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Starting your divorce preparations before filing the papers

No matter how long you have been thinking about it, officially starting the divorce process can be scary. You may feel unprepared and unsure of what to do next. You may worry that your spouse won't cooperate or will try to hide important documents and assets. You may worry about what will happen to your children during and after the divorce.

To some extent, these feelings are natural and there is not much you can do except try to work through them. But there are some practical steps you can take even before officially filing divorce paperwork. In some cases, taking these steps ahead of time will be considerably easier than waiting until the divorce process has begun.

Money is a major consideration in divorce, especially when spouses do not share an equal role in household finances. Even if both spouses work outside the home, it is common for one spouse to manage all of the couple's money. Here are some financial steps you may want to take:

  • Educate yourself about family finances, including budgets, bills, assets and retirement accounts
  • Gather as much financial paperwork as you can, including tax documents and pay stubs from your spouse's employer
  • Begin setting money aside for expenses you may encounter during the divorce
  • Amend your personal documents in whatever ways that you can, including updating your will and estate plan

Too many people underestimate the emotional support they will need during a divorce. Because the process can be so difficult and painful, you may really benefit from seeing a therapist or counselor. Now is the time to start looking for one.

If you have children, you may need to start documenting your parental duties and investments. Courts often try to keep both parents involved in their children's lives, when possible, but it is still quite common for one parent to seek sole custody. That's why it's a good idea to keep a journal and a calendar and document the time you spend with your kids, the activities you attend, and anything else that may be relevant to your role as a parent.

Finally, don't wait to start your attorney search. It is crucial to find a family law attorney you feel comfortable talking to and who you feel will represent you well. And once you find that attorney, you may discover that the divorce process doesn't seem quite so scary.

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