Maybe you just wanted to get through the holidays. Maybe the holidays were the last straw. Whatever the reason, January is boom time for divorce filings. Of course, it doesn't really matter how many people file for divorce at this time of year. If it's your marriage that is falling apart, the only thing you want to know is what you should do, and how you can prepare for divorce... if getting divorced is what you ultimately do.
The Elephant in the Room
If preparing for divorce sounds cold and calculating to you, I'm not surprised. Preparing for divorce is about as unromantic as you can get. Yet, if I told you that a hurricane was about to touch down near your home, would you ignore the dark clouds and swirling wind and have a barbecue? Or, would you grab your kids, gather your most treasured possessions, and head for a safe place to weather the storm?
Divorce is like that hurricane. You can ignore that it's coming, but when it hits, you will wish you didn't.
How to Prepare for Divorce
The first step in preparing for a divorce is to make sure that it really is what you (or your spouse) want. If you are not sure, wait. Go to marriage counseling. Go to individual counseling. Go on vacation. Maybe try a trial separation. Do whatever you need to do to make sure that getting divorced is the right decision for you and your family.
Once you know that divorce is inevitable, your next step is to start gathering two things: information and support.
Information and Support
Going through a divorce requires you to put together more documents and financial information than an IRS audit. You have to gather bank statements, tax returns, retirement statements, credit card bills, loan documents and more. What makes this process even harder is that, if your divorce is not amicable, once you start the process, critical documents very often "go missing." So, the sooner you can copy all of your financial documents and put them in a safe place, the better off you will be.
The second thing you need to gather is emotional support. You need to put together a team of people who can support you when things get rough (because, they will). This team can be paid professionals (therapists, divorce coaches, etc.), they can be friends and family, or they can be both. Your team can be as large or as small as you want. What is most important, is that you have a team, and that they are committed to supporting you. (HINT: Putting your spouse's family members on your team is never a good idea, no matter how much you think they will be on your side.)
Expand Your Team
Another critical member of your divorce team is a good divorce lawyer. Divorce laws are complicated and unless you have no children, no assets, and a very short marriage, you are going to need an attorney to guide you through the divorce process. But, before you hire a divorce lawyer, make sure you do your research. Not all divorce lawyers are created equal.
The one thing few people think about before they hire a lawyer is HOW they want to get divorced. These days, there is more than one way to go through a divorce. You can use mediation, litigation, arbitration, or collaborative divorce. You can try to divorce amicably, or you can fight like it's World War III. What is important is that you think about HOW you want to divorce, before you hire a lawyer.
Lawyers are like doctors, they all do different things. While the law in most states prevents lawyers from holding themselves out as "specialists" in certain areas of the law, the truth is that some lawyers have never handled a divorce. Among those lawyers who do "specialize" in divorce, some are great trial lawyers, others are skilled negotiators, and still others are master mediators. So, not only do you need to choose a lawyer with expertise in divorce, but you also want to hire one who is trained in using the specific kind of divorce process that you want to use.
Knowledge Is Power
Regardless of what type of lawyer you choose, or whether you decide to go the DIY route (which is rarely a good idea, but often necessary), you need to educate yourself about how divorce works, what your choices are, and how the divorce laws will apply in your case. While you might have thought that is what you hire a lawyer to do, thinking like that can cost you a fortune and create a mess of epic proportions in your life.
Obviously, you will never know the divorce laws like a lawyer will. But no lawyer will ever know your life like you will. No lawyer, no matter how much you pay him/her, is ever going to care as much about your kids, your family, and your life as you will. It is therefore up to you to learn enough about divorce so that you will be educated and able to make the best possible choices for yourself, your family and your future.
The Benefits of Being Prepared
Preparing for divorce is not fun. It's not easy. It can be as time-consuming as a part-time (or maybe even a full-time) job. But when you have done your homework, gathered all the necessary information, and put together the best team you can, you will set yourself up to get through your divorce in the best, most efficient and affordable way possible.
Does preparing well mean that your divorce will be easy? Of course not! But it's a lot easier to build your life back up after a hurricane has hit if you were not sitting idly on a lawn chair munching on barbecued beef when the hurricane touched down.