What to Do to Prepare for Separation or Divorce

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Going through a separation and/or divorce is not an easy process. It can put you and your family under tremendous psychological and financial stress. Making sure that you are prepared for a separation can help minimize the emotional turmoil, as well as ensure that your rights are protected.

Find an Experienced Divorce Lawyer

It is important to find a divorce lawyer who makes you feel comfortable enough to discuss your private personal and financial matters, as well as someone who understands your goals. Be sure your attorney is qualified to handle your particular case. The North Carolina Bar certifies qualified lawyers as Specialists in family law. In order to become a specialist, an attorney needs to meet rigorous standards, including continuing ed requirements, dedication of 25% of the lawyer’s practice to the specialty, confirmation by legal peers and passing an exam. You may wish to seek out one of these more experienced lawyers, depending on how complex your particular case is. Remember, find a divorce lawyer … don’t leave home without one.

Be Certain You Want to Separate or Divorce  

If you are conflicted about your decision to leave your marriage, you may want to consider consulting with a marriage or family therapist, or a clergy member before you make any decisions. Once you take steps to separate, it may be difficult or impossible to reconcile. You want to be sure that you are committed to your decision to proceed with the separation before taking the next step.

Gather All Necessary Financial Documents  

The division of assets and the payment of spousal or child support can only be determined by your lawyer’s careful review of relevant financial documents. To the extent possible, gather all documents that you will need for your case before separating. If you have access to your dual account bank records, income tax returns and other financial documentation identifying your assets and debts, make copies of everything before meeting with your attorney. You may also wish to download records of your shared online accounts, given that your spouse may change the passwords or codes to these accounts after learning that you’re considering separation.

Develop a List of Your Assets and Debts

It’s a good idea to put together a simple balance sheet showing all of your assets and debts. The items listed should include the following:  

  • Real property

  • Cars

  • Retirement accounts (such as IRA’s, 401k’s, or similar pre-tax savings plans, and pension plans)

  • Mutual funds and brokerage accounts

  • Mortgages

  • Notes

  • Credit cards and other debts

Take this list and any back-up financial documentation mentioned above, when you meet with your divorce lawyer for the first time.

Carefully Consider Your Goals for Child Custody

A separation means that you and your spouse will be sharing custody of your children according to a certain, defined schedule. The type of custody schedule will depend upon many factors, some of which include:

  • Ages of your children

  • Circumstances leading to your separation

  • Work and travel obligations of each party  

If you and your spouse can come to an agreement regarding how you will share custody of your children, you will be ahead of the game when it is time to formalize your separation and/or divorce.

Don’t Live Like You’re Single

In North Carolina, having a romantic relationship with another person prior to your date of physical separation can be considered adultery or illicit sexual behavior — this can impact whether you have an alimony claim and/or how much money you will have to pay the other spouse in alimony.

Your romantic partner could have exposure to claims for alienation of affection and criminal conversation filed by your spouse. Additionally, your romantic involvement with another person could impact how a court may view your child custody arrangement. Therefore, refrain from living the “single life” until you have spoken to a lawyer about the ramifications of dating another person.

Take Household Inventory  

Make an inventory of all household and family possessions. List all major items, such as furniture, artwork, jewelry, appliances, etc.  You should take photographs and/or a video to document the items located in your home.

Prepare Yourself Financially Before Separating

Before separating from your partner, it is important that you get comfortable with being financially independent. You should take the time to gain a good grasp on your family’s expenses and prepare a household budget. In addition, it is a good idea to understand where your credit score is by requesting a copy of your credit report.

Should I Work Before Separating?  

If you are unemployed and unlikely to receive alimony, you need to actively search for a job. If you cannot count on financial support from the other spouse, you need to be sure that you can afford your own living arrangements following separation and have benefits, such as health insurance, available to you.

Refrain from Using Social Media  

Do not post any discussions regarding your impending decision to separate on social media. Anything you post on social media is public and could someday be seen by a judge. Be cautious of what you put on the Internet, if anything.  

How to Tell Your Spouse That You Want to Separate  

One of the most difficult parts of the separation and divorce process is telling your spouse that you want a divorce. Before you approach your spouse, consider carefully what you will say and where you will have the discussion. You want to be calm and discuss your decision in a way that results in the least amount of emotional damage to you, your spouse and your children. For safety and comfort reasons, you may want to talk to your spouse about your decision to separate in front of a therapist or in a public place. You may want to schedule a “business meeting” with your spouse at a quiet public place, like a coffee shop, where you can each drive separately and leave separately, if the conversation gets too emotional or overheated. If that happens, you’re free to leave the public place and go to a safe place until the other spouse has calmed down.

About the Author

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Robin J. Stinson

Robin Stinson, a board-certified Family Law Specialist, focuses her practice in all areas of family law and dispute resolution, including complex marital estates and financial issues in equitable distribution, alimony and child support cases.
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