Getting a divorce is rarely easy, but following this divorce checklist can make the transition out of your marriage as smooth as possible.
1. Decide if you can work with your spouse
When you are getting divorced, there are generally two very different paths to go down. One path is where you and your spouse work together to settle your differences. The other is where you fight each other every step of the way. There is not a lot of middle ground, though very often couples with start off with a combative approach and then come to a settlement. Your working relationship with your spouse will dictate almost every other decision.
2. Separate from your spouse
No-fault divorce is the norm today. That means that a married couple is simply deciding to split up and go their separate ways, where in the past a spouse seeking divorce may have needed to prove abuse or adultery. In many states, however, a divorcing couple must prove they have lived “separate and apart” for a certain time period before their divorce can be granted. According to the American Bar Association, these “cooling off” periods can last anywhere from 60 days to three years. For practical reasons, it also makes sense to not be trying to share a home while negotiating a divorce. It can be painful and you will probably want some space.
3. Get your paperwork together
Divorce is always easier if you are organized. You should have a specific file where you collect important information. This may be just for your purposes, or it could be to hand over to your lawyer. The key is you need to know what assets you have, know what expenses you will have in the future, and have records related to your children.
4. Decide what to do with the kids
This one does not apply to everyone, obviously. Children are often the most complicated part of a divorce, though, and a divorce will very rarely be granted without a plan in place to account for the children’s support, custody, and visitation. That means deciding where the child or children will live and how the living expenses will be paid. If you are on good terms with your spouse you can usually work out an agreement during your separation that will be solidified by the final divorce decree. If custody and support are disputed, then you will typically have to find a temporary arrangement until the divorce is final.
5. Split your assets
Splitting the marital assets is the other major task that must be completed before a divorce is finalized. Again, if you are working collaboratively with your spouse this may be relatively easy. Sadly, nearly half of Americans say they cannot afford a $400 setback. Plus, 60% of households have two incomes. That means that many couples simply agree to divide up what is in their checking account and then each spouse moves on and relies on their own income. Other cases can be far more complicated, especially where the couple has large assets and only one spouse worked.
6. Get the final divorce decree
The ultimate goal in your divorce checklist is to get the final divorce decree. If you are working collaboratively, this may just be a matter of jointly presenting your property split and child care agreement to a judge and having him or her approve it. If you are in a hotly-contested divorce, then it will proceed much like any other trial. Each side will present evidence, call witnesses, and then the judge will split your property, set childcare in place, and then issue the final decree.