Submitted by James J. Gross
Once you decide you are going to get a divorce, there are some things you can do to get ready for it.
1. Start a War Chest. You are going to need your own money for a divorce. You will have to be able to maintain yourself and your children for a while if you are dependent on your spouse and your spouse decides to cut off support. You will also probably need funds to hire a lawyer. If there is anyway to start a separate account to guard against future financial contingencies, now is the time to do it. If you have to borrow money from a relative or friend, be sure to sign a promissory note so the court will look at this as a loan that you have to repay and not as a gift.
2. Keep a Divorce Calendar. If you are currently using a desk calendar or day planner, you will now need to include your divorce events. There will be meetings with your lawyer and court deadlines to keep track of. It may be helpful to keep track of discussions with your spouse. It may be used as evidence in your case when your spouse did not keep an appointment or violated an agreement or court order in some fashion. Visitation dates with children need to be calendared. You will also want to keep track of appointments with your children’s teachers, doctors, coaches and tutors. This may become evidence of your participation in your children’s lives in your divorce.
3. Make a To Do List. You will need to stay organized and set your priorities during a divorce. This is the easiest way to do it. List all the items you have to accomplish and mark them off as you go through them.
4. Prepare a Divorce Notebook. A divorce produces a lot of paperwork. It comes at you in a blizzard. The simplest way to keep track of all these papers is with a three ring binder and a three hole punch. Put papers in chronological order and make an index.
5. Set up a Divorce File. You may prefer to set up individual files for various categories of divorce papers. Some examples are correspondence with your attorney, drafts of agreements, financial information and pleadings. Files with brads and a two hole punch will help you keep papers neat and organized.
6. Cut Expenses. If you have debt in your name, like credit cards or student loans, you will want to pay those debts down as much as possible before a divorce. If your family is like most American families, you have been spending close to your entire income, if not more, and when one household becomes two, there will not be enough money to pay the expenses of both unless something changes. You may have to cut expense, sell the car and get a less expensive model, or maybe sell the house. If your spouse does not voluntarily support you and the children, your remedy is to ask the Court to order support. You will not have a good prediction of any of this and you will not know the answers for sure until the agreement is signed or the judge makes a ruling. But the point is to think about it, and identify problems and possible solutions. Then take the actions that you can take and avoid missteps.
7. Stick to a Routine. It will help if you try to keep things as normal as possible in your life. Do not skip meals or change sleeping habits. Positive routines like using your to do list and calendar will help you keep focus. Exercise is always a great way to relief stress. Try not to isolate yourself from your friends.
8. Be Constructive. Try to maintain a positive outlook and do not let yourself be lured into needless conflicts with your spouse. You will need his signature on a settlement agreement before your divorce is over. You will still be parents together for years after the divorce.
9. Make a Plan. Take it one day at a time. Focus on the present and not the past. Try to control only those things within your control. Many things in a divorce are outside of your control. Try not to blow those things out of proportion. Make a plan. Then keep working your plan. That is how you will take control of your divorce and not let it take control of you.
10. Gather Financial Information. The more you can organize your own financial documents, the more you will reduce your attorney fees and improve your chances of success. You are going to have to gather and organize a lot of information for your attorney or your case. A good way of organizing the information you find is a financial statement which can be used as a checklist. Many courts have a form financial statement available at the court clerk’s office and sometimes online. If you can obtain this form and fill it out, it will help you gather and organize your financial information. Give it to your lawyer at the first meeting to save time and expense.
11. Do Your Research. It is valuable for you to learn everything you can about divorce early in the process. If you know little or nothing about the process, you may not make the best decisions or choices. Most people are uncomfortable with the unknown.
You can raise your comfort level and your odds of success by finding out what is going to happen before it happens. The Internet is a convenient way to obtain summary and detailed information about divorce. Of course there are other ways to research the subject.
You can start your research at a library or book store. There are seminars and support groups. Talk to friends who have been through divorce. But keep in mind that every divorce is different. It’s a good idea to learn about the basics of divorce law in your state early in the process. You can learn about divorce law by looking up your state’s statutes on the Internet or checking attorney’s websites or other helpful sites.
James J. Gross, managing partner of Thyden Gross and Callahan and Maryland Divorce Lawyers.com, “In the Courts, Answer Desk” guest columnist for DivorceNet, has been in practice in the areas of Family Law, Business Law, and civil litigation for over 25 years.