New Year's Divorce Checklist
Deciding that it’s time to file for divorce is never an easy decision, often entwined with a whirlwind of emotions and complexities. It's a life-altering event that requires careful thought and meticulous planning, especially when it comes to legal matters. As we step into the new year, many individuals, perhaps including yourself, may be contemplating divorce.
Why the beginning of a new year, you may ask? For some, it's a symbolic gesture of starting afresh, leaving behind the unhappy chapters of their lives. For others, it could be the culmination of a year's worth of contemplation and decision-making. Regardless of the reasons, the first few months of the year often see a surge in divorce filings.
However, amidst these emotionally charged times, it's quite common for people to make mistakes while filing for divorce. These missteps can range from rushing through the process without proper legal advice to letting emotions cloud judgment, resulting in unfavorable decisions.
This is where our comprehensive checklist for divorce comes into play. Designed to guide you through the labyrinth of divorce proceedings, it aims to empower you with knowledge and confidence. This divorce preparation checklist will walk you through critical steps such as understanding your financial standing, gathering the necessary documentation, considering the impact on children, seeking professional legal help, and much more.
In this blog, we'll delve into each aspect in detail, providing you with an invaluable tool for navigating your divorce. With this roadmap, you can avoid common traps, safeguard your interests, and ensure a smoother transition into the next chapter of your life.
Checklist for Divorce
Here are the steps you can take to prepare for your divorce:
□ Research Your Legal Options
If you are filing for divorce in Florida, you have options when it comes to how you will file. You can file contested or uncontested. Filing uncontested requires that you and your spouse agree to the terms of your divorce, including asset and debt division, spousal support, child custody, etc.
However, when you file contested, you leave the decisions about the terms of your divorce in the hands of the court. Should you file uncontested, you should also take time to understand equitable distribution and factors the court considers in alimony, child custody, and child support matters.
□ Get a Team Together
During your divorce, you will need support legally, financially, emotionally, and even spiritually. Even if your divorce will be amicable, you will likely still find that you need the support of friends and family. You may also benefit from having financial advisors and other professionals to help with the other aspects of divorce.
Most importantly, you should consult with an attorney. Even if you plan to file uncontested, an attorney can still help you take the appropriate steps in filing for divorce, advise you on the potential consequences or benefits of certain decisions, and protect your rights and interests.
If you have children, you should also gather support for them. Children of all ages, including adults, can also be affected emotionally and literally by your divorce, and they can benefit from having their teachers, family, friends, and others to help them with this transition.
How to Find the Right Divorce Attorney for Your Case
Finding the right divorce attorney for your case is crucial as it can significantly influence the outcome of your divorce proceedings. Start by conducting thorough research on various attorneys in your area, taking into account their qualifications and experience. Look for attorneys who specialize in family law or divorce cases, as they will have the necessary knowledge and skills to handle your case effectively.
Next, turn to your personal network for recommendations. Friends, family, and colleagues who have worked with divorce attorneys in the past can provide invaluable firsthand insights into an attorney's professionalism, competence, and demeanor.
You should also consult online review platforms dedicated to legal services, such as Avvo, Martindale-Hubbell, or Google reviews. These platforms allow you to browse feedback from past clients, giving you a better idea of each attorney's effectiveness, communication style, and supportive abilities.
Once you've shortlisted potential attorneys, schedule an initial consultation. This meeting is your chance to assess the attorney's knowledge, approach, and billing strategy. It's also an opportunity to gauge your personal comfort level with the attorney, which is important as you'll be sharing sensitive information with them throughout your case.
During your initial consultation, look for the following signs of a good divorce lawyer:
- Ability to negotiate and litigate. A good divorce lawyer needs to be both a skilled negotiator and a competent litigator. They should be able to negotiate settlements effectively and be ready to fight for your rights in court if necessary. Be wary of lawyers who seem overly aggressive or hostile, as this could escalate conflicts and complicate the process.
- Commitment to client care and empathy. Divorce can be an emotionally taxing experience. An excellent divorce lawyer understands this and treats their clients with empathy and respect. They should listen to your concerns, acknowledge your feelings, and guide you through the process with compassion. If a lawyer seems indifferent or dismissive of your emotions, consider it a warning sign.
- Experience with your specific case concerns. If you have specific concerns surrounding high assets, contentious custody cases, or other concerns, ensure your lawyer has experience in these areas. They should be able to provide advice tailored to your situation and advocate for your interests effectively.
- Quality communication skills. Effective communication is key in any legal proceeding. Your lawyer should be able to explain complex legal concepts in simple, understandable terms. They should also keep you informed about the progress of your case and promptly respond to your queries. If a lawyer doesn't communicate effectively or leaves you feeling confused or uninformed, it's a red flag.
- Reasonable experience level. Experience is a crucial factor when choosing a divorce lawyer. An experienced lawyer will have a solid understanding of family law and the intricacies of the divorce process. They'll also be well-versed in the specific laws and regulations of your jurisdiction. Look for a lawyer who has been practicing for several years and has handled cases similar to yours.
- Transparency with fees. Legal fees can be a significant concern in divorce proceedings. Your lawyer should be upfront about their fee structure and provide a clear estimate of potential costs. If a lawyer is vague about their fees or refuses to discuss them, it's a serious red flag.
□ Consider Whether You Should Discuss the Divorce with Your Spouse
Many clients wonder when they should tell their spouse that they plan to file for divorce. While it is often seen as an advantage to file first and keep your spouse in the dark until you file, you can actually hurt your case by not telling them.
Talking to your spouse before filing can help keep things amicable and allow both parties to feel prepared for the impending divorce. By avoiding having your partner feel blindsided, you allow for mediation, collaborative divorce, and other alternative dispute resolutions to still be available.
Also, remember that telling your spouse you intend to file for divorce does not require you to tell them everything. You can keep some things to yourself during the discussion and just express your intent and reasoning.
It is important to note that informing your spouse about your divorce preparation is not always a good or safe idea. In relationships involving emotional, physical, financial, or any other form of abuse, it is best to keep your plans to yourself and have a plan in place concerning where you will go or be when you plan to serve the other party.
If you want to proceed without discussing divorce with your spouse, be mindful of the technological environment in your home. Your text messages and email account may be accessible on other devices around your home if they are connected to your Cloud or Samsung accounts. The phone numbers you’ve called may also be available on your phone bill.
□ Change Your Passwords
You should change your passwords to your personal accounts and devices. While you can use a new email address or account to handle communications with your divorce attorney and others, you should still take other steps to keep your messages private.
□ Maintain Your Privacy on Social Media
You should avoid posting on social media about your divorce proceedings and other aspects of your life. Your social media comments and posts can be reviewed and used by opposing counsel to paint a different picture than you intended. For instance, a post about a recent trip with friends to Greece can be used to say you have more financial resources than believed or to speak to your involvement in your child’s life.
□ Gather Necessary Legal & Financial Documents
Preparing and organizing financial and legal documents is a critical step before filing for divorce. These include bank statements, tax returns, real estate deeds, retirement account statements, and any prenuptial or postnuptial agreements, among others. Having these documents ready and organized can help streamline the divorce proceedings and ensure a fair division of assets.
You should also create a document that outlines your financial and non-financial contributions to your marriage. This list of contributions can be used to help your case as it relates to alimony because a factor the court considers is each party’s contributions to the marriage.
□ Create an Itemized List of Assets & Debts
To streamline the property division process and protect your interests, you should create a list of your property and debts. Be sure to have two separate columns for assets that strictly belong to you and assets that are considered marital property, which include assets acquired during your marriage (i.e. from the date of your wedding to the date of your separation).
On the list, if possible, include the value of the item and mark whether you have the relevant paperwork to support whether the asset is marital or separate property (like titles, deeds, registrations, etc.).
□ Prepare for a New Parenting Arrangement
If you have minor children, you will need to consider where your children will live and which parent will have physical and legal custody. You will also need to decide how to divide holidays, school vacations, birthdays, and visits with extended family.
□ Consider Your Budget
Once you separate and in post-divorce life, will you need financial support for yourself and/or for your kids? Divorce can be expensive, so it's important to have a clear understanding of your budget. Consider the costs of legal fees, child support, alimony, and living expenses post-divorce. This financial awareness will help you make informed decisions throughout the process.
□ Take Steps to Protect Your Credit
Divorce does not only affect your cash flow and assets. It can affect other aspects of your financial health, including your credit. While divorce itself does not have a direct impact on your credit, various aspects of your divorce can affect your credit score.
In preparing for your divorce, you should review a recent credit report. You can review what debts you owe and check for both inaccuracies and account balances for marital and separate debts.
Read our blog, “How Much Does a Divorce Affect Your Credit?” to learn more.
□ Consider Your Living Arrangements
In preparing for your divorce, you should consider your living arrangement during and after the divorce. Can you afford to live alone and/or with your children without support? Are you considering birdnesting or living together after divorce? Will you need to move out during your separation or divorce?
□ Take Time for Yourself
A divorce can feel like an emotional roller-coaster. A whirlwind of emotions such as sadness, anger, fear, and confusion can engulf you, leaving you feeling drained and disoriented. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings and understand that it's okay to feel this way. These emotions are part of the healing process, and ignoring them can prolong your pain.
The emotional toll of a divorce can be likened to the grieving process experienced after the death of a loved one. In both situations, there's a profound sense of loss and a need for adjustment to a new reality.
Grieving is an integral part of the healing process during a divorce. It's a time to reflect on the loss and understand what it means for your life moving forward. Allowing yourself to grieve can provide closure, helping you to let go of the past and open up to new possibilities.
While it's crucial to allow yourself to grieve and take care of your needs, it's equally important to maintain a positive outlook towards the future. Remember, this difficult time is just a chapter in your life, not the entire book.
Life after divorce can be full of opportunities for growth and self-discovery. You have the chance to redefine who you are outside of your marriage, explore new interests, and build a life that aligns with your values and passions.
Taking time for yourself doesn’t just mean honoring your emotions, though. It can also involve practicing self-care. Self-care isn't just about bubble baths and spa days, though those can certainly be part of it.
At its core, self-care is about acknowledging your needs and taking deliberate actions to meet them. It's about treating yourself with the same kindness and compassion you would offer to a dear friend going through a tough time.
During divorce, self-care may look like setting boundaries with your ex-spouse, seeking professional help from therapists or counselors, or ensuring you're eating well and getting enough sleep. It could also involve taking up a new hobby or spending time in nature. The key is to find activities that bring you joy, peace, and a sense of fulfillment.
Contemplating Divorce? Contact Our Firm!
At Dale L. Bernstein, Chartered Law Office, we represent clients in contested, uncontested, same-sex, military, and high-asset divorces. Should you be preparing for divorce, our attorney can help you understand the steps you should take to prepare for divorce, prepare for court or mediation appointments, and navigate your case smoothly.
Call (727) 312-1112 toschedule an initial consultation with our team today.