By Divorce.com staff
Updated Jan 03, 2023
Divorce is one of the most stressful events we can experience. It’s emotionally taxing, and it requires a ton of planning, negotiations, and paperwork. Many of us will only experience one divorce, which means we enter our divorces with no experience with the process or any detailed knowledge of how a divorce is supposed to work.
Using a divorce checklist can help to remove a lot of the stress from the process. If you know what you need to do and stay organized, it’s much easier to move through the divorce process. If you’re not sure where to start, here’s what you should know.
Separate Your Finances
Most people combine finances during their marriage. If you’re sharing everything in life, it only makes sense to share a bank account. A divorce means an ascension into financial independence. Your finances will be solely yours, and you need to prepare for that transition when you decide to divorce your spouse.
Consider Getting Advice From a Financial Advisor Experienced in Divorce
You usually can’t drain shared bank accounts or liquidate assets before a divorce, which can be the root of plenty of issues during your divorce process. Your spouse can accuse you of hiding assets, and the court may ask you to provide documents to back up your claims. Take small steps at first to avoid complicating your situation.
A financial advisor who is certified in divorce will be able to tell you what you can and cannot safely do, and you should always follow the advice of a fiduciary advisor.
Create Separate Accounts
Once you decide to get a divorce, you’ll need to create a bank account in your own name. You may be transferring money or assets during your divorce in the event that it’s legally safe to do so. You can also have payments issued specifically to you, like your work paychecks, placed into this account.
Open Separate Credit Cards
First things first: Request an official copy of your credit report. You’ll be able to monitor any changes and see if your spouse has made unauthorized charges in your name. You might choose to use a credit monitoring service to protect your financial health.
Divorce can significantly impact your credit if you share credit or loans with your spouse. You need to close shared credit cards and remove your spouse as an authorized user on accounts you can’t (or shouldn’t) close. Open at least one credit card in your own name to help you establish and maintain independent credit.
Decide Where You’re Going to Live
Some states require that couples live “separate and apart” for a specific period of time before they can be granted a divorce. This usually means that one of you will need to move out of the house, which you’ll typically need to decide between the two of you.
If one partner is aggressive or has intent to harm the other partner, this decision can be made through a protective order. The protected partner is usually able to stay in the home.
If you and your spouse are civil, you can try a “bird nesting” arrangement. This is where you each alternate periods in the house to spend time with your children since it’s less disruptive to your kids’ wellbeing if they’re allowed to stay at home full-time.
Keeping both parents separate minimizes the stress and tension in their environment, and the kids will be able to see their parents regularly.
Gather Up All of Your Documents
Divorce involves a lot of paperwork. In fact, it’s one of the most document-heavy processes you’ll endure. That’s why it’s so important to have access to everything you need before getting started.
You may be asked to provide original documents or document copies as a part of your divorce process, especially while you’re settling important issues like the division of marital assets and child custody.
Important Personal Documents
You may need birth certificates and social security cards for your spouse and your children. You’ll also need paperwork for shared insurance policies, passports, medical records, and medical debts for your children.
You need financial documents that detail your own personal financial state, as well as the shared financial state of your marriage. If you both have your names on an asset, like a house or a car, you need to have the document that shows proof of ownership or the value of the asset.
You’ll need to provide things like tax returns, offers of employment, and documents that explain the benefits your spouse or children received through your employer.
Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
If you and your spouse have a prenuptial or a postnuptial agreement, these documents are extremely important at the time of divorce. Most of the important decisions have already been made, which dramatically simplifies the divorce process. It’s very difficult to contest a prenuptial agreement, and it’s likely that the original terms of the agreement will define the outcome of your divorce.
Court or Police Paperwork
In divorces where domestic violence or intimate partner violence is a factor, you need court documents and police reports that substantiate your claims. You may be offered additional protection from the court, and it may be easier to keep your children safe if you have documented proof that you or your children have been placed in an unsafe situation by your spouse.
Talk To Your Spouse About Divorce Methods
There are many different ways to get divorced, and some of them are lengthier and costlier than others. The method you choose should reflect your circumstances. If you can find a way to communicate with your spouse and make the divorce process easier, you may want to attempt the easy way first.
An uncontested divorce is the simplest type of divorce. If you’re on good terms with your spouse and you’ve been discussing your split for a long time, you might already agree on how you’d like your divorce to be settled.
In this case, you can file uncontested divorce paperwork with the court yourself. A judge will review it, call you in for a brief court appearance, and grant your divorce. The process is simple, very inexpensive, and doesn’t involve lawyers.
This method only works if you and your spouse are completely on the same page. If you need a little help seeing eye to eye, try a mediated divorce.
Mediated divorce is an excellent option for couples who only have minor disagreements or who are willing to communicate civilly. During a mediated divorce, a mediator will listen to you and your spouse express how you’d like your divorce to be settled.
Your mediator won’t take sides and can’t make decisions for you. It’s the mediator’s role to inform you of your options and propose solutions that everyone can live with. Once both parties agree to everything, a mediator can help you work up divorce settlement documents that you can file with the court.
A litigated divorce is when lawyers advocate for both parties. If you and your spouse can’t find common ground in mediation, lawyers can work on your behalf. You’ll talk to your lawyer about what you want, and your lawyer will communicate with your spouse’s lawyer. Each lawyer will act in the best interest of their client.
You can choose to be present during litigation conversations, or they can be held on your behalf between two lawyers. Many people prefer to have their lawyer go in their place to avoid contact with their spouse.
Divorce court should always be a last resort. When you take your divorce to family court, you and your spouse will each need to hire lawyers to argue for what you want in your divorce settlement. The judge will have the final say in the way the divorce is settled.
Divorces that go through court can often take more than a year to complete, with each party spending as much as $20,000 to complete the divorce. It may be the only option for some couples, especially if there’s significant hostility between both parties.
Consider Your Children’s Needs
If you have children, they’re one of the most important factors to think about throughout the divorce process. Your divorce will significantly impact their lives, and it’s best to make sure that impact is as minimal as possible.
Your Children’s Wellbeing
Avoid placing your children in situations where they’re subject to tension between you and your spouse. You’ll need to speak to them about the divorce, and it’s very important to do so without vilifying your spouse. You need to avoid situations where your child may feel like they need to choose sides.
Therapy May Be a Useful Tool
Consider counseling or therapy for children who will be affected by a divorce. In some cases, it’s beneficial for the whole family to attend divorce-specific therapy together. This can help to repair family dynamics and ensure that children feel loved and safe with both parents.
Custody That’s Best for Your Family
While the law doesn’t usually require parents to have specific court-ordered custody agreements, they’re often helpful because hold each parent accountable for their role in raising their children.
Child support is also an important part of this process. Raising a child to the age of 18 can cost about a quarter of a million dollars. This doesn’t include expenses like helping children pay for college or helping them buy their first car. Child support agreements allow parents to financially plan their children’s futures.
Practice Digital Hygiene
Many people don’t consider digital hygiene during a divorce. You should change all of your passwords, and don’t allow your browser to save passwords on devices you share with your spouse. This is especially important for accounts where you communicate with others and on websites or apps where you have financial information saved.
You may choose to use this time to clean up your social media posts or make your accounts private. Divorce can cause tensions to rise, and you don’t want to be placed under undue scrutiny by friends or family members who are closely involved in the situation.
At the end of the day, divorce is a very private matter. It may be a wise idea to maintain a low profile online until after your divorce is finalized.
Prioritize Your Own Wellbeing
Divorce can be very emotionally trying, and it’s going to be much harder to navigate the situation if you’re deeply affected by it. Give yourself time to process things. You might need to speak with a counselor or take some time off work — that’s perfectly normal. You can’t be your best at work or your best for your children if you aren’t taking care of yourself.
While divorce is often a complicated process with many moving parts, there are plenty of resources out there that can help you out. Whether it’s attending mediation sessions, getting in touch with local family law attorneys, or just checklists like the one above, sometimes seeking help is the best way to move forward quickly and amicably.
No matter how you choose to conduct your divorce proceedings, using the online tools available to you can remove plenty of stress from the process so that you can spend more time focusing on your and your children’s wellbeing.