all of your monthly expenses will be including housing, utilities, child care, vehicle, food, insurance, and more. You really can’t take a step without knowing what you can manage and having the means to stand on your own.
Know where you’re going to go. If possible, do not leave without a specific place to land. Especially if you have kids, it is essential that you have a destination prepared with everything you and your family will need so that it can feel as much like home as possible and you are not set up for criticism from your ex or the court about the home you provide for your kids.
When you’re positive that there is no hope for your marriage, start researching new places you can move, ideally in the same school district and without losing important features (e.g. if your older children were used to their own bedrooms, sharing rooms with siblings is bound to be stressful for them). Check out the neighborhood for parks, libraries, and other places your children can go. Check out crime and sex offender registries to ensure that you’re not inviting new problems into your life.
Take everything you need now. Once you walk out, you should have no expectation of being able to go back to retrieve anything forgotten. You will need clothing for yourself and your children, toys and basic furnishings, bedding, and so on. Take anything that was yours before the marriage and make sure you have important papers like birth certificates and financial documents.
Don’t take anything that is strictly his or that you expect will be made into an issue in court. Be reasonable about what you take, and if possible agree to an equitable split to property instead of helping yourself and coming off greedy or uncooperative in court; but, also don’t shortchange yourself or your children by not having the basics and opening the possibility of allegations that you can’t provide a reasonable living environment for your kids.
If you walk away from pictures and other memorabilia, you may never lay eyes on them again. Either take what you want and be prepared to make copies and share them in the future, or start making copies of what you want now.
Ask for help from friends and family. You may need help moving, assistance to fill in whatever furnishings and household goods you still need, child care while you attend meetings with your lawyer or discuss things with your ex, and a caring person to talk to.
Communicate with anyone who will need to know about your big change. Report your change in address and relationship status to schools, employers, insurance companies, doctors, utility companies, and anyone else who provides you service or who requires current contact information from you.
Letting your child care provider, school, place of worship, and other such places know will help them prepare to assist your children through the transition and for potential changes in behavior. Some of these organizations may also be able to assist you with some of the financial and emotional burden.
Notifying utility and other service providers of your intentions to move is important because you may have to establish services in your name or let companies know to remove your name from existing accounts. You certainly don’t want to be held liable for expenses incurred after you leave. Ask your lawyer how you can protect yourself from financial harm while still legally married.
Seek protection if you fear for your safety. Ask the police to supervise while you remove your belongings or turn to local programs for victims of abuse. They can help you troubleshoot through your plans to move so that you and your children can remain at the least risk of harm. Victim programs can also advise about what legal steps you should take, where you might seek emergency shelter, or even provide funding to help you get on your feet.
If your relationship with your soon to be ex is civil enough that you can still talk, try to work out as many of the details about the children, moving out, dividing property and finances, and so on as you can. You are always better off if you can agree to terms on your own because it will save both of you money, and it will be your plan instead of one imposed by the courts. This is often not possible or easy to do; but, it would be very helpful to have a preliminary visitation arrangement and some other issues ironed out.
The more cooperative and flexible you are about everything, the better you can expect things to go for you in court. As I always say: “if someone’s going to be a jerk, let it be them!”
The moving out phase of divorce is by far one of the most traumatic. With some careful thought and effort, you can minimize the stress and long term effects of the process. Keep in mind that what you do now can reverberate through upcoming court proceedings, future relations with your ex, and have a bearing on how well your children heal. It’s easy to give in to petty actions because emotions are very raw; but, the civility and severity of your actions could either hurt or hinder you down the road!
Good luck and peace to you!