Before you file for divorce, if possible, you should take steps to prepare yourself for the impending process. In this article, we will walk through seven steps that can help ensure you are organized and ready for your divorce.
1. Research Your Legal Options: Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce.
If your partner has mentioned or you are considering divorce, the first step to preparing for divorce is to take time to understand your legal options and the divorce process itself. During your divorce, you will have to make a lot of important decisions that have a large impact on your future, and this preparation can help you feel less overwhelmed.
You should research:
- Uncontested vs. contested divorces. While uncontested divorces are typically resolved faster than contested divorces, you and the other party must agree on all of the terms of your divorce agreement to file uncontested. You should consider which is best for you considering the timeline of each divorce and how amicable your relationship is with your spouse.
- The grounds on which you can file for divorce in Alabama. In Alabama, you can file for divorce under fault-based or no-fault grounds. If you file under no-fault grounds, both parties are agreeing that neither of you is responsible for the end of the marriage. However, fault-based grounds (adultery, habitual drunkenness, etc.) place blame on either party and fault-based claims take longer to settle.
- Other divorce-related matters that may be relevant to your proceedings. In your divorce settlement agreement, you and your spouse (via negotiation or a court hearing) will need to have terms concerning your parenting plan, child custody or visitation, child support, alimony, the division of assets and debts, and any other divorce-related issues.
- Relevant laws. You should try to obtain a brief overview of the laws that have an impact on your divorce. For instance, Alabama is an equitable distribution state, which means that your marital assets will not be divided equally (50/50) but fairly.
During the research process, you should also take time to set your intentions and goals. What do you want to walk away with? Do you want to try to negotiate before going to trial? What is important to you, and what interests do you want to protect?
2. Get a Team Together.
You shouldn’t walk through divorce alone. You need a support network that can help you navigate this transition. Consider asking (or finding) people who can support you:
- Emotionally. Whether you vent to friends or family or sign up for individual or group therapy, you should have someone that you can process your emotions with healthily.
- Physically. Having someone in you’re your corner to ensure you take care of your physical needs is important. The mental and emotional strain of divorce can affect your physical health. Have a friend join you for walks or meditation or take advantage of your local gym, yoga studio, park, or fitness center.
- Financially. Getting divorced can be costly; you also make a lot of decisions during the proceedings that can impact your financial future. You may consider consulting with a financial planner or employing an advisor to help you navigate managing your finances during and after your divorce.
- Legally. You are not required to retain an attorney for your divorce. However, it is in your best interest you do. A reliable attorney is a valuable addition to your support network throughout the divorce process. Whether you file uncontested or contested, your divorce attorney can help you protect your interests and prepare and file the necessary paperwork; they also have a better understanding of the court system and state laws, negotiation and litigation strategies, and the divorce process itself.
Questions to Ask a Divorce Lawyer During Your Initial Interview
You should do research on different attorneys to see what experience they have and determine if they would be a good fit for your case. Once you have a shortlist, you should schedule a consultation with the attorney to learn how they would approach your case and if they have can take you on as a client. During your initial interview, you should also ask questions to ensure this attorney and firm is right for your case.
- What would be your strategy for my case?
- How long do you think it will take to resolve my case?
- How often do you communicate with and update clients concerning their cases?
- Do you specialize in divorces or family law matters, and how long have you been practicing?
- How much do you estimate my divorce will cost?
- Do you charge a flat rate fee or an hourly rate?
- Do you think I will need to retain any other professionals (i.e forensic accountant, psychologist, private investigator, etc.), and how much will their services cost?
- Can you help me understand the tax implications of the decisions I will make?
- Will anyone else on your team be working on my case, and if so, can I also meet them?
3. Prepare for a New Parenting Arrangement.
If you have minor children, you and your partner will need to develop a plan concerning child custody and/or support. You will need to draft a parenting plan that outlines who will have legal and/or physical custody (if not both of you), and you will need to create a parenting plan, which is basically a schedule of how parenting time will be shared. You should collect and consider the following information in preparation for creating a custodial agreement:
- Your child’s schedule (school, extracurriculars, etc.)
- The time each parent currently shares with their child with respect to their work schedule
- Each parent’s current responsibilities concerning childcare (i.e. Who does pick-ups and drop-offs at school? Who makes meals or helps with bath time?)
- Your child’s age (as their current stage of development can have an impact on what types of schedule would best benefit them)
4. Collect Marital, Financial, & Other Needed Documents.
You will need a lot of documents and information during your divorce. You should obtain copies of the following forms.
- Tax and income information forms. This includes income tax returns, fiduciary tax returns, W2s, pay stubs (or proof of both parties’ current income), employment contracts, and bank account information.
- Documents concerning assets and debts. This includes certificates of deposit statements, up-to-date pension statements or retirement account information, lump-sum payouts, stock and investments information, copies of share certificates, credit card rewards, a list of real estate and/or businesses, credit reports, vehicle titles, and outstanding bills or loans.
- Information concerning your primary residence. This includes utility bills, property tax information, insurance policies, outstanding mortgage information or lines of credit, and ownership interests.
- Estate planning documents. This includes your will, power of attorney, and copies of any trusts where either party is a trustee.
- Legal documents. This includes prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, your marriage license, and life insurance policies.
In some cases, one spouse may try to hide assets or control the information the other party has on important financial and evidentiary documents. To ensure you have access to the information you may need, you should also take this time to write down the log-in information of accounts you do and do not have access to.
5. Prepare to Tell Your Children.
Divorce affects more than just the divorcing couple; it also affects your friends and family, including your children. Whether they’re adults or minors, your children can be emotionally, socially, and financially impacted by your divorce. You should consider how you want to break the news of your separation and eventual divorce to them. Here are some tips concerning how to tell your kids you are getting divorced.
- Tell them together (if possible).
- Avoid placing blame on either parent—no matter the circumstances of the divorce.
- Explain what changes they should expect (i.e. two houses, new schedule, etc.).
- Remind them that you love them and that they are not to blame.
- Allow them to ask questions.
- Give them time to process the news and adjust.
6. Take Steps to Separate Your Life from Your Soon-to-be-Ex.
Here are some of the most important steps you should take to separate your life from your partner’s prior to divorce.
- Consider your living arrangements. To save money, some couples continue living together until their divorce is finalized. However, there still needs to be a clear date of separation. If living together doesn’t seem feasible, you should consider which of you will have to move out and when. You should also consult with your attorney if you think that you and the other party may struggle to come to an agreement; they can best advise you of your legal options and the steps you can take to have the courts grant you temporary rights to have exclusive use of your home.
- Create a budget. If you have a shared budget with your partner, you should consider what expenses you will now have to take sole responsibility for. Creating an individual budget can help you understand how you may need to cut back on expenses, whether you may need or qualify for alimony, and help you save for divorce-related expenses.
- Change your passwords. If your spouse knows your passwords for your separate assets, you should change them. You should also change the passwords to your social media accounts, personal email, and any other accounts that have your personal information and communications.
- Make a plan for shared investments. You and your partner may have an investment property; if so, you should consider how you want to manage the property during the divorce. In some cases, you can create a property management account to house the property’s earnings until a determination is made regarding the division of property.
- Consider setting up a P.O. box. If you anticipate getting physical mail concerning your divorce, you may not want it to come to your shared home. You can get a P.O. box in your name so you can receive the documents without your spouse’s possible interference.
- Secure health insurance. If you are dependent on your spouse’s employment-based healthcare plan, you should research your options through your employer or state or federal assistance programs.
- Itemize a list of your belongings. Using the documents you collected, create a list of your separate property (i.e. assets you brought into the marriage).
- Update your estate planning documents. You should review and update your will, power of attorney, and/or other important estate planning documents. During your divorce, you cannot update or alter certain documents, such as your pension, life insurance, or retirement beneficiaries. You should consult with an attorney to determine what documents can and cannot be changed in the midst of your divorce.
7. Take Care of Yourself.
Even if you and your soon-to-be-ex are on good terms and the divorce is amicable, getting divorced will still be an emotional process. You will have to face the loss of your sense of normalcy and dreams/visions of the future. Don’t try to avoid your emotions; let yourself feel what you need to feel and prioritize self-care.
For help filing or preparing for divorce, reach out to Shaw Family Law. Our attorney is here to help you protect your interests and can answer any lingering questions you have about how to prepare for divorce. To schedule a case consultation, call (205) 259-7650 today.