You have reached a point in your marriage where you have determined the marriage can not be saved.  While marital difficulties can drain both spouses of energy, time and emotional well being; you are now beginning the process to dissolve your marriage.  It won't get easier from here for awhile.  But, it if you have reached this point then likely you will find this article helpful to reduce the stress and surprises associated with divorce.

While there may be married couples that end their marriages with ease, most divorces entail many challenges that make getting a divorce one of the most difficult times in your life.  This article will help you plan for some of the most common issues associated with a pending divorce.  We will start from the marriage's real ending and proceed until the dissolution.  While things are about to get really difficult in your life; know that it's not forever and life after divorce does exist.  And it's a better one.  But, first the tough stuff.

Phase 1 - Ending of Marriage

What many married couples fail to regard is that there are two endings in their marriage.  The most significant to the couple's love, dedication and commitment is the first, sometimes referred to as an emotional divorce.  It happens immediately following an event that causes one spouse to emotionally detach from the marriage or gradually over a course of time until one or both recognize it is over.  It's often a combination of both that can also bring about divorce.  The divorce plan starts when either situation presents itself. 

Many couples who stay together while emotionally detached from their marriage recognize a loveless, dishonest and unhappy relationship where the marriage has ended years past.  They fail to move forward to end it officially in a court of law.  The relationship between the two spouses deteriorates into an unrecognizable tumorlike entity that feeds and drains the happiness of each spouse.

It's never easy to admit your marriage is over.  And while many marriages have opportunities to improve when issues arise (and they always arise), at some point nearly half of all marriages end.  This is the beginning of a divorce.  This is when each spouse may initially consult with an attorney or legal advisor.

Phase 2 - Consulting an Attorney

It's time to consult an attorney to get a broader legal view of a pending divorce.  You will be looking for an attorney to have the background, feasible rate and "court side manner" that provides you the best representation to bring a resolution to your divorce with the least amount of time, problems and money.  There will be many aspects of your situation that we can not fully anticipate specific to your state and circumstances, but generally you will want to include the following in your interview(s):

  • -Do you know my spouse to include but not limited to consultation regarding divorce?  If so, you will need to discontinue the interview immediately.
  • -Attorney's fee structure to include retainer necessary to initiate representation.
  • -Laws and divorce procedures of your state as they apply to your circumstances and case.  
  • -Factors specific to your state that affect child support, alimony, maintenance, etc.
  • -Legal separation.  Is it a state requirement prior to divorce, if so how long.  Ask that he/she explain the differences of legal separation, separation, annulment and divorce.  
  • -Requirements (i.e. child custody classes) necessary to complete prior to the divorce.
  • -State property laws specific to each spouse's ownership rights as they pertain to your states process for division of marital assets 
  • Based on your circumstances you may want to hire an attorney at this time.  It will depend on issues like your financial stability, living situation and personal circumstances.  You will still proceed with the following phases.  

Phase 3 - Prepare for separation and divorce

Since you are preparing to begin a legal suit against your spouse, it is now time to plan and secure your assets, living situation and necessary documents prior to any discussion regarding your interest in a divorce.  As in many marriages that a divorce is imminent, the notified spouse may prevent or limit your access to necessary documents and assets in an attempt to either delay the divorce or due to retaliatory behavior.  This causes undue delays, legal fees to obtain documents that are easily collected prior to filing and undue stress.   You will want to record, collect and plan the following:

Know where you will live or be prepared to request your spouse to locate a new living situation (it's a good idea to present some options at the time you ask for the divorce to expediate his/her move)

Copy all documents pertaining to assets, taxes, bank accounts/statements, debts (specific to family debts and/or debt incurred prior to marriage), household budget, you and your spouse's income, insurance, appraisals.

Set money aside to secure funding while separated.  It's also a good idea to work overtime or a second job since most families experience a financial set back upon adding a second household while separated and eventual divorce.

Get a copy of your current credit report and credit score to determine your own credit worthiness, assessment of debts.  It is also a good idea to establish a credit history with a secured credit card or low interest credit card.  You will need to demonstrate you utilize the card but pay on time and carry a low balance.  This would be ideally done 6-12 months prior to utilizing your credit history for things like housing, auto or other secured loans, jobs (many employers do review credit history when they perform a background check).

Prepare for your ideal child custody arrangement.  You may not share this at the time you present your request for a divorce; but you should have it when hiring an attorney and/or when you and your spouse begin discussions regarding such matters associated with custody, support and assets.

Inventory all assets to include furniture, household items, tools, electronics, jewelry, appliances and basically anything that is of value personally or financially.

Phase 4a - Breaking it to your spouse

Many reasons are associated with a spouse failing to recognize or accept there is a fatal problem in their marriage.  It can be based on their personality, religious beliefs or ignorance.  Sometimes it may seem that to ignore and deny there is a problem will make it go away.  But it won't.  It only takes one spouse to be emotionally detached from the marriage to end it.  This is because you need two vested spouses in a happy marriage.  

Before you discuss anything with your spouse, be 100% sure a divorce is what you want.  Make sure you are not attempting to shock your spouse to illicit his/her request to save the marriage.  This can have a terrible outcome and only serve to make things more complicated.  Instead, you could tell your spouse an action plan you would like to take in order to avoid a divorce.  One of the essential components to a happy marriage is honesty.  Be honest with yourself and your spouse about your concerns and expectations.

If you are sure you would like a divorce and ready to break the news, it may be best to choose a public setting to keep it amicable.  Being on the receiving end  of such news can be shocking and painful.  It can bring on an overwhelming reaction that may not necessarily be representational of your spouse's character or true feelings. But, unless you feel your spouse may react poorly, be realistic as to how and where you would want to be told, who you would want around when you are told and when.  It is never a good idea to serve him/her the divorce petition (also referred to as a summons) at the first notice your marriage is over even if the summons is ready.  Likely your attorney will arrange for your spouse to be served the summons by acceptance of service, process server, mail or publication.  He/she will have a specified time to answer the summons.  

If you are committed to legalizing an already failed marriage then do not let your spouse talk you back into it.  Finally, in cases when abuse or some significant situation make contact with your spouse dangerous or problematic then it is better to work through an attorney, law enforcement or mediation service instead of having direct contact with him/her.

Phase 4b - Your spouse breaks the news

Your spouse has presented you with an unforgiveable indiscretion that could warrant a divorce.  First, it is important to be sure that any decision is not made while tensions are high.  If your spouse brings up a divorce during an argument it may be a sign your marriage is in serious trouble, but may not actually be what either of you want.  So, give it some time until you both have had time to cool down.  The same can be said about finding out your spouse has committed an unforgivable act while married.  Love can sustain great stress, you may find that with proper counseling and time forgiveness is possible.  In either case of "shocking news" it's not uncommon for the surprised spouse to immediately ask for a divorce.  Again, both spouses need to give it some time to cool down and make decisions that have been thought through. 

If your spouse has amicably brought up divorce or is having an affair he/she is not willing to give-up, then you may wish to proceed with legally ending the marriage.  As difficult as it is to realize someone you love does not love you, you must accept it.  You can not change him/her, you can not take responsibility for what they want or don't want.   Some things are out of your control.  If one person in your marriage doesn't love the other, then the marriage is over, like it or not.  Now get an attorney and protect yourself.  Life is not over, just marriage.  You will survive.

Phase 5 - Hiring an Attorney

By now you have spoken with one or more attorneys regarding divorce.  It's time to hire the attorney that is best to handle your case.  Upon hiring your attorney you will likely:

  • Secure the attorney with a retainer
  • Present your attorney with your spouses attorney's name and contact information, if applicable.
  • Be ready to discuss the reason for your divorce so that you attorney can advise you on the best way to proceed.  This will also include understanding the differences
  • Discuss if you and your spouse plan to reside in the same home while the divorce is pending.  Verify the state requirements to include any required "waiting periods" and/or separation periods before or after filing and/or to proceed with divorce.  Understand the living arrangements or requirements as recognized by the state as separation and/or it's constitution of "living apart" during said waiting period (specifically if you will NOT be maintaining two separate residences).
  • Discuss temporary custody, living situation, and financial support while the divorce is pending.
  • Verify the laws and divorce procedures of your state you discussed in your previous interview as they relate to your immediate circumstances and case including: child support, alimony, maintenance 
  • Present your attorney with any custody and child support arrangements agreed upon in advance by you and your spouse.  Otherwise present your attorney with your ideal child custody arrangement to include schedule of visitation & custody arrangements specific to holidays - weekends -summer break - vacations, who will be the primary caregiver & household, any special circumstances such as medical or education (to include tuition if applicable), support expectations, etc.)  
  • Verify the state property laws specific to each spouse's ownership rights as they pertain to your states process for division of marital assets.
  • Present any agreed upon asset allocation between you and your spouse and/or discuss your options pertaining to assets, debts, alimony and support as they pertain to your circumstances and case.
  • Present all documents and a detailed list pertaining to your pre-nuptial agreement (if applicable), assets (investments and respective values/balances to include but not limited to: home, property, stocks, bonds, 401K, IRA's, cash, certificates of deposit, checking and savings, life insurance, etc.), taxes, bank and/or investment account statements, debts and balances (specific to family debts and/or debt incurred prior to marriage and specified as such), household budget, both spouse's income, insurance and appraisals of real or personal property.  Ask if your attorney requires any further documents prior to filing and thereafter.  Verify the state property laws specific to each spouse's ownership rights as they pertain to your states process for division of marital assets.  
  • Provide an inventory list of personal property to include: all furniture, household items, tools, electronics, jewelry, appliances and basically anything that is of value personally or financially.  Bring appraisals, values and insurance documents related to these items, if applicable. 
  • Get information related to requirements  (i.e. child custody classes) necessary to complete prior to the divorce.

Finally, the more you and your spouse agree upon prior to each hiring an attorney, the less legal expenses you will incur.  It will also expedite the divorce.  So be ready to discuss your asset, support and custody arrangements that have been discussed and agreed upon with your spouse with your attorney upon hiring him/her. 

Phase 5 - Do-It-Yourself-Divorce

You may be able to proceed with your divorce without the assistance of an attorney.  However, this would be in the case your divorce is uncontested and there are limited assets.  Each state has different requirements.  It is a time when emotions are likely to be high and the tedious nature of legal filings, paperwork and proceedings may be too much for the average couple.  However, it is possible and there are resources available to assist you.  Here are some things to consider if doing so:

  • Understand your state laws and requirements
  • The divorce should be generally uncontested (specifically one where both spouses are in agreement both legally and emotionally)
  • No legal representation currently retained by either spouse
  • Few to no assets 
  • Predetermined child custody arrangements
  • Non-military
  • Predetermined alimony, maintenance or support or non-thereof
  • You can contact your county clerk to get information related to legal requirements and paperwork to file.  But you will also find numerous opportunities to assist you in the process that may be well worth the money to invest.
  • Legal document preparation services
  • Divorce mediation services
  • Internet based divorce service providers
  • Divorce attorneys who prepare documents for uncontested divorce

While every state and every divorce presents unique qualities and circumstances as they pertain to the law and otherwise, there will likely be issues that will arise during the course of your journey that can not always be anticipated.  However, hopefully you will now have a plan of your pending divorce to ensure the smoothest transition.


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