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File for Divorce - What it Takes

What Does It Take to File for Divorce?

Perhaps you want it, but he doesn’t. Perhaps he wants it, but you don’t. Perhaps you both want it. No matter who comes to the conclusion that divorce is the unfortunate destiny for your marriage, one of you has to file for divorce.

It’s understandable that the process of initiating the legal end to your marriage would be an emotional step. And no one wants to voluntarily take on that negativity, especially if the other person isn’t aware of or in agreement with the divorce.

This initial step, however, must be taken if the process is going to move forward.

There may be no badge of honor, favoritism, or disproportionate rights granted to the petitioner. But there may be advantages to being the one to file for divorce.

Filing is the official notification to the courts to begin the divorce process.

The person who files, called the “petitioner,” files a petition (or “complaint” in some states) with the court.

(Note that “the court” isn’t just “any court.” Like most family law matters, divorce is handled at the state government level. Petitions for divorce are therefore filed with the state superior or circuit court, usually a county or district branch.)

If you plan to file for divorce, there are things you should do beforehand.

How to Prepare to File for Divorce

You have the advantage during this time of getting educated about your strategy for going through the divorce and assembling your team for support.

Researching and seeking legal counsel, for example, is one of the most important initial steps you should take. And “going first” means you get “first pick” of the best local representation if you choose to use a lawyer to represent you.

Also, the time to understand your rights and get your concerns answered is before you start the clock.

A divorce coach can help you navigate both the practical and emotional ins-and-outs of divorce. And s/he can also give you access to perspective, what is normal, what is not, and a wealth of essential, well-vetted resources like good lawyers, good financial people, recommended mediators, etc.

If you know you are going to be the one to initiate divorce, you also have the advantage of beginning your due diligence early.

We can’t stress this enough: Documentation is everything. Prepare, prepare, prepare! 

Even your petition for divorce will require documentation related to your marriage and finances:

  • Names and addresses of both spouses
  • Date and location of the marriage
  • Identification of children of the marriage
  • Acknowledgment of residency

Every state has its own residency requirements (state and/or county) for one or both spouses prior to filing.

  • Grounds for divorce

You may have at-fault grounds like adultery, abandonment, addiction, criminal conviction, impotence, infertility, mental illness, or physical or emotional abuse.

Or you may have no-fault grounds like irreconcilable differences or incompatibility.

Your grounds for divorce may influence whether your divorce is uncontested or contested. (At-fault and no-fault grounds are decided by each state.)

  • Declaration or request as to how you would like to settle finances, property division, child custody, and other relevant issues.

Once you file for divorce with the court, the petition for divorce must be served to your spouse.

This step is called “service of process.” And it can be as simple as a compliant spouse signing acknowledgment of receipt.

It can also be as difficult as your spouse refusing to sign or being difficult to locate. You would then most likely need to hire a professional process server.

Upon completion of service of process, the clock starts running on your state’s waiting period. This is also the point at which the court will basically “freeze” activity that could affect your settlement and/or custody.

Important Details About The Service of Process

There are some important things to know about what happens after completing your service of process. Neither you nor your spouse will be allowed to take your children out of state, for example. You also won’t be allowed to buy or sell property or sell off insurance related to the other person.

Knowing that these restraining orders will be in place, you may be advised to request temporary orders in your petition.

Perhaps you are a stay-at-home mom with young children, and you rely on your spouse’s income.

Even an uncontested divorce can take a year to finalize. And you can’t live without the means to provide for yourself and your children.

Temporary orders would provide for things like temporary custody, child support, spousal support, residential arrangements, and payment of bills.

By now you’re probably catching on to how being the first to file for divorce can be advantageous.

No, we’re not suggesting in any way that you rush into a life-altering decision just so you can “be first.”

What we are suggesting is that the outcome of your divorce will be largely predicated on your preparation.

Best-case scenario? Both you and your spouse know that your lives are best lived apart. You might work cooperatively to make your divorce as smooth and painless as possible.

Honesty, disclosure, respect, and fairness will guide your dealings.

Worst-case scenario? You file for divorce, and your spouse does everything in his power to fight it.

He doesn’t want the divorce, but he’s not happy with your marriage, either. He is hell-bent on making you pay for initiating the divorce. And he’s not above breaking the rules to do it.

Hiding assets, contesting everything, and trying to leave you with nothing will guide his dealings.

Misery will guide yours.

Preparation is Key

When you have time before filing for divorce, you can prepare your questions, collect your advisors, and do your due diligence. And that due diligence will empower you with much more control in the proceedings, especially if your spouse is uncooperative.

Finding, copying, and organizing everything is essential. Your stuff, your husband’s stuff, your mutual stuff, your kids’ stuff.

When it comes to financial matters, these are the documents you should have and the way you should organize them.

Finally, while being the first to file for divorce won’t give you an edge on your settlement, it can make some things easier.

If you and your husband reside in different states part of the time, initiating the divorce will allow you to decide the location of adjudication. And where a divorce takes place has everything to do with how it proceeds…and turns out.

Waiting periods, residency requirements, fault/no-fault grounds, and even certain financial considerations will be at the mercy of location.

In the short run, all it takes to file for divorce is the decision to go forward with ending a marriage that isn’t working.

Do the paperwork, serve your spouse, and provide proof that he was served.

As the respondent, he is free to send a response of agreement or contest. But the clock starts nonetheless.

In the long run, however, approaching the first official step of your divorce process with forethought and preparation can dramatically influence the outcome.

The road to an empowered life, after all, begins with the first step.

Notes

SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to rebuilding their lives on their own, healthiest terms. 

Whether you are navigating the experience of divorce, or that confusing place of recreating the life you deserve, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do it alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and often times complicated experience of divorce and reinvention. “A healthy divorce requires smart steps through and beyond the divorce document.” Learn what we mean and what it means for you in a FREE 15-minute consultation.

Before you file for divorce

6 Must Do’s Before Filing for Divorce

Regardless of your situation, divorce is life-altering. Even if you expect to manage a calm break-up, the financial and emotional challenges could make divorce one of the toughest things you’ll do in your life. For this reason, many people do not prepare themselves adequately before filing for divorce.

Unfortunately, most people jump into divorce impulsively—or they face divorce unexpectedly—without ever preparing. In those scenarios, the risks of a bad outcome increase because at least one of you reacts from an emotional, uninformed place. This increases the likelihood of discord, conflict, and pain because “fear” is leading the charge.

Responding from a steadier, educated place will reduce pain in the long run. And so, before you decide to file for divorce or respond to a divorce filed against you, make sure to follow the concrete suggestions below to help get your footing. You must acknowledge your fear, but you must also listen to your brain and take these steps.

  1. Begin By Writing Down Your Questions

Taking action is important, in fact critical, but before you lunge in any direction, take time to be with yourself and to write down the biggest questions you have. Put the questions in categories if possible: legal, financial, emotional/life, practical. Then consider your questions and find the right professional who can help with them. Friends can only get you so far. A professional must look at your circumstances to help you understand your choices. A professional will have experience with these issues. Why do it all alone and exhaust yourself trying to reinvent the wheel?

  1. Gather the Necessary Documents to Get Feedback

Legal and financial documents about your marital life are essential in divorce. During the process, your lawyer and financial advisor will need to see various documentation to give you concrete feedback on what your best-case and worst-case scenarios are. Organizing your paperwork early on, including such essential files as investment and retirement account statements, tax returns, and pay stubs of your partner, will help your advisors understand the financial story and help you develop your best strategy for what you will negotiate for and live on.

Read Are You Thinking About Divorce? Important Steps to Be Prepared

  1. Consult the Right Professionals

Look at your list of questions and begin consulting the appropriate expert. Therapists can help you specifically with the emotional journey you are going through and offer guidance on how to take care of yourself during this time. The relatively new type of divorce advisor the “divorce coach” is a generalist who gives you an overview and structure for what to expect. They will help with some of your questions and help you identify clear steps to take in the right direction. Divorce coaches are also trained in supporting you with your emotional challenges as you are facing this transition. Well-resourced and connected, they can provide you with referrals to other seasoned experts, like a lawyer, therapist, or financial advisor who specializes in divorce.

  1. Legal Support

Even if you are thinking about it, or your spouse is telling you, “Let’s do it DIY!” it is critical that you, as an individual woman, get feedback on your legal situation. This means consulting with a lawyer on your own.

You should look for a traditional, licensed divorce attorney for this meeting and aim to learn what your rights are. Additionally, you should also learn what you are entitled to and what might be potential issues to resolve. You must hear what your state law says about your circumstances (and not rely on what your spouse is telling you.) You’ll probably have questions about child support, spousal support, temporary living arrangements, who determines custody, who’s going to stay or move out, or how to conduct yourself during the legal process. Like a divorce coach or financial advisor (below), a lawyer is that person who speaks to you confidentially and advises you specifically. A good one specializes in family or divorce law, and is experienced, compassionate, and makes you feel heard.

See this link for questions to ask a divorce attorney and how to prepare for that meeting.

  1. Consult with a Smart Money Person

Most often this is a financial advisor, but maybe your sister is an accountant and can help you determine which financial choices would be the wisest for you long term? Getting good financial feedback is not the work of a divorce lawyer, although your lawyer will have a legal perspective. A financial advisor will help you get clear on the financial picture and save you potential pitfalls. One of the goals of the divorce procedure is to have an equitable distribution of all your debts and marital assets. For you to get a fair share during your divorce financial settlement, it’s crucial to attain guidance on assessing your finances beforehand and to do projections for the future as an independent woman. Learning what you own and what you owe as a married couple is step 1.

  1. Connect with the ‘Good Ones’ in Your Support Network

Boundaries are important when you are going through a life crisis like divorce. You must be careful in whom you’re confiding in because most people, well-intentioned or not, are simply not trained in the divorce process or its recovery. Consider your inner circle. Who can you truly count on for support? Who reminds you of your best self? Who’s going to help you now and not judge you? Nurture those people, stay connected to them, and block others. Divorce is not a good time to go it alone. Having a safe place to vent, like a divorce support group, allows you to be more pulled together when you are looking at the financial and legal angles of the divorce.

Conclusion

Divorce is a life challenge few of us ever prepare for. It’s tough and, even in the least conflicted scenarios, requires a sensible game plan for you to healthily manage yourself and your expectations. Before filing for divorce, taking time to consult with the right professionals and to create the best plan will serve you greatly in the long term.

If you read the above six suggestions, you may find yourself saying, “Wow, I can’t even pull the money together to meet with an attorney let alone consider those other professionals!” If this is the case, then you owe yourself at least a legal consultation. The truth is you cannot afford to give away things you don’t know about. Contact your city or state bar and look for their lawyer referral lines. These resources often provide for lawyers who will give you a discounted or free consultation.

A legal consultation, ladies, is a minimum you should do before filing for divorce.

 

Since 2012, SAS for Women has been dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you and your precious future. Join our tribe and stay connected.