It’s the moment you never imagined when you walked down the wedding aisle, but here it is: your husband has just told you that he wants a divorce. Maybe it’s a complete left-field, out-of-the-blue announcement, or maybe it’s something you’ve felt percolating for a long time and now it’s here. In either situation, you may have the classic fight-or-flight first instinct but understand that there is work to be done to protect yourself and your future.
Certainly, if you want to remain married, and you have reason to believe that there is a good possibility you and he can repair that marriage, then by all means take positive steps like working with a trained marriage counselor. In many cases, restoration is not only possible, but it can create a better marriage than ever before. But in many other cases, divorce is indeed an inevitable conclusion.
And in all cases, you should take some preliminary steps to prepare yourself and avoid missteps that could hurt you financially, emotionally, and relationally in a potential divorce.
Keep a Calm and Respectful Relationship With Him
You might feel like you’re living in a movie when the divorce announcement comes, and in that movie you might think the right thing to do is unload every grievance in the marriage in as spectacular a way as possible. But fighting and hostility – especially when things are truly over – is likely not going to serve you well.
There are only two ways out of a divorce proceeding: either you both work together to create a settlement agreement you can both live with, or you fight it out in court and endure all the drama, uncertainty, and high legal fees that entails. You want the former, and that is hard to accomplish when you are in a highly antagonistic relationship. That doesn’t mean giving into unreasonable demands or giving up your rights, but it does mean acting business-like and professional even from the earliest days of the divorce process in reaching the settlement that meets your needs.
Collect and Save All Financial Records
If you have never been the person in the relationship that keeps track of finances and related documents, now is the time to start. And even if you have, it is time to make the extra effort to ensure you have copies of and ongoing access to all financial records, especially while you and he are living in the same location and hopefully are on reasonably peaceful terms with one another. It’s not at all uncommon for a husband who is apologetic and amicable about resolving the divorce at the start to become a completely different person a couple months in, with the result that obtaining financial records can become difficult and costly when done through attorneys.
Take steps to obtain the following types of documents for at least the past few years:
- All savings and checking statements
- All retirement fund statements (including pensions, IRAs, 401k’s, etc.)
- All brokerage account statements
- All tax returns
- All credit card statements
- All documents relating to property, including mortgage, tax, HOA records, titles, any appraisals, refinancing documents, etc.
Basically, if it deals with money, you should have a copy. Invest in a scanner if you don’t have one to store documents digitally where they cannot be disturbed.
Make a List of All Property
In addition to financial accounts, you’ll want to have a complete record of all the other property you own, regardless of where it’s located. Make a list and/or take pictures of all significant property items, such as furniture, jewelry, electronics, and art. Don’t forget about property that might be stored at other locations besides your primary residence such as storage facilities, vacation homes, his office, etc. And if there is any paperwork that accompanies this property, such as deeds of title or certificates of authenticity, make a copy of those as well. Again this will be easier to do when you’re in the same location and on relatively good terms.
Maintain a Positive and Active Relationship With Your Children
This one may go without saying, but it bears stressing that you want to maintain the same positive relationship with your children that you did before you found out your husband wants a divorce. You don’t have to let the children know what is happening right away, but more importantly you do not want to antagonize the children against their father, as it is not good for them, and can be used against you in your case. You also want to maintain a constant role in their life for purposes of demonstrating your ability and willingness to care for them should there be a disagreement over custody.
Research Attorneys in Your Area That Would Be a Good Fit
Husbands who announce they want to divorce also frequently say they want to do this “without lawyers” (Wives do this too, and the same advice applies). Of course, this sounds self-serving to say coming from a family law blog, but not talking to an attorney who can inform you of your rights and options because the husband who wants to divorce you doesn’t want you to is not typically a recipe for your post-marital success. At best it’s naive for someone who’s seeking to divorce you to steer you away from getting legal advice, and at worst it’s manipulative, selfish, and self-serving.
That said, the last thing you need is a “bad” lawyer who either doesn’t know what he’s doing or is going to inflame the situation and increase your legal fees and drama for his own enrichment. Talk to trusted attorney friends and others who have gone through divorce to see if they have attorney recommendations, and peruse attorney websites and reviews to gauge whether they are a good fit for you.
Schedule a Consultation With One or More Attorneys
Finally, schedule a consultation with one or more well-respected family law attorneys in your area to discuss your situation and your options to determine who might be a right fit for you should the divorce go forward.
You may well need to pay the attorney for their time (and understand that you often get what you pay for with “free consultations” which are sometimes just sales pitches, not tailored advice for what you need to do next), but it can be well worth it, even if you are still hopeful on reconciling the marriage or not eager to move forward quickly with legal matters. But speaking to an attorney early in the process after you are made aware of your husband’s intentions can avoid many significant problems down the road.
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.