You’ve been thinking about it for quite some time, and have finally come to the realization: You want a divorce.
Maybe your spouse has been unfaithful, or you have. Or perhaps you’ve suffered from some sort of abuse, whether physical, emotional, or financial. Maybe you’re just not happy anymore and realize that you can never be the person you were meant to be if you stay in your marriage.
Whatever the reason for your divorce, you need to make sure you follow some careful steps after you make the decision to protect yourself and your children.
Consult an Attorney
If you’re going to consult an attorney for your divorce, now is the time to do it. This way, you can get advice on the best course of action before any emotional blow-ups or conflict gets in the way and you don’t end up making a rash decision.
Just because you consult an attorney doesn’t mean your divorce has to be contentious. Your lawyer becomes your advocate and advisor, giving you options and making sure you’re following the divorce laws. Need to sell some possessions to make extra money to fund your new separate lifestyle? Consult with your attorney first so you don’t end up paying a big price down the road.
Gather & Copy Records
Before ever telling your spouse about your decision, gather up all important records and make sure you have copies. Some things you’ll want to make sure you have include:
- Birth certificates
- Marriage license
- Deed & mortgage papers for your house or any other real estate
- Social Security cards
- Tax returns
- Titles & loan papers for any vehicles
- Pay stubs
- Appraisals of any valuable property, such as art or jewelry
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Retirement account statements
- Check registers
- Business incorporation papers & financial statements
Keep one copy with you, and give another set of these records to a trusted friend or family member for safekeeping. You will need all this information during your divorce, and it’s best to gather it before your spouse knows so you can tell whether anything has been altered or gone missing. 
Inventory Your Property
Next, take stock of all assets you and your spouse have. This includes all financial accounts – retirement, investment, checking, and savings – as well as real property. Be sure to list anything with value over about $500, including furniture, antiques, collectibles, real estate, and jewelry. If you or your spouse own a business or a share in any business interests, collect this information as well. Note the most recent balance on all financial accounts and the most recent appraisal or valuations of property. These numbers are likely to change before your divorce is finalized, but knowing where everything started is half the battle. 
Also collect a listing of all debts owed. Mortgages, vehicle loans, student loans, personal loans, and consumer debt, whether held jointly or held separately, needs to be included. Again, be sure to note the most current balance on each account, preferably by making copies of statements or screenshots of online statements.
Shore up Your Finances
Whether you’re going to be new to the workforce or you’ve had a job your entire marriage, or whether you expect to receive or pay child support or alimony, you need to make sure your finances are in order. Running two households is far more expensive than maintaining one.
Start by meeting with your accountant and any financial advisors you may have. Discuss your tax withholding status and any financial implications of your divorce, including to retirement and investment accounts. This can be a touchy thing if you and your spouse have both utilized these professionals’ services, so you may want to consider finding new people to fill these roles.
If you don’t already have your own separate checking and savings accounts, start them and begin setting aside some money. Be sure that all household financial obligations can still be met, but start creating your personal nest egg. This money can help you with expenses of moving out, buying new furniture, or paying legal fees.
Begin drafting a new household budget. Look around at prices of homes or rentals in your area, and be sure to account for all debts and payments you know you’ll be responsible for. Factor in costs such as groceries, utilities, transportation, clothing, and schooling or activities for your children. This doesn’t have to be an exact budget, as the numbers certainly will change based upon various factors, but it gives you an idea of what to expect once you separate so you can plan accordingly.
Talk to Your Spouse
In most cases, the decision to divorce isn’t going to come as a major surprise for the other spouse, but this is still an emotional, sensitive conversation to have nonetheless.
Pick a time when you and your spouse can be alone, preferably when any children aren’t in the house. If that’s not possible, wait until after everyone is in bed to have this discussion. Sit down, face to face, without the TV or other interruptions, and have a discussion. Do not deliver this news through text, email, or telephone conversation. No matter what your problems with your spouse, you owe him or her that much. 
Your spouse may be hurt or angry, and you need to allow space to process these feelings. Don’t get into a blame game, and reiterate that your decision is final. At this early stage of the process, it’s also best to leave logistical conversations, such as who will keep the house and what parenting time will look like for another time.
Remember that this conversation is just the beginning. You likely will have many more conversations in the future – both calm and not-so-calm – and not everything has to get hashed out in the moment.
Taking these 5 steps after deciding you want a divorce can help decrease your fear of the process, give you a clearer understanding of what your life will look like on the other side, and give you the space to work toward making the divorce process less contentious and more cooperative.
Skilled Divorce Representation in the Baltimore Metro Area
At the Law Offices of Sandra Guzman-Salvado, we’ve helped countless couples at various stages of the divorce process. Whether you’re just coming to terms with the decision to divorce or you’re mid-divorce and needing an advocate, our talented team can help make the process easier. Schedule your consultation today!
 Stim, Richard, “Ten Things To Do If Divorce Is Imminent,” DivorceNet.
 “Steps to Take After you Decide to Divorce,” Lawfirms.com.