Once you realize that divorce is the only option—preferably after seeking couples’ therapy and taking all necessary steps to make the marriage work—there are several important steps to take before you file a Complaint for Divorce. You need to prepare yourself for the divorce process, which includes preliminary questions such as whether you should mediate your divorce or embark on a hotly contested legal battle? If you have children, you need to help them prepare for some major changes in the family unit. Finally, you should get your financial house in order
Here’s what you need to do to prepare yourself for divorce:
- Educate yourself – There are several options available for divorce in Massachusetts, including mediation, litigation, and collaborative law. Learn about divorce at our family law blog and Massachusetts Divorce FAQ, or drill down on the details with the Massachusetts Divorce Series. Read up on child custody, child support, alimony and the division of marital assets. Take the time to understand the issues decided in a divorce.
- Collect financial and legal documents – If you have access to the finances, make photocopies of tax returns, W-2’s, pay stubs, bank account statements, credit card statements, retirement plan statements, mortgages, car payments, stock options, debts and student loan records, and business ownership information (if applicable) from the past three years. You will need these documents to prepare for discovery and the state’s mandatory Financial Statement.
- Save money – Divorce can be quite costly, especially if you are involved in a heated dispute and you need to hire a lawyer. Not only do you need to save money for legal expenses, but also for the household to pay your bills once the divorce is final. Open a separate bank account and arrange some or all your paycheck to be deposited in that account. Consider limiting the use of joint accounts to child-related costs. Consult with an attorney before making significant withdrawals from savings and retirement funds, which a future Court are likely to view as marital assets.
- Prepare for a custody battle, if necessary – For parents who get along, mediation often provides a great solution for child custody and parenting time. Mediation can’t resolve every dispute, however. If you wish to obtain primary custody of the kids – or shared custody over the other parent’s objection – you must show the court that it is in the best interests of your children. Make sure you’re the parent who takes the children to school, extracurricular activities, and appointments. In addition, keep track of who takes care of the children by keeping a journal, which could be used as evidence in a custody dispute. At the same time, develop appropriate boundaries with the other parent, show you are capable of co-parenting, and avoid engaging in behavior that a judge could later interpret as parental alienation.
- Hire a lawyer – A family law attorney can help you navigate the complexities of the divorce process while protecting your rights and best interests to get the most favorable outcome. You can ask your friends, family members, peers, or your local bar association for recommendations.
- Take care of yourself – Divorce is an emotionally overwhelming process, especially when kids are involved. You need a strong support system of friends and loved ones who can provide encouragement and listen to you vent. Stay healthy by exercising and maintaining a good diet. Spend more time with your children, helping them make a transition into your new lives.