Deciding to end a marriage can be extremely difficult, both emotionally and financially. There are also a lot of logistics and financial details that have to be taken care of to ensure the smoothest transition possible.
Before you start the divorce process, it can be helpful to review this pre-divorce checklist to get organized and navigate the next steps.
1. Identify Areas of Agreement and Disconnect
Whether your divorce is amicable or you’re at each other’s throats, knowing where you’re in agreement and where there is conflict can help you save time and money. If you and your spouse are aligned on significant issues, you might even be able to avoid a lawyer.
The top issues that divorcing couples work to resolve as they dissolve their marriage include:
- Asset valuation
- Asset division
- Spousal support
- Child custody and child support (if applicable)
By identifying where you and your spouse disagree, you’ll be aware early in the process of issues that will take more advanced resolution strategies, either through lawyers or mediators.
2. Determine What You Want the Divorce Process to Look Like
Few people want to experience an angry and bitter divorce where each party seeks to come out ahead at the expense of their soon-to-be ex. If preliminary conversations about divorce with your spouse are fueled by anger and resentment, the type of lawyer you decide to work with might be different than if you and your spouse are both seeking a mutually beneficial outcome.
Increasingly, divorcing couples desire an approach that gives both partners a livable situation and allows them to move on with grace. Collaborative divorce or mediation are two ways to achieve a win-win situation for divorcing couples.
3. Discuss Potential Parenting Arrangements
If you have children, determining who gets custody and the details of a custody arrangement can be incredibly complicated. Not only do divorcing couples need to determine whether joint custody is an option and how the time will be divided but there’s also a long list of other issues, including:
- How to communicate the divorce to the children
- How (and where) children will spend holidays and vacations
- How to handle illness
- Determining the primary caregiver
- Childcare decisions
- Education and school selection
- Transportation to and from each parent’s home and activities
- Rules for introducing children to new significant others
- Relocation considerations
- Expectations regarding religion
- Contingencies for handling substance abuse or the death or incapacitation of a parent
Having these preliminary discussions before formal divorce negotiations begin can give both parents time to think through various options and discuss ideas before more formal discussions occur.
Drafting your thoughts and creating a preliminary calendar can give you a starting point when making a more formal, legally binding agreement. It is also a wise decision to determine how often these agreements will be revisited as the children get older.
4. Gather Relevant Documents
Divorce can also be a document-intensive process. Over the years, you and your spouse built a life together (which will soon become divided), and there’s bound to be a long paper (or electronic) trail. Further, the collection of documents can be spread across a variety of places.
Some documents will be required to finalize your divorce, while others will be used in negotiating various issues such as the value and division of assets and liabilities, the costs to maintain your home and lifestyle, the amounts of life insurance you hold, and much more
This list includes common documents that you’ll need in a divorce, though it is far from comprehensive:
- Pre and postnuptial agreements
- Estate planning documents
- Marriage license
- Life insurance policies
- Bank account info
- Vehicle titles
- Documentation of various debts (credit card, medical, car loan, student loan, etc.)
- W2 forms and other tax documents
- Inventory of security deposit boxes
5. Take Inventory of Your Assets and Liabilities
Gathering documents to take stock of your financial situation independently and jointly is critical, and so is creating a written inventory of your assets and debts. Because everything you own will ultimately be divided, having a clear understanding of who owns what, and who owes what can help you avoid unnecessary and expensive battles later.
After taking stock of your inventory as a couple, you’ll be able to identify which assets and debts may cause a debate and which ones can be distributed more easily.
Examples of assets include:
- The marital home
- Investment properties
- Cars, boats, and other vehicles
- Stocks, bonds, retirement funds, and other financial instruments
- Bank accounts
- Household items
- Jewelry, art, and collectibles
- Digital assets
Examples of debts include:
- Credit card debt
- Personal loans
- Lines of Credit
- Margin Loans
- Car loans
6. Begin Preparing for Life After Divorce
Knowing that divorce is inevitable and having a pre-divorce checklist can ease the transition and simplify conversations between your spouse and your respective lawyers.
It’s also important to begin thinking about how you will separate your life from your spouse’s. Depending on how many years you’ve been together, this can result in a major upheaval.
Adjusting to a new life after a divorce takes time, and if you’re not prepared, complications can arise that make moving on more difficult. The good news is that there are steps you can take before your divorce is finalized to make it easier to begin anew and prevent unnecessary conflict.
The following best practices can help protect your interests while giving you a head start as your divorce becomes finalized:
Change your passwords: If your spouse has access to your email, social media, or computer, make sure you update your passwords to prevent them from accessing private information
Evaluate your employment options: If your spouse was the primary breadwinner, you might need to get more education or increase job skills to allow you to increase your income in the future.
Open a bank account in your name: Assuming you and your spouse have joint accounts, you’ll soon need your own accounts. Do not, however, divert marital assets to this account.
Open a credit card in your name: This is the time to start establishing your own credit history if you don’t already have one. It will help you whether you are seeking to have a mortgage in your own name after the divorce or if you plan to rent a home.
For additional guidance about preparing for a divorce, contact the Vacca Family Law Group at (646) 502-8591 or reach out online to schedule a free introductory call.