Before You Run to the Courthouse

It’s back to school season, which means new shoes, new lunchboxes and new routines. It also means an increase in divorce filings. A University of Washington study identified the twin peaks of the calendar for divorce – August and March. These times of the year are both after the intense family stretches of summer and the holidays when if things didn’t get better for couples at risk, they are likely to decide to divorce.

As you’re in the process of making this major decision, you may be imagining a picturesque life on the other side of it and want to try and get there as fast as possible. It would be wise, however, to take the time to do your homework so you can make informed decisions that may very well may impact the rest of your life. Rash, emotion-filled decisions and actions could make your divorce process much harder than it has to be.

Before you announce to your spouse, or the rest of the world for that matter, and definitely before you file with the court, take some time to consider the following (not necessarily in this order):

1.       Finances. What do you have? What do you owe? What do you earn? What do you spend? Answering these four questions will set you up to figure out what there is to divide and what it will look like to live separately.

2.       Children. What would be best for them so they can maintain healthy relationships with both parents? What might that schedule look like? Try to be open to several ideas as there are many ways to do this and your spouse may surprise you with what they ask for. Parenting dynamics while married may be very different from those while co-parenting and while this is a huge adjustment, it can also mean new opportunities for the parent-child relationship. Most importantly, know that you will likely have to share time and decision-making with your soon-to-be ex-spouse in a way you didn’t have to during the marriage.

3.       Support. Seek professional counsel for legal, financial and mental health. Know what your rights and options are before you commit to a position. A seasoned professional will be able to share the most realistic picture with you so you can make choices fitting your end goals.

On the mental health side of things, at this point, you’ve been struggling with the pain of the demise of your marriage. No matter how long you’ve been married, the hurt is real and can be overwhelming. The great level of pain can seriously impair your ability to make smart decisions and it is, therefore, wise to seek some support. There is no shame in talking with a therapist, especially during major life challenges. They really help you figure things out for the better and keep your feet on the ground. If not a therapist, then in the very least, surround yourself with supportive, positive people.

These are just three of the many things you might need to think about during divorce. The important point here is to think intentionally about these (and anything else that is important to you) before you run to the courthouse. Once you file the paperwork, your timeline is not your own anymore and the court may expect things from you for which you’re not ready. So give yourself the time to think, do the math and receive counsel from professionals before things are put on paper or said out loud. The more homework done on the front end, results in a smoother and more equitable process through which you maintain greater control and insight.