Rarely does a person decide overnight to get a divorce. It might take weeks, months--sometimes even years to finally act on such an important decision. No matter how long the planning process, many people overlook what should be taken care of before that big announcement. Careful planning, along with sensible choices and actions, should be your focus as you begin to strategize and plan for this major life-changing event.
Start by getting your affairs in order. Become knowledgeable about money matters. On the personal side, you will need tactics for dealing with friends, family, your children--others you interact with regularly. Once you sever the marital ties you don't want to make a mad dash to tackle these issues.
Here's what to do before letting the divorce cat out of the bag:
1. If you don't already have one, set up your own separate bank account. This is where you will deposit your assets when it comes time to divide the joint ones. Deposit whatever is currently yours. Add to it as you can.
2. Tally up all joint assets. What do the two of you own? Stocks and bonds? IRA's, insurance policies, other investments? What are they worth? Houses, a time-share, a vacant lot? Might you own a boat? Whose name are they in? What is their value? Rare coin collection? Valuable art? Antiques? Jewelry? Have these assets appraised. Insurance policies? Who are your beneficiaries? Prepare to make some changes. Update your Will.
3. Look into your joint liabilities. What do you owe as a couple? Inquire about loan balances on cars, properties, lines of credit, retail stores, and most of all credit cards. Find out exactly what you will be on the hook for. What obligations and debts can you get rid of once you make the split? If you do have any joint accounts at retail stores, credit card companies, restaurants, resorts, etc. and you wish to keep these privileges once the divorce "comes of age," open your own accounts. Do it now. Be prepared to close ALL joint accounts on "D" day. Hire a good private investigator or Forensic accountant to help you get information, if necessary.
4. Rebuild your own "village." Ditch the same set of business professionals you and your mate shared during the marriage. Find a new banker, accountant, therapist, housekeeper, gardener, animal groomer, lawyer.... Want to keep the ones you think you can trust? Have them sign a confidentiality agreement. My rule: Don't share with your ex or compromise your privacy.
5. Seek the counsel of a good therapist: Don't give up the joint sessions with your soon-to-be-ex, but find your own therapist. Your therapist can help you build fortitude as you work toward that critical "goodbye" moment, and also when the storm finally hits. He/she can guide you in decision-making and also bolster you during the aftermath. Choose someone with whom you feel comfortable. Find a therapist for the kids, too. They will need one.
6. Keep a detailed log: Itemize a thorough list of ALL assets and liabilities. Update it, as needed. Chart out your living expenses (think spousal and child support, if appropriate). Don't overlook the cost of at-school lunches for the kids, their clothing expenses, childcare, and the differences in income between you and your mate. Finally, itemize the "why's" for leaving your mate (this will help when you become more vulnerable, like around the holidays). You may also want to list your new contacts like realtors, CPAs, stockbrokers...those you may hire once you split. Keep your list in a diary. Compose/save it on your computer. Store it on your smart phone. Shove it in your safety deposit box. Be cautious. Keep it out of view and reach. You want immediate access to these notes once you are ready to declare "it's over."
7. Safeguard your personal safety and security. Concerned that your soon-to-be ex might physically hurt you? If he/she has shown signs of violence, issued threats--make sure you notify those close to you. Were there incidents in the past where your spouse inflicted physical and/or emotional abuse? Itemize these in your log. These notes may prove to be the most important records you keep. Document them with photos or recordings, if you can.
8. Be prepared to change all your passwords/names. Like passwords to your computer, your phone; bank accounts you acquire through property settlement. Think global. It also could include the registration to your car.
9. Begin lawyer shopping: Don't wait until the last minute to hire an attorney. There are too many details to take care of as you undo this "contract." Consult with several lawyers, though.
Find the best fit.