If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need an explanation for why the unprecedented and indefinite era of COVID-19 is leading more people to consider whether a divorce may be the best way forward. It could be the increased time at home with an unpleasant (or far worse) spouse. It could be new realizations about who in the marriage is putting their best efforts into household, family, and emotional duties and who doesn’t necessarily see those as duties at all. It could just be a reevaluation of your life, your goals, your desires, and your purpose, like many of us are doing.
Whatever the reasons that may have you thinking divorce, the societal effects of COVID-19 may also seem to be standing in the way of you pursuing a divorce right at this moment. It could be that you’re not working, your spouse is not working, you are concerned about taking care of the children with schools and other child care services closed, that you are uncertain how to find a place of your own and other amenities and resources during this time, and so on. You might not have the intestinal fortitude to add another trauma to your plate.
That doesn’t mean, however, that there is nothing for you to do now to prepare for an eventual divorce proceeding, even if you ultimately decide not to go forward with divorce and instead reconcile with your spouse (if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that anything can happen!). Here are five things you can be doing now in preparation for a potential divorce proceeding down the line.
Take the Time to Figure Out What You Want Out of a Divorce Proceeding
You may be thinking “I just want to be free,” and that’s a fine place to start, but you need to take that line of thinking regarding your future life a few steps further in determining what it is you actually want to accomplish in your divorce proceeding besides not being married anymore.
Where do you want to live? Are you going to be happy with a $1,200 a month apartment or do you need a house with a pool and guesthouse in a hip neighborhood with a great school district? Do you want your kids with you? What kind of custody schedule and co-parenting arrangement do you want, e.g. with whom will the kids live and when and who will make the important decisions and on what issues?
You may not be able to accomplish all your top desires in your divorce, but knowing what it is you do want is the best place to start.
Prepare For a Life Outside of Your Marriage
Related to the first point, it is one thing to not want to spend one more evening with a person who you think you are no longer compatible with on any level, but it is a whole other thing to find yourself living on your own, paying your own bills, making your own friends, creating your own social calendar (or having to invent one from thin air after years of being partnered) and generally navigating all of life more or less on your own. In other words, you should prepare for what that life might look like.
Talk to a therapist and surround yourself with friends who have gone through divorce to hear about their experiences. Take a look at apartment and housing listings to determine what kind of budget you might need to have the life you want. Perhaps consult with a financial adviser to see how doable your envisioned future life might be on what you have now, and what you will need to accomplish it, or at least a life you can be satisfied with as an alternative to your current marital situation.
Assemble Your Family’s Financial Documents
A significant part of your divorce will be understanding what the respective spouse’s finances are, as that will be a primary factor in determining what marital property you take with you from the marriage as well as in the amount of spousal support and/or child support you might end up paying or receiving. Resolving a divorce is much easier when both parties are forthcoming and honest and knowledgeable about the family finances – including bank accounts, business interests, 401k and other retirement accounts, debts, and all the rest – but unfortunately that is not always the case.
If you are a spouse who has relied on the other spouse to handle all the finances, and/or if your spouse does not necessarily regularly share with you relevant financial information related to his or her personal or business interests, waiting until the divorce papers have been served on him or her to finally figure out what the two of you own and where those assets are located is probably not the best idea.
To the extent possible, act now to understand your family finances and assemble all the relevant documents. Divorce is a multi-dimensional experience since it involves legal issues, financial issue, emotional issues and sometimes spiritual. Assembling your divorce team and formulating your “game plan” ahead of time is the first step.
Research Family Law Attorneys in Your Area With Whom You Can See Yourself Working
To that point, waiting until after you’ve told your spouse the bad news (and maybe some not-so-flattering commentary about them in the meantime) to go out and find an attorney to represent you is not always ideal. It’s hard enough dealing with the emotional fallout of separating from a spouse without in a professional, supportive and effective way.
There are many great family law attorneys out there, and there are many that are not so great, and it may take some time to find the one that’s best for you. Ask friends for referrals, do your research, and don’t be shy in getting on the phone with an attorney to figure out with him or her whether your values and goals align.
Speak With a Family Law Attorney About Your Options
Once you have an attorney you do want to consult with, ask them what steps you should be taking in addition to the above to prepare for a divorce, even if, again, you’re not sure when you want to move forward, if at all. A good family law attorney will understand where you are at in your particular situation, and offer you advice, guidance, and encouragement to take the steps necessary to protect your finances, relationships, and well-being in moving forward, regardless of what options you decide to eventually pursue.
Guidance on Your California Family Law Questions From a Westlake Village Family Law Attorney
If you would like to learn more about how our office can provide guidance on any California family law issues you are facing in Ventura County or Los Angeles County, contact the Zonder Family Law Group office today at (805) 777-7740 or (818) 877-0001, or schedule your strategy session using easy-to-use online form here.