Divorce Checklist: What to Do Before You File for Divorce

Divorce Checklist - Stockton Family Law and Divorce Attorneys

If you’re thinking about splitting up from your spouse, you need a divorce checklist – but not just any divorce checklist.

One that shows you what you need to do before you file and helps ensure you’re completely prepared for the journey ahead.

This divorce checklist covers it all.

Divorce Checklist: What to Do Before You File for Divorce

Divorce is stressful – we’re not going to sugarcoat it for you. But if you’re properly prepared, you can make it through and come out stronger, more capable and better-prepared than most people. Use this divorce checklist to make sure you’re on the right track:

  1. Find a support network
  2. Gather financial documents
  3. List your assets and debts
  4. Put together a childcare proposal
  5. Compile personal documents
  6. Plan for housing
  7. Get information on your spouse
  8. Make changes to personal information
  9. Get a job and establish your own credit, if applicable
  10. Change your will
  11. Secure irreplaceable personal items
  12. Talk to an attorney

Find a Support Network

Divorce Checklist - Find a Support NetworkYou’ve heard it before – “No man (or woman) is an island.” Don’t start planning for a divorce without a support network in place. You don’t have to tell your friends and family you intend to file for divorce – not yet, anyway – but you do need people who will be there to listen to you. You may want to talk to a licensed counselor or therapist who specializes in divorce before you file. A therapist can help you work through every stage of the split and teach you new coping methods that make things easier.

Gather Financial Documents

Divorce Checklist - Gather Financial DocumentsGather all the financial documents you can get your hands on. You can save them on a thumb drive or print out copies and keep them in a safe place. Make sure you keep them organized so they’re easy to access. You may need to provide them to your attorney, or you may need them for other reasons. You’ll need copies of things like:

Bank statementsDebt recordsEmployment recordsInvestment account statements
Loan informationPension informationRetirement savings account informationSocial Security statements
Tax returnsTrustsWills

List Your Assets and Debts

Divorce Checklist - List Your Assets and DebtsCreate a list of all your assets and what they’re worth. Do the same with your debts. Don’t list only things that belong to both of you – list everything that each of you has.

Because some spouses can be secretive about assets and debts, you’ll have to do some detective work – and if you suspect your spouse is hiding something but you can’t find it, you’ll need to let your lawyer know.

Put Together a Childcare Proposal

Divorce Checklist - Plan for CustodyStart thinking about child custody. Your attorney will probably encourage you to cooperate with your spouse to make a final plan, but now is the time to create a preliminary sketch of what you’d like to see happen with your kids.

Will they live with you most of the time? Do you intend for them to spend equal amounts of time at your house and your spouse’s house? Put your kids’ needs first and think about what would be best for them.

Compile Personal Documents

Divorce Checklist - Gather Personal DocumentsPull together your family’s personal documents, including Social Security numbers, birth certificates, a copy of your will, your marriage license, your prenup or postnuptial agreement, and any judgments or pleadings that you or your spouse have had in the past. Gather insurance information, too, including car, home and life insurance documents.

Plan for Housing

Divorce Checklist - Plan for HousingDo you intend to live in your marital home and have your spouse move out, or will you be moving into a new place? Now is the time to start making plans. If you’re planning to be the one who moves out, start looking at apartments for rent or houses for sale – that way, you’ll get a feel for what’s out there.

Pro tip: Do not move out before talking to a lawyer.

Get Information on Your Spouse

Divorce Checklist - Get Information on Your SpouseIf there’s anything – absolutely anything – that might impact the outcome of your divorce, get the details. You may need to provide them to your attorney when you get to the filing stage. If he or she has been in rehab, has a criminal history (especially one involving violence) or is in a relationship with someone else, your attorney will need to know about it.

Make Changes to Your Personal Information

Divorce Checklist - Change Your Personal InformationRight now, your spouse can probably check your email, log into your bank accounts and read your social media accounts. If your spouse doesn’t already know all your passwords, he or she could probably guess them easily. Change all of your passwords and PINs – all of them. You might also want to start a new email address that you can use moving forward.

Get a Job and Establish Your Own Credit, if Applicable

Divorce Checklist - Get a JobIf you’re not currently working, you may want to get a job. While you can always ask the court to grant you spousal support (alimony), it might be in your best interest to begin establishing your own income now. Naturally, you should talk to your attorney before you make any major decisions – and if you’re currently working, don’t quit your job!

Now’s the time to open a credit card only in your name, too. Establishing credit that’s separate from your spouse is important – and you may need to use it during or after the divorce.

Change Your Will

Divorce Checklist - Change Your WillMake changes to your will now so you don’t have to worry about it later. That can include removing your spouse as a beneficiary of your estate and replacing him or her with one of your children, or it can include changing information on a trust you’ve previously set up.

Secure Irreplaceable Personal Items

Divorce Checklist - Secure Irreplaceable Personal ItemsIf you have family heirlooms that you’re not sure you’ll be able to get back, you may want to remove them from your marital home and put them in storage. Don’t clean out the house, but do remove anything that you can’t bear to lose. While it’s pretty rare, some spouses become destructive and vengeful – and you don’t want your spouse to take things out on your irreplaceable personal items.

Talk to your lawyer about removing items from your marital home – she may tell you that it’s only okay to remove things that qualify as separate property (not community property), and she can give you item-by-item guidance on other things.

Talk to an Attorney

Once you have everything in place, it’s time to talk to a lawyer. Your attorney can go over everything you’ve done so far to prepare, and she’ll point out anything you may have missed. Remember, your lawyer’s goal is to serve your best interests – and she’ll be there for you every step of the way to answer your questions and make sure you’re on the right track.

Call us at 209-910-9865 to talk about your divorce. We can help you with child support, property division and everything else that impacts your future.