A divorce is one of the most traumatic events in a person’s life. It’s right up there with the death of a loved one, losing a career, or making a major move. In fact, it’s sort of like all three all at one time. If you are considering divorce, the following 5 steps will help you evaluate your decision and prepare for the process:

1. Establish a support group. Your decision to divorce should not be a secret or a shame that you must bear on your own. Discuss it with friends and family. Talk with a counselor. A trained mental health professional can help you be more objective in your decision-making and help you examine the issues in your marriage and personal life to make the best decision for you.
2. Consult attorneys. Yes, plural, consult with more than one and long before you separate. You will have an ongoing relationship with this person for months, or even years, you want it to be a good one. Make sure you are speaking with someone who works primarily in family law, has experience in your parish, and is not out to get your spouse. You are likely angry and want to punish your spouse, but your attorney needs to be a problem solver for you, not a problem maker. Most importantly, the decisions you make before you separate will have an impact on your case. When you choose and attorney, plan an exit strategy and then separate.
3. Gather your financial information. Make sure you have records of exactly what you have financially in terms of cash, assets and real estate. This includes making an inventory of valuables such as safety deposit box contents, jewelry, artwork and silverware. Take pictures of your property with a time and date stamp. Keep meticulous records of money coming in and going out, especially your household living expenses. Typically, one spouse handles all of the money issues. If you are not that spouse, make a considered effort to understand and get involved in your family finances.
4. Talk to your spouse. When was the last time, you sat down with your spouse and discussed the anger and pain in your relationship? If you are thinking of leaving, discuss that with him or her. If you in agreement that divorce is the only way, discuss what kind of divorce you want to have. Most people do not want a high conflict and expensive divorce – discuss mediation, collaborative practice and the negative consequences of litigation for your future and your family.
5. Set up a credit card and a checking account exclusively in your name. Doing so will not make the debt or the cash yours alone, but it will insure that you have access to funds in an emergency. This step is especially important if you are the lower income-earning spouse.

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