If you are contemplating divorce, here are a few steps you should take before filing the Petition to dissolve your marriage to ensure you have all information you need. These steps will save you money and reduce the time necessary to get through the divorce process:
1. Couples Therapy
Be confident that you have done everything you can to preserve your marriage. Seek couples therapy if you have not already done so, unless your spouse refuses to participate. Divorce should never be entered into quickly or without careful thought and planning, especially if minor children are involved.
Consider Mediation with a licensed attorney. Non-attorney Mediators are not qualified or authorized to advise you about your legal rights or the legal effect of the termination of your marriage. They are prohibited from telling you about legal options available to divide your property and debts. If your spouse will agree, mediating the issues in your divorce will result in lowering the total cost by more than one-half.
3. If Your Spouse Refuses to Mediate and You Can’t Afford to Hire an Attorney
Consider meeting with an attorney to learn about the legal steps that are available to you. If you decide to represent yourself, the Court expects you to know your legal rights and obligations. You can pay an attorney to prepare the required Court documents. Filing improperly prepared Court documents will delay the process and may increase your costs.
4. Income Tax Returns and Financial Documents
Gather copies of all income tax returns for the past five years. If you and your spouse did not file joint income tax returns during your marriage, if possible, locate copies of your spouse’s individual tax returns and keep copies. If you do not have access to any of your personal financial documents, keep in mind that under California law, the other
spouse is required to disclose all financial information in that spouse’s possession. Gather copies of all bank statements for joint accounts and individual accounts for both you and your spouse for the prior two years.
5. Retirement Accounts
Gather copies of all documents reflecting any retirement accounts or 401(k) accounts held by you and/or your spouse.
6. Open a Separate Bank Account
If you don’t already have one, open a bank account in your name only. Place your earnings or your share of community savings in the account.
7. Prepare a List of Assets and Debts
Prepare a list of all accounts, real property, vehicles and other personal items of value as well as a list of all debts, including credit card, student loan and mortgage debt.
8. Prepare a Budget
Prepare a complete budget of your anticipated expenses for you and your children, assuming you are living separate from your spouse.
9. Considerations If You Have Children
If you are the primary caregiver for your children, maintain your children’s current schedule so the children experience as little disruption as possible. If you are not the primary caregiver for your children, to the extent possible, make adjustments in your work schedule so that you can be more available to provide care for your children, i.e. start picking them up from school or taking children to sports practice and extracurricular activities. Start moving toward more shared parenting if you are not already doing so.
Start co-parenting counseling. If you and your spouse have disagreements
about the parenting schedule or parenting decisions, start seeing a counselor to discuss these issues. The Court will likely require you to participate in counseling with the other parent, even if
you decide not to mediate and prefer that your case go to Court.
11. Individual Therapy
Set up an appointment with a therapist for your own individual therapy. The emotional changes, difficult decision making and stress that most individual experience during divorce can be greatly reduced with the help of a qualified licensed therapist.
12. Tax Experts
Talk to your tax preparer, financial advisor, or CPA about what to expect from the inevitable changes to your financial circumstances.
Whether you disclose to your spouse the steps you are taking is up to you. Your decision should be based on the amount of trust you have for your spouse and your financial circumstances. You must weigh the benefits of taking action without telling your spouse against the problems created when your spouse learns you have taken action without disclosing your plans.