Writing "divorce is hard" would be an understatement. In addition to the emotional turmoil of losing a marriage and potentially having to fight for assets and child custody, you also have to deal with one of the most arduous and complicated civil legal processes.
Having a divorce checklist on hand can allow you to tackle your divorce proactively, so you're prepared for whatever comes your way.
The Divorce Checklist You Need for 2020
Whether you're thinking about divorce and want to begin preparing or have already filed for divorce with the court, here's what you can do to make the process easier:
- Personalize your online identity. If you and your ex share an email account, get a new one. If they have your password, change it. The same goes for social media profiles—make them private and unfriend your ex, but avoid deleting anything without consulting your lawyer first. If you're worried your ex is trying to spy on you using social media, it may be worth taking your computer and phone to an IT shop and having them look it over for malware.
- Separate your finances. During the divorce, you'll have to divide your assets and liabilities with your spouse. If you live in a "community property" state like Wisconsin, the court divides marital assets and liabilities 50/50. If you live in an "equitable distribution" state, such as Rhode Island, the court distributes assets "equitably," meaning one party may get more than another if the court deems it "fair." To avoid being saddled with debts you didn't even know you had, pull your credit report at the start of the divorce.
During the divorce, you can't sell, depreciate, or otherwise tamper with any assets or liabilities, but you can take steps to separate your finances. Keep financial records, such as employment and income records, in a safety deposit box under a bank account your ex can't access. If you have a separate bank account, make sure it's secure. Get a new PO box, and have your mail—particularly sensitive documents like bank statements—redirected to the new PO. Post-divorce, you should also make sure you get everything you're owed. For example, if the court determines that you should have retirement funds transferred to your account, make sure they actually show up.
- Additionally, make copies of proof of ownership documents for both marital and separate property. This can make it easier to value your assets, which will enable you to predict how severely the property division process will affect you financially. It can also clue you in if your ex tries to tamper with assets or hide liabilities, so you get the fairest property division judgment possible from the court.
- Gather your personal information. This includes documents like your Social Security number, passport, any estate planning documents you have, birth certificates for any children, etc. The court will probably ask for these documents at some point, so having them ready will make your life easier.
- Take care of any parenting issues. If you have children, the child custody battle will probably be a significant component of your divorce. If you think your spouse is an unfit parent, start gathering evidence to support that allegation now. Work with your attorney to determine how you should approach the child custody case. Start looking for a counselor to help your children process the stress and turmoil of divorce more easily. If you and your ex are on good terms, draft a parenting plan that details how you'll split custody, and includes provisions for items such as discipline, education, etc. If your children are old enough to have meaningful input on the child custody process, make sure you incorporate their suggestions into the parenting plan.
- Take care of your estate plan. If you have items like a living will, your ex may be listed as the person with medical power of attorney, or as your primary beneficiary. Take steps to remove your ex from your estate plan (where appropriate).
- Take an inventory of assets that are important to you. If you have a family keepsake or an heirloom you're particularly fond of, find it and put it in a safety deposit box (as long as it's not marital property, of course). You may have to move houses during the divorce, and it's easy for things to get lost (especially if you have a spiteful ex). Make sure all your most valuable possessions are secured at the start of the divorce so that you can hold on to them.
The divorce process can be incredibly confusing. Acting proactively can help you navigate your divorce with more confidence.