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 Network You’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.

Related: How to deal with divorce

Gather Financial Documents

Divorce Checklist - Gather Financial Documents Gather 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 statements Debt records Employment records Investment account statements
Loan information Pension information Retirement savings account information Social Security statements
Tax returns Trusts Wills

List Your Assets and Debts

Divorce Checklist - List Your Assets and Debts Create 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 Custody Start 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 Documents Pull 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 Housing Do 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 Spouse If 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 Information Right 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 Job If 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 Will Make 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 Items If 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.

Divorce FAQ After Reading the Divorce Checklist

Divorce FAQ After Reading the Divorce Checklist

Many people have questions after reading our divorce checklist, so here are answers to some of the most common.

#1. Are divorce records public in California?

Divorce Checklist - Are Divorce Records Public in California Divorce records are public in California. They’re available through the California Department of Public Health. These records don’t contain all the details of your divorce – in fact, they’re not even certified copies. However, people will be able to see that you’ve divorced and get some information about your case (such as the case number and the date the judge granted your divorce).

If you need a certified copy of your own divorce, you must get it from the Superior Court in the county where you filed.

#2. How is property divided in a divorce in California?

Divorce Checklist - How is Property Divided in a Divorce in California In the divorce checklist above, this relates to Step 3 – the one in which you gather information on all your assets and debts. California is a community property state, which means the things that you and your spouse acquired during your marriage belong equally to both of you. That goes for debts, too. If you brought things into your marriage, such as a house that you already paid for or any other type of asset (or debt), those things usually remain separate property and aren’t divisible in divorce. There are always exceptions to the rules, though, so if you’re not sure whether something you own is community property or separate property, it’s a good idea to talk to your attorney.

Related: Property division in California

#3. How long do divorces take in California?

Divorce Checklist - How Long Do Divorces Take in California A divorce in California takes at least 6 months. That’s the mandatory waiting period every couple must make it through before a judge will grant a divorce.

While there’s no guarantee that a judge will grant your divorce a day after you’ve met the 6-month waiting period requirement, there are some things that will certainly make your divorce take longer than that. If you and your spouse can’t agree on important issues, like child custody, property division and other important parts of your divorce, yours will certainly take longer. Whether you decide to see a mediator or you end up litigating in court, your divorce won’t be final until you can reach an agreement (or you force the judge to rule in your case).

#4. How can I get a copy of my divorce in California online?

Divorce Checklist - How Can I Get a Copy of My Divorce in California Online You can order copies of your own divorce records through the California Department of Public Health. These aren’t certified copies. Further, if you need a record for a divorce that occurred between 1962 and June 1984, you can only get a Certificate of Record. A Certificate of Record only contains the names of the parties involved, the county where the divorce was filed, the filing date and the court case number. If you need certified copies, you must get them from the Superior Court in the county where you filed your divorce.

Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About This Divorce Checklist?

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.