How to Start a Divorce

A divorce lawyer’s busiest month is January.  Why?  It’s a combination of things:

1.) New Year’s resolutions (“I am not going to waste another year on this bum”)

2.) He gave me a rotten Christmas present AGAIN!; and

3.) I’m sick of spending holidays with her nutty family.

After the holidays, many people start thinking about divorce.  If you are thinking about filing for divorce, you may find it helpful to have a brief review of what someone can do to prepare to file for divorce. Some people don’t really plan ahead. They just go see a lawyer and turn everything over to the lawyer to file and come up with a plan of action. Other people may want to do more to have a greater chance of a favorable, or at least acceptable, outcome. Here’s what you can do to better prepare for your divorce:

1. Start by determining what you what to end up with.

What are your personal and financial goals, needs and interests? Some people say that they just want what is fair or they want a 50-50 split.  That’s really superficial and may leave you short-changed.  And, everybody is different. What’s “fair” to one person is not fair to someone else. There may be certain assets that are more important to you than to your spouse. (A good example is your wedding china.  Most men couldn’t care less about getting any of the china.  I did have one case, though, where the husband fought like a tiger for six place settings of china and half the crystal.  I never did decide if he was doing it to “punk” his wife or if he really did want to be able to entertain, as he claimed.)

Maybe you need cash now to pay for some immediate expenses, or maybe you need extra retirement assets. If there are four automobiles, you may just need one, not two. Maybe some collections or artwork are more meaningful to you. Whatever the situation, you will feel better and be better off after the divorce if you decide early what your objectives are.

One of the local judges tells divorcing parents to go to every room in the house and pick out half of the room for each of them to take.  I’ve often had clients terrified over that prospect.  Most people do not want half a bedroom’s furniture or half the dining room furniture.  After the judge tells them that’s how to do it, they often do what you think they’re going to do:  they start horse-trading!  (e.g., “I’ll take the master bedroom if you’ll take the guest bedroom furniture.”)  The only time that taking half of a room really works is with regard to the children’s things.  No one should get all of the kids’ toys or clothes.  If each parent takes one-half, it helps them both start over.

2. Select a method for divvying up your possessions.

You actually have choices when it comes to your divorce. You need to decide whether you want to use mediation, litigation, or just try to work things out with your spouse over the kitchen table.  Investigate the options and choose the way that works best for you. In researching the possibilities, make sure that you speak with an attorney with significant training and experience in the different methods. Lawyers often specialize.  Pick an attorney with significant family law experience, not just a lawyer who handles divorces once or twice a year.

3. Prepare.

Gather records and information about your financial estate and be familiar with any issues regarding your child and your spouse.  Copy your legal records (deeds, car titles, §401(k) summary, etc.) while your spouse is out of the house.

  • Write down your personal household budget with supporting documents. Your attorney needs to know the average monthly amounts for all of your usual expenses. Copies of the latest statement for each bill would be helpful.
  • Income tax returns. Please provide the complete returns, with all schedules and attachments, for the last three (3) years.
  • PRAD appraisal. You can get and print off the latest appraisal of your real estate from the Potter-Randal Appraisal District online at
  • Bank account statements. It is helpful to have your bank records for the last three (3) years for every bank account of any type, checking or savings or other, for you, your spouse and your children. You can probably download those from your banks or go to the bank and get them. You need information for every account that you or your spouse has any connection with or ownership of.
  • Pay stubs. You should bring pay stubs for you and your spouse for the last six (6) months, or some other record showing the pay checks for that time period.
  • List of debts. Please prepare a list of all the debts you are aware of, including but not limited to, mortgage, car loans, leases, credit cards, and other loans. The list should include the total balance for each and the monthly payment amounts.
  • Medical insurance card and information. Please bring a copy of your insurance card and any information you have about the policy, specifically about the coverage and cost.
  • Personal property information. It helps to have a list of the personal property (such as furniture, household items, personal effects, etc.) that you want on an immediate and temporary basis. Think about what you need every day!  How about the kids?  What do they need or use every day?
  • Internet presence. Please make a list of all web sites and social media sites used by you and your spouse, and the names and passwords, if you know them. This should include Facebook, YouTube, My Space, LinkedIn, Twitter and other sites, including any blogs. Do a Google search on yourself and your spouse and then download the results.  CHANGE ALL OF YOUR PASSWORDS, IF YOUR SPOUSE KNOWS THEM!
  • Special needs. Please tell your attorney if there are any special needs that you or a family member have.

If you bring all this information to your first meeting with a lawyer about a divorce, you will be much more helpful to the attorney and much better prepared for court and negotiations.

4. Meet with your attorney.  Early!

It is important to see the attorney before things get heated up. Your attorney will appreciate having time to prepare and you will have more options regarding how to proceed. You will have time to gather or request records and you can plan different options for where you will live and how bills will be paid.

5. Take the first step.

File, set a hearing (if needed) and serve the papers. It is generally advantageous to be the one to file first. Once it is inevitable that the divorce will take place, you will be better served by being active and getting things done at your convenience, rather than at your spouse’s convenience.

All of these suggestions are not meant to try to talk you into a divorce. Whether you decide to divorce is a separate and very personal matter. You should carefully consider all the circumstances in your life and in most cases, you should meet with a counselor, alone or as a couple, to get some perspective in evaluating your situation and maybe to get some help in resolving the issues you are facing. Only after careful consideration should you begin the process of divorce. In the event that you decide to divorce, you should follow the steps noted above.