Sometimes, divorce happens suddenly, but more often, one or both spouses knows the end of the marriage is coming. Unless there are reasons to be secretive or move quickly (such as an abusive relationship or an impending move), it is a good idea to take time to prepare before getting a divorce. Here are 10 things you can do before you file for divorce that will make your life easier in the future.
Things to Do Before You File for Divorce
Taking the time to set things in motion before you file for divorce can reduce conflict between you and your spouse, make it easier for your children, and improve your chances to reach a fair and favorable outcome. Divorce is complicated and there are a lot of moving pieces, but doing these things before your complaint for divorce is filed will make things easier for you, and your divorce attorney, along the way.
1. Talk to Your Spouse About Separation Plans
Unless you are in an abusive relationship, you should talk to your spouse before moving out. This can keep your spouse from reacting to your complaint emotionally instead of rationally, and allow you to make plans for life while your divorce is pending. You may even find areas where you both agree involving:
Who will move out
How joint bills (like your mortgage) will be paid
Visitation schedules for your children
Who will keep the home in the divorce
Whether to use alternative dispute resolution methods (like mediation) to reduce the cost of the divorce
2. Tell Your Kids You are Getting a Divorce (and Answer Their Questions!)
Your kids need time to understand what divorce means. It should not come as a surprise. Depending on their age, a sudden separation could cause them to feel abandoned by the parent who moves out, or blame them for the end of the marriage. Both parents should talk to your children together about your family’s plans for divorce. Neither parent should take the lead, or have the conversation with children alone. Be sure to emphasize that both parents are deciding to do this, that you both still love them, and that they will get to see you both. Then be ready to answer their questions about things like where they will live, if they will have to change schools, and who will keep the family pet, for example.
3. Gather Financial Documents and Statements
To the extent possible, get copies of all financial documents, as well as the most recent statements for each bank account, debt, and utility bill. Don’t forget about:
401k or pension statements (these often come quarterly)
Annual statements for veterans benefits, disability awards, or Social Security payments
Accounts in your spouse’s name only
Automobile titles and car loans
Mortgages, deeds, and home equity loans
Personal loans from family and friends
You should also get copies of your tax returns for the last few years, W-2s or 1099s, and pay stubs for both spouses.
4. Do a Personal Property Inventory Before Moving Out
When people move out quickly before they file for divorce, they often take only the personal property they use most often. Other items, like holiday decorations or family heirloom items, can get left behind. Take pictures of each room, closet, and drawer. Don’t forget basements, attics, and storage units. Then create a list of the items that mean the most to you, and what you are willing to give up.
5. Create a Budget for Your One-Income Household
Separating from your spouse means supporting two households with the same income that used to pay for one. Life is going to be more expensive, and you need to be financially prepared. Create a budget including necessities like rent, utilities, and food, as well as reasonable amounts for luxuries like gifts and entertainment. This can help you estimate what you need for child support or spousal maintenance, and set reasonable expectations for your life after divorce.
6. Establish Colorado Residency at Least 90 Days Before You File for Divorce
You must have lived in the State of Colorado for at least 90 days before you file for divorce. This can create a challenge, especially for military families who were assigned to Colorado military bases, but never formally changed their residence. Be certain your legal address is in the state at least 3 months ahead of time to avoid having your complaint dismissed.
7. Change Your Passwords
You don’t want your soon-to-be-ex-spouse to have access to your bank accounts, social media, or worse, emails to your attorney. Before you file for divorce, change all your passwords. Pick something unique to you, that you don’t share with your spouse (don’t pick your kids’ or pets’ names, for example). You may also want to block or unfollow your spouse on social media (but don’t block their phone number if you have children in common!).
8. Decide Together How Public to Be About Your Divorce
It’s a good idea to avoid posting details about your divorce or custody case on social media. Sometimes, it is smart to deactivate your accounts altogether while your case is pending. (Don’t forget to download an archive first, to preserve any evidence.) However, if your spouse is not willing to follow the same advice, it may be better to come to a consensus about how you will address your divorce with your friends, family, and online. You might come up with a single statement you both post, or decide to only message people privately. You might also want to agree not to post pictures of your children or use their names to avoid drawing them into the case.
9. Consider Pre-Filing Mediation to Resolve Issues Outside of Court
Only a judge can enter a Judgment of Divorce to legally end your marriage, but that doesn’t mean you need to take every issue to court. Many couples benefit from negotiating issues like parenting time and property divisions with a mediator before they file for divorce. Working these details out ahead of time can get your divorce done more quickly, and reduce the cost of litigation.
10. Hire an Experienced Colorado Family Law Attorney to Guide You Through the Process
The best thing you can do before you file for divorce is hire an attorney who knows the process, and your local court. Many parties to divorces have never set foot in a courthouse before, and family law is a complicated process. It is easy to get overwhelmed. Working with someone who knows what to expect can help you get the best results with the least amount of headache.