Only use this list if you are absolutely certain that you and your spouse truly want to get a divorce. If there’s a chance of saving the marriage through counseling or some other way, be sure to try that before you resort to the steps listed below.
1. Separate Your Finances
When you’ve decided to divorce, one of the hardest parts is determining what will happen with your finances. As a couple, you probably had all this pretty well figured out before … but now you don’t.
If you don’t already have your own independent bank accounts and credit cards, you’ll want to establish them as soon as possible.
2. Save Money to Cover Your Divorce and Other Expenses
Your lifestyle is about to change in a major way — and some of the changes are likely to be expensive ones. Divorce itself is expensive. In the USA, it is typical for the cost of a divorce to be as high as $30,000; if a divorce is extremely contentious, or involves a custody dispute, it can end up costing much more than that; $50,000 is a realistic total cost you might expect to pay in such cases.
The main takeaway here: You and your spouse are going to need to figure out a way to cover these expenses. Unless you already have a substantial amount of savings accumulated, you will need to start budgeting and saving for them.
3. Research Your Options and Choose the Best One
If you want to be certain of getting legal advice from a knowledgeable source, you might wish to speak with a divorce attorney. On the other hand, an attorney’s time is valuable.
You will pay a high price for the advice you get. Legal fees comprise the main component of a divorce’s total costs. If you can minimize the amount of time you spend consulting with attorneys, your overall divorce costs will be lower.
It is sometimes possible to represent yourself in divorce proceedings. If you and your spouse mutually agree that divorce is the best course of action, and you are able to agree on all major aspects of how to divide the property and care for your children, representing yourself might be the way to go.
An uncontested divorce — where the couple takes the initiative of agreeing on everything from their own financial arrangements to custody of the children and a visitation schedule — can be less expensive than a courtroom divorce trial. Mediation is another possibility that is likely to be less expensive than going to court.
Each state in the USA has different requirements for divorce proceedings. Research the options available to you in your state so you have a clear understanding of how to best proceed.
4. Secure Your Own Health Insurance
If your spouse’s employer is covering your health insurance, be aware that your coverage is likely to disappear when your divorce is finalized. It may be possible for you to temporarily extend the coverage under COBRA, although that option is likely to be expensive.
If you’re working full time, you’ll want to speak with the human resources department at work to find out how to choose and enroll in a health insurance plan.
If you have children, you will want to make sure you have adequate coverage for them as well. In some areas, single parent health insurance is available.
In some US states such as California, low-cost medical insurance may be available to your children through state health insurance programs. You’ll want to look into the available options in your locality and ensure that both you and your children have appropriate coverage.
5. Obtain Documentation
Divorce cases require extensive documentation. Make copies of every finance-related piece of paper in your house. Print out copies of documents saved on the computer.
6. Review Your Existing Policies and Change the Beneficiaries
If your employer offers a retirement account or life insurance coverage benefits, you’ve probably designated your spouse as the beneficiary who will inherit these assets in the event you die. Unless you make an effort to change the beneficiary, your spouse’s name will remain on these policies.
If you have children, your first instinct might be to name them as the beneficiaries of these funds instead of your spouse. If the kids are still legally minors, this would be a mistake.
Underage children are not typically allowed to receive these sorts of funds directly. Instead, you’ll want to research the options available to you for designating a responsible adult to manage the funds and use them to take care of your children.
One option is to make provisions for a trust to handle the management of the benefits on behalf of your children. You’ll want to specify an adult who is capable of managing the trust until your children reach adulthood.
7. Allocate Custodial Rights, Visitation Rights and Childcare Responsibilities
If you have children, the two of you will have to decide which of you they will live with going forward. Then you’ll have to decide how often the kids get to visit the other parent and come up with a visitation schedule.
This is probably the hardest to-do list you will ever have to work through — but if you are absolutely certain that your relationship must end in divorce, these are all things you will need to take care of.
The sooner you can get these things finished, the sooner you’ll be able to push forward and make a fresh start.
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