You are not alone if you see divorce as a confusing and complicated process. You are being asked to make decisions quickly. So many documents and detailed information to compile in such a seemingly short period of time. All while experiencing the emotional strain of the end of a relationship. And while facing fear of the unknown. As with many challenges in life, it helps to be organized and prepared. As we learned in The Checklist Manifesto, you can use a divorce preparation checklist to ease your woe and defog your brain. Doing so will help you feel more in control of the situation and make the process proceed more smoothly.
Before you separate, it is advisable to set up secure avenues for receiving communications. If you are sharing a home, consider opening a P.O. Box so that you can privately receive mail from professionals like your attorney or bank and credit card statements for accounts you may open. Open a new email account dedicated to your divorce and “new life” if you and your partner have a shared account. Address all aspects of your technology. Change all the passwords on your personal social media accounts and any other online sites that are yours alone. When you are ready to proceed, contact a divorce attorney for a consultation or to hire the right person to represent you through the proceedings. Many family law attorneys offer unbundled services. Avoid relying entirely on what happened in your friend’s or neighbor’s divorce or material you read online or in a workbook. Divorce is not “one size fits all.”
Next you will need to compile any applicable legal documents, such as a will, trust or prenuptial agreement. Start gathering tax returns and deeds to real estate. Your divorce attorney can help guide you on other key documents you will need immediately which could impact property division and support.
Make a list of all financial information that pertains to both you as a couple and you solo. List your banks and credit cards, along with the balances for each account. Pull your credit report. Gather the retirement plans and insurance policies. Other financial information you may want to compile includes household bills, mortgage statements, vehicle titles and loans, and debt owed (e.g. taxes, student loans, etc.). Start making a budget of your monthly living expenses.
If you have children, there is no ONE “to do” list. Some moves you may want to make include – compiling records for child care expenses and other related fees; – notifying the school if your child’s address will change; -let the school know if transportation needs are to be changed; -make copies of your child’s school schedule and after school activities to share with your co-parent; -obtain a large calendar to plot out a temporary timeshare schedule.
Make an inventory of important or valuable personal property. This will include items such as furniture, art, collections and jewelry. Make a list of things you would like to keep. Separate out gifts you received versus items you bought with joint funds.
This “divorce homework” is tedious and time consuming for every person in your shoes. You are not alone. Sometimes it is helpful just to vent. You may want to consider finding a support group to help you with this transition in your life. I know many people who have found support groups very helpful in normalizing the process and feelings of divorce.
Your attorney will make sure you have all the information needed for your divorce, but this list will help you get a head start. Also check out my New Client Checklist for additional tips.
Divorce Preparation Checklist
- Contact an attorney for a consultation
- Open a PO Box for personal mail or change delivery to email
- Change your passwords online and put them in a safe place
- Open a new email account dedicated to divorce
- Obtain important legal documents
- Gather financial information pertaining to assets and income
- Open your own checking and savings account to deposit post-separation dollars
- Make a list of all debt
- Organize home and vehicle information
- Compile relevant information about children if applicable
- Gather tax returns, wills, trusts
- Organize income information like paystubs, W-2, K-1 and 1099 forms
- Make a list of employer benefits and look into accrued vacation for you and your spouse
- List retirement and investment accounts and gather current statements
- Save health and life insurance policies
- Make a list of unique personal property
- Find a counselor or support group – get referrals