1. Weigh your options: Are you really in need of a divorce? Some times after a big argument or dramatic event, we feel that divorce is our best option. Many times, this is not true. Time to cool off, time to consider the other person’s position, or even counseling may be what you need. Other alternatives to divorce include Legal Separation. This option prohibits re-marriage (because you are technically still married to each other) and allows you to remain on health insurance plans as well as beneficiaries for retirement plans and death benefits. Some couples choose this option for religious purposes. The process for a Legal Separation is the same as a divorce though.
2. Get a support team in place: Regardless if your divorce is mutually agreed upon, completely unexpected, or a long time coming, it is still a very stressful and emotional transition. If you have children, you must also be sensitive to their needs as the family goes through this transition. Having a support team in place, be it family, friends, church members, or co-workers, will help you manage life during the divorce process.
3. Get your finances in order: You need to know what your assets and debts are. You also need to know approximately how much money you need each month to cover monthly expenses for you and your children, if applicable. Imagine that you will receive no assistance or support to pay these expenses, how much more money will you need each month to adequately run your home? Can you keep living in your current home, neighborhood, or city without receiving support? Would you be able to better afford a neighboring city? Gather the names and contact information for all bank accounts and investment/retirement accounts. Make a copy of the most recent credit card statements and valuations of vehicles and other property. Know how much you and your spouse earn individually and if either of you get bonuses, fringe benefits (car allowances, health benefits, life insurance, cell phone service, etc.), or pay raises regularly.
It may be beneficial to hire an attorney to prepare some support calculation estimates for you to assist you in determining your ability to pay your monthly living expenses.
4. Make a list of your “must-haves” and “can-haves”: Knowing what you are adamant about keeping and what you can live without will make the process less stressful for you. Really take the time to determine what is most important to you so that you can focus your energy on that. This will also help conserve attorney fees.
5. Research attorneys: There are many attorneys who practice family law. Finding one who will fit your needs may require multiple consultations and doing your homework (checking reviews, asking for referrals, sitting at the courthouse, knowing your financial limitations). Hiring an attorney based upon price may not give you the desired results. Hiring a “cheap” attorney may get you what you paid for; but, on the other hand, not all “expensive” attorneys will give you the greatest results either. Knowing what you can afford, and that you are likely going to have to pay more than the initial retainer, and finding an attorney who you feel comfortable with will help you to get the results you are seeking and have the most positive experience. Divorce in general is not positive, but having the right attorney will help to minimize some of the negativity.
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