7 things to think about before getting a divorce


Here are 7 things to think about before getting a divorce.  If you or your spouse are thinking of separating, consider the following recommendations so that you are prepared if you have to take further action.  


  1. Retain Counsel.  There may come a time where you need to act or file quickly.  This is easier to do if you already have an attorney that you know you can work with.  Conduct an interview or two now, go and meet with an attorney, and retain an attorney you are comfortable working with them.  You can clarify your intent when setting up your representation so that if you end up not needing them and they did not work on your behalf, you can get your retainer back.  You can also give your lawyer copies of evidence so that it is in another location, such as bank records, pictures, medical records or police reports. This way the lawyer has it when he or she needs it, and you also have it in another, safe location.
  2. Calendar or Journal.  Keep a detailed calendar or journal about what is going on and when.  Note when you have the kids and when your spouse is absent. Note unusual conversations, fights, counseling appointments, or things happening with the kids.  Note when you volunteer with the kids’ school, attend conferences, take them to doctor’s appointments, etc., and note when your spouse is there and when he or she is not there, when your spouse drinks, when your spouse is out with friends, and when your spouse travels for work or fun.  If you never need it, that is fine. But if you have to recall events, it is much easier to be specific if you have something that you can look back on. If you have to establish a pattern, you can look back or it may be that a pattern emerges after you start tracking certain behaviors.  This can be electronic (as long as it is private), or a paper calendar.  
  3. Domestic Abuse.  If this is an issue in your relationship, it is important that this be documented and that you have a safety plan.  This may be a pattern of abuse over time or one specific incident.  
    • Develop a safety plan.  This can often be done with a counselor.  Think through, and put on paper, the steps you can take and who you can contact if you need to so that you and the children are safe.
    • Consider a restraining order.  Know the steps that would need to be taken, and what you would say, and what evidence you would need to have so that you can take action if you need to.  Talk to your lawyer about how and when to implement this if needed. Restraining orders can have an impact on custody decisions and the rest of a divorce case.
    • Identify someone that could provide evidence on your behalf, if needed.  This could be a police officer, if favorable, but often a doctor or other medical personnel.  I know this is difficult because it requires confiding in someone else, but it is significant.  A doctor documenting injuries, pictures and his or her observations in a medical record carries much more weight than your testimony alone.  This may require getting medical attention for injuries you otherwise wouldn’t. But it is important to do. Unfortunately, if the police weren’t called or if you didn’t seek medical attention, some courts may not consider it for abuse.  
      • You may want to go to a separate provider for this.  It is possible, if this provider has to testify, that it can open the door to any medical (physical or mental health) issue that you have talked to the provider about.  If there are things that you want to keep separate, consider a separate provider.
    • If you have been ordered or recommended to any type of program, follow through to the letter.  
  4. Alcohol or other substance use.  Assume you are under the microscope, and behave accordingly.  Don’t do anything that you would not want to see on video in court.
    • If past behavior is an issue, create a point in time that is a turning point where you no longer drink.  And work with someone so that they can testify about the change in your behavior.  Your testimony alone on this point will not be enough. This can be an individual counselor or a program.  Of course, it is key to follow through. It would significantly backfire if you start a program but only show up occasionally and are not committed to it.
    • If you have been ordered, or it has been recommended that you complete any type of program, follow through to the letter.  
    • Do not drive if you are under the influence.  
  5. Finances. Often there is one party that is more aware of the family’s financial circumstances than the other.  If possible without raising suspicion, make that person you. If you regularly are in charge of the household bills, then you know what it takes to run the household.  If not, do what you can to learn about it. If you are not the party earning a majority of the household income, make sure you know where it all goes. Depending on the circumstances, you may need cash, either to get you and the kids to safety, for an attorney’s retainer, or to hold you over until the court starts ordering support.  Take some time to figure out where that could come from, even if that is a family member.  
  6. Kids’ Involvement.  Make sure you continue to do all that you regularly have with the kids.  Touch base with the people that the kids interact with, so they can be your eyes and ears.  This includes teachers, coaches, counselors, babysitters and others. Check in with them, so they hear from you and you know what is going on with your children when they are not with you.  These are people important in the kids’ lives, and they can help be on the lookout for anything affecting them or how they are dealing with this going on in their lives. Don’t think it doesn’t affect the children, even if you haven’t talked to them about it directly.  They know when you are worried and stressed and it does affect them. Be watchful, and get them help when needed.
  7. Know what your line in the sand is, and be ready to take action if it is crossed.  
    1. If you or the children are not safe.  Implement your safety plan and get the process started.  You need to protect your children. And if you are not safe, you cannot protect them.
    2. Changing the schedule with the kids.  Your spouse may try to adjust the schedule or work habits to create a new normal or precedent.  Don’t let your spouse change it to something that you are not comfortable with.  
    3. Playing financial games. If your spouse incurs significant debt or takes other financial risks, that is likely to be considered marital if you are aware of it and do not take action.  If your spouse is playing games to keep funds away from you, that also cannot be tolerated. It is a form of control.

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