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What to Do Before Filing for Divorce

Young couple in the courthouse filing pen to signing divorce papers

Before filing for divorce, you should plan as carefully as possible for the split, obtain legal advice, focus on your children, organize documents, and give yourself a minimum financial cushion of three months. If domestic violence is an issue, develop a safety plan and discuss your options with a lawyer.

Young couple in the courthouse filing pen to signing divorce papers

What to Do Before Filing for Divorce

When considering, “What should I do before filing for divorce?” it’s important to take steps to prepare yourself emotionally, legally, and financially.

One of the first things to do before filing for divorce is to prepare yourself emotionally. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family members before filing for divorce. Even if the divorce is harmonious, it does mark the end of something. Grief is normal, in even the most amicable of splits. Having love and support around you goes a long way.

The second step in preparing for divorce is to gather relevant documents and begin planning. This includes taking inventory of assets and debts, collecting financial documents, gathering wills and power of attorney forms, and locating any other relevant documentation.

Finally, those preparing for divorce should speak with a lawyer. Having a divorce lawyer in your corner is a huge asset. Finding the best divorce lawyer in Illinois is a matter of reviewing your options and needs to find someone with the expertise to help you.

For instance, if you prioritize financial goals in your divorce, you may want someone with a deep financial background. Alternatively, if you want to focus on your children, then someone with child custody and visitation experience could be essential. Fortunately, many divorce lawyers have at least a bit of experience in a variety of areas. 

Even if you envision a smooth, friendly divorce, it does not hurt to talk with lawyers before broaching the possibility of divorce with your spouse. The alternatives for contested divorce include collaborative divorce, divorce mediation, and legal separation. Your lawyer can review the benefits of these options before you discuss divorce with your husband or wife.

For instance, legal separation means you do not technically divorce. This helps preserve a legal marriage, which you might want for insurance or religious reasons, among others. Instead, spouses separate legally and clarify debts, liabilities, assets, child support, and custody. 

When considering what should you do before filing for divorce, the critical steps to take include the following:

  • Enlist the support of loved ones.
  • Plan by gathering documents and building a financial cushion.
  • Speak with a divorce attorney.

Should You File First?

Does it matter who files for divorce first? The spouse who files can choose the jurisdiction and have more control over scheduling. However, it is more important to be the first one to plan for divorce, rather than the first to file. Planning lets spouses gather information and make moves to put themselves in a better position. For instance, a person usually reveals confidential information when consulting an attorney. Once a spouse has consulted with an attorney, even if the spouse did not hire the attorney, the other spouse most likely cannot hire that person. If you consult with multiple attorneys, your spouse may have a harder time finding representation.

Preparing Financially Before Filing for Divorce

Having a financial cushion helps you weather divorce better, if for no other reason than peace of mind. Therefore, one of the smart things to do before filing for divorce is to gather enough living expenses to protect yourself for three months. This tactic protects you in case your spouse cuts you off or empties your bank account. It is possible for lawyers to obtain financial support for you in due time, but this can take time.

Common strategies for preparing financially include tracking and cutting expenses, stockpiling cash and putting it in a new bank account, taking a little money from your joint bank account and putting it in the new account, selling a few things you fully own and can part with, and switching your paycheck direct deposit to the new account (if not the full paycheck, then a percentage).

Track the sources of the money you put into your new bank account, as some of it could be considered marital property for divorce settlement talks. Money you move out of a joint account would fall under this umbrella. However, money from your job or from your parents may not.

Another way to prepare financially before filing for divorce is to make a list of your assets and debts, both individual and joint. Write down what you know about your spouse’s situation, too. Organize your financial documents if you have not already.

Get your own credit card if you do not already have one. Your spouse may cut off your access to his or her card (or a joint card) after you file for divorce. Credit cards help you pay the bills if necessary, while lawyers work to get you temporary financial support.

Organizing Your Documents

It is critical to organize financial paperwork and other types of documents before you file. Make copies of retirement, investment, and bank statements, life insurance policies, car titles, Social Security statements, family trusts, and tax returns. If you question whether you really need to make a copy of a seemingly trivial document, do it. It is better to have too many documents than too few.

Check with your lawyer about delving too much into your spouse’s finances. For instance, if you have full access to the home computer and your spouse has some financial documents on it, you may be fine to make copies of them. However, it might not be appropriate for you to go into the work laptop that only your spouse uses and guess his or her password to access documents on it. Discuss the particular nuances of your situation with your lawyer.

Should You Talk to the Kids Before Filing for Divorce?

There are many ways to approach raising resilient children during and after your divorce. It may make sense in some situations to talk to the kids before filing. For example, if you and your spouse both agree you should divorce, and it is amicable or you two have been separated for a while, then talking to the kids before the official filing could be logical. 

In other situations, it makes more sense to discuss the divorce filing afterward. If you do not want your spouse to know you are filing, then telling your kids could lead to your spouse finding out too early. It is not a good idea to tell your children and then ask them to keep it a secret. Your lawyer can advise you on what to do.

If you are worried about child custody, possession of the children is important during proceedings. Ensure that you remain involved in their lives and that their teachers, doctors, and other significant figures know who you are.

Do You Need a Safety Plan Before Filing for Divorce?

A safety plan could serve you well if domestic violence is present in your marriage, or you are fearful your spouse will get violent. Violence can spiral when you file for divorce, so talk about safety plans with your lawyer. He or she may recommend for or against filing a protection order as one of the things to do before filing for divorce. 

Uncontested divorce lawyer Denise Erlich is passionate about helping divorcing couples in the greater Chicagoland area transition to their new life as seamlessly as possible. Ms. Erlich patiently guides her clients through every step of the divorce process and provides clients with candid advice about their case and legal options, so they can make informed decisions about their future.

Years of Experience: More than 20 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
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