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I am contemplating a divorce, what should I do?

Deciding whether or not to get divorced is a major decision that is not only an emotional decision but a financial one as well. It is important that when you are contemplating a divorce, that you take a step back and think about what steps you should take before you file. This allows you to be prepared to start the divorce process. As a general rule, these are the top five things I recommend to anyone contemplating a divorce:

1. Protect your mental health. The decision to end a marriage is not an easy one to make. There are often feelings of uncertainty, fear and often guilt that the marriage did not work out. These feeling are even more heightened when there are children involved. While these emotions can be a lot to handle, they are, unfortunately, part of the process. I recommend to every client that they engage the services of a therapist. This is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength. It is important that you do everything you can to mentally and emotionally support yourself during a very difficult time. It is also important that you have a neutral third party to speak to in addition to friends or family, who, while supportive, may not be the most objective people to provide you with advice during your divorce process.

2. Know your finances. It is very difficult for a spouse who does not know the extent of the marital estate to know what assets or liabilities there are. It is important that before you file for divorce, that you make note of all banking accounts (checking,savings, investment, etc), retirement accounts (pensions, annuities, deferred compensation, etc), real property, credit cards, loans (mortgages, HELOCs or personal), lines of credit, vehicles, separate property and any business interests for you or your spouse. By knowing the extent of your assets and liabilities, your attorney can advise you as to what you are entitled to as part of your divorce.

3. Gather documents. During the process of a divorce, important documents maydisappear and never reappear. Therefore, it is important to safe guard your interest in your assets by making copies of any personal or business tax returns including W-2s, 1099s, etc., copy banking account statements and retirement account statements for at least 3 years, closing documents on any real property, copies of any documents to support your separate property claims, loan or mortgage statements, credit card statements, vehicle titles and any other business related documents.

4. Safeguard personalty. If you have valuable or sentimental personal items, make sure you keep them safe and secure so they do not disappear due to a vindictive spouse. Items like inherited or sentimental pieces of jewelry, artwork, or valuable collections. It is important that you do not sell or donate these items, but to secure them in a safe location where they cannot be removed by your spouse. It is important that you make sure you have your passport, social security card, birth certificate and any other important legal documents for you and your children.

5. Interview attorneys. This is one of the most critical steps because you should not rush into hiring an attorney or feel pressured to just hire the first attorney you meet. It is important that you trust and have faith in your attorney and their abilities to guide your through one of the most difficult timesin your life. It is a very personal relationship that you will have with the attorney you decide to retain and it is important that you are comfortable discussing all matters related to your divorce with them. This is crucial because you will need to confide intimate aspects of your personal life with your attorney and you need to feel comfortable speaking with your attorney. It is also helpful to have a list prepared of questions to ask the attorney you are meeting with so you do not forget to ask a question that is important to you. If you do not feel comfortable with the attorney your are consulting with and their initial thoughts on your case, it is your prerogative to interview attorneys until you find one you are comfortable with.

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