The First 7 Actions to Take When You Have Decided to Divorce

I'm getting divorced.  Where do I even begin?

Divorce has been on your mind for months, maybe years.  You just can’t take it anymore. You are ready to move – but you’re paralyzed.  So many thoughts…where do you even begin. So, you are getting divorced - now what?

The Biggest Challenge When You’re First Facing Divorce

Nothing about divorce is easy. There are really no easy answers and each answer is different for each person and in each situation.

Divorce is huge. It affects just about every area of your life – physical, mental, financial, emotional, friends – you name it, and divorce impacts it. It’s such a change to so many parts of your life that you don’t know where to start.

And, it seems everything is interconnected. A change to one area of your life affects some other area of your life directly or indirectly. 

For example, you know that either you or your spouse are going to have to move out of your home.  But, in the beginning, you may not know which one of you is going to leave. You also don’t know exactly when the best time to move might be. And, of course, you don’t know how much money will be available to pay the rent no matter who moves. Or, who the kids will stay with during and after the move.  Or, …So many questions!

Looking for another place right away seems pointless … unless, of course, that’s what you’re supposed to be doing! What are you supposed to be doing?

The Second Biggest Challenge When You’re Facing Divorce

Because divorce is so huge and because it affects so many aspects of your life – there is the “Action Gap.”  This means, you know you’re supposed to be doing something – but what!?!

Should you be looking for a lawyer? Or, finding a new place to live? But what about trying to figure out what’s going to happen to the kids? What steps should you take to safeguard your money? The actions you need to take can be overwhelming and then when do you take them?

This overwhelm can paralyze you with fear, cause no actions, or – worse - bad actions because you feel you need to take an action but don’t know what. 

The First 7 Actions to Take When You Have Decided To Divorce

One big factor in surviving divorce with your sanity and psyche intact is this – focus on the big picture and take it one step at a time.

Trying to do everything at once is overwhelming! Fighting every battle without a plan is tiring and exhausting.  When you try to do everything, you end up doing nothing. Plus, you burn yourself out in the process.

With that said - How do you know which one step to take right now?

Every divorce is different because every person has different motivations, goals, and hoped-for outcomes.  But the process people go through when they’re facing divorce is surprisingly similar. And, while the order of the steps may be different for you than anyone else, the steps themselves are pretty universal.

For example, if you were surprised with the service of divorce pleadings, then you don’t have the luxury of trying to get yourself emotionally stable at the start. You should get a lawyer now!

On the other hand, if you are in the early stages of the post-decision process – “Ok, Yes, I’m getting a divorce, now what?” - and you would like to try to make things as amicable and as simple as possible, the following steps can make your divorce journey easier.

1. Focus on Your Emotional Stability.

This seems like an impossible task, right? So many things you are feeling – how are you going to control this?  Who knows, but the sooner you start working on stabilizing yourself, the better you and your decisions will be. We’re not saying you shouldn’t feel anything during this process – of course, you will.  But you need to get to a place where the emotions you feel do not drive the decisions you make or the actions you take.  

You’re going to make many decisions during the divorce process. You’ll have to decide things as small as when to answer Single or Divorced as opposed to married on forms to bigger decisions such as whether you will fight for shared custody or not, sell the house, or take on the debt. 

Deciding anything when you are emotionally weak can cause a lot of problems later.

2. Educate Yourself.

You’ve heard the phrase – The more you know! It is true in divorce.  The more you know about how divorce works (preferably before you’re in the middle of it!) the better your decisions will be and the higher the likelihood you will get the result you want.

And, don’t believe everything or everyone! There are a ton of myths and misconceptions about divorce. If you believe some of those myths – (like “your lawyer will handle everything,” or “the judge will make sure you get what’s fair,”) you are setting yourself up for disappointment. 

3. Set Your (Realistic) Goals and Plans

Smart people really think about what matters the most to them in divorce and what they really want to get – realistically.  If you don’t have goals, how will you know if you received what you wanted? Also, those without goals or a plan, flutter about from issue to issue during the process. They make each decision in the moment, without thinking about the impact each decision may have on the divorce as a whole. They have no divorce strategy because they have no divorce goal.

Of course, figuring out what matters the most in your divorce while your smack in the middle of it isn’t always easy. That’s why getting your emotions under control first is so important.

Educating yourself is important because you don’t want to set goals and plans only later to find out it is simply not realistic.  For example, some people want “sole custody” with the other parent to not have any contact with the children. Others want to get all the assets and have the other spouse take all the debt!  These are simply not realistic goals in most cases. Better to educate yourself first and figure out your goals are not realistic or attainable beforehand.  

One way or another though, you’ve got to decide what matters to you if you want to have any hope of getting it.

4. Think About Logistics.

Divorce takes time – it is not a singular event; more like a marathon. This creates issues with many things from who gets the kids and when, who pays for what and when, who makes certain decisions or is responsible for certain actions and when.  

Where are you going to live, and where your kids will live? Will your spouse continue to live with you during your divorce? Who is going to pay for what until you’ve finally divorced or at least make it to court? There are a ton of small, mundane details of life that you and your spouse have got to either figure out or fight about before you’re anywhere near the end of your divorce. And, here’s the difficult part – no one else can make these decisions for you.

By getting the logistical details of life during divorce under control, the more bandwidth you have available to deal with the bigger issues in divorce.

5. Start Collecting Your Financial Information.

Even in the worst of cases, having a complete understanding of your financial information – before you even begin – will help get things done quicker, cheaper and more effectively.

And, getting this together before the rubber meets the road ensures it doesn’t disappear before you even know what happened.  Collecting paperwork once a divorce is filed is often a much longer, rougher, and expensive process. Start gathering and store the financial information in a safe and secure location beforehand.  What type of financial information: bank statements, savings statements, retirement/401k statements, mortgage statements, credit card statements, etc. 

One of the smartest things you can do when you know you want a divorce is to gather your financial information and start putting it in order.

6. Plan When and How You Will Tell Your Spouse You Want a Divorce.

This is never an easy discussion.  But, it is one of the most important discussions you will ever have. 

The way you break the news about divorce to your spouse will dramatically affect how your divorce will progress. 

If the first time a person learns a spouse wants a divorce is when the sheriff shows up to serve divorce papers, this is a guaranteed fight! The same thing happens if the decision is made in an angry, callous, cold, or insensitive way.

How you treat your spouse from the beginning will set the tone for how your divorce moves forward.

But, don’t tell them until you have completed Step 7.

7. Start Getting Your Team Together

Who is your team?  These are the people you will rely on to help you during and after the divorce.  From your mom/dad/brother/sister to your best friend to your therapist, financial advisor, and divorce attorney, your team is those individuals you have chosen to support you during this process.

No matter who is on your team, or how large or small it is, there is one thing you need to always remember: No one should go through a divorce alone.

Your First Steps in Divorce

Divorce is tough.  And the best way to survive divorce is to get yourself moving forward. Taking the wrong first steps in divorce may end up making your divorce more contentious, expensive and drawn out. But, doing nothing is not an option either. So, what’s the answer? What do you do after you’ve decided you want a divorce? Go through these first 7 steps one by one, one step at a time.

Then learn how you should protect yourself and divide your finances in our FREE book, 16 Sensible Actions to Help You Plan and Prepare for Your Divorce. With this free resource, you will become efficient at monitoring your account information, knowledgeable of how much money you should take from a joint account and when, and become confident in your ability to plead your case in front of a judge.

Loyd J. Bourgeois
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Disability, Personal Injury, and Divorce Attorney