The desire for a divorce can come on suddenly or it can build over months or even years. But even when you urgently need to get away from your spouse, there are some things you can do before filing for divorce that will make the process easier and less expensive. Find out what you can do now to help yourself and your attorney once the divorce paperwork has been filed.
Be Sure Reconciliation Isn’t an Option
Once a divorce is complete it can’t be undone. While you and your ex-spouse may get remarried, the costs of completing a divorce will already be spent. Before filing for divorce, take the time to be sure it is the right choice for you. For some couples, this can include seeking out a marriage counselor to help them work through conflict and teach them new communication skills. In others, it may involve a short time apart to see if separation is right for you. If reconciliation isn’t an option, it is time to move forward with filing for divorce.
Talk to a Divorce Lawyer Early
A divorce lawyer’s job is more than just writing papers and showing up in court. Attorneys are counselors for their clients as well. If you are considering filing for divorce you should talk to a divorce lawyer — or several — early in the process. By interviewing divorce lawyers you can find an attorney whose style and priorities match your own. That attorney can then guide you in preparing to file for divorce, giving you a chance to make your life easier later on.
Make a Separation Plan
Your divorce lawyer can help you create a plan for when and how you will separate from your spouse. This may include exploring alternative housing options you can afford, or working out a schedule for visitation with your children while your divorce is pending. If you rely on your spouse’s income to pay the bills, your attorney can prepare to ask the court to order your spouse to pay temporary maintenance and child support to cover your expenses and your children’s needs while you negotiate or litigate the terms of your divorce. Depending on your circumstances, a separation plan could include:
Child Custody and Visitation Schedules
If you and your spouse know a divorce is inevitable, you can negotiate who will take care of the children and when they will visit the other parent even before filing for divorce. By putting your children’s needs first, you can reduce the emotional impact of separation and provide certainty to everyone involved. A temporary child custody and visitation schedule can also provide a starting point for negotiations during the divorce proceedings.
Payment of Household Expenses
Spouses considering divorce are often worried about the legal and financial consequences of moving out of the marital home. Colorado law says that a judge can award the marital home to either spouse, even to the spouse who moved out when the parties separated. However, living in the home isn’t the same as paying the bills. Before filing for divorce, you and your spouse should discuss who will pay which bills until you can come to a final divorce settlement. Then you and your divorce attorney can calculate a budget based on your income, child support, and possible alimony so you know whether you can afford to keep the home on your own.
Safety Plans for Domestic Violence Cases
If you or your children have been exposed to domestic violence, separation is an especially dangerous time. For many, the stress of a divorce can escalate the abuser’s violence as they try to keep control over their lives. If you are escaping a violent situation it is especially important that you have a clear and comprehensive safety plan in place before filing for divorce. Your attorney can help you decide where you will go, when and how you will leave, and what steps need to happen first to protect you and your children.
Gather Financial Documents
Whether or not you are the person moving out of the marital home, you should start gathering financial documents before ever filing for divorce. Often, one spouse is primarily responsible for managing a family’s bills and bank accounts. You may not know where your money is stored or how much your spouse has in his or her retirement accounts. Before filing for divorce, gather up the most recent statements from each account. This may mean calling your bank or logging in to utility company portals to download bills emailed to your spouse. You should also take copies of:
- Your marriage certificate,
- Deeds to any real property (including the marital home) and related mortgage documents,
- Titles to all vehicles, and
- Any prenuptial agreements you signed before your marriage.
By getting all these documents together early, you will help your lawyer help you create a settlement proposal that will resolve your divorce quickly, and pay fewer attorney fees.
Consider Early-Stage Mediation
If you and your spouse are on relatively good terms when you separate, you may have already worked out many of the details about who will take what property when the divorce is finalized. If you still have questions or disagree about certain issues — such as how custody and visitation will break down or whether the family home will be sold — early stage mediation can resolve these disputes. Early-stage mediation has pros and cons (especially in domestic violence cases or where one spouse has all the information), so be certain to discuss the decision to mediate with your divorce attorney. However, where it is appropriate, participating in mediation before filing for divorce may allow you to streamline the divorce process and reduce the financial and emotional costs of separating from your spouse.
Rushing to the courthouse to file for divorce can cost you more in the long run. By being strategic and working with an experienced divorce lawyer to create a separation plan before filing for divorce, you can simplify the divorce process, make the transition easier for yourself and your children, and even save yourself money by avoiding expensive litigation.
At Aviso Law, LLC, our divorce lawyers know that an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure during the divorce process. When you decide reconciliation is impossible and a divorce is necessary, we can help you create a separation plan and participate in early-stage mediation that will save you money later on. We are here to serve you and your family. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.