It’s been a long, painful process to get to this point. You did everything possible to save your marriage, but you’ve concluded it’s over. You know you need to go, and now that you’ve made up your mind, it might seem overwhelming, or it may feel like all that’s left is the actual leaving.
In either case, this is a crucial moment. Unless you are in an emergency (abusive, unsafe) situation that makes it necessary to leave immediately, there are several critical logistical steps before you walk out the door.
Careful planning and preparation can make your initial exit and your eventual divorce process (if that’s what you decide to do) much smoother. Be deliberate, systematic, and strategic as you plan. Avoid the impulse to grab your suitcase, march out the door, and slam it behind you in the heat of battle—as satisfying as that may feel in the moment. It makes things more complicated in the long run.
Although there are many personal factors to consider, unique to your situation, here are some basic steps to take as you get ready to leave your spouse:
Give yourself a runway for this serious, life-changing act. Understandably, you’re anxious to have it over with. But it will take a bit of time to prepare an effective exit. It’s very worthwhile to take the time to set yourself up for a peaceful and successful process. Plan on a few months to get everything in order.
Contact a divorce attorney. Getting the initial steps right can save you time, money, and enormous hassles. Even in this early stage, an experienced family lawyer can help you understand the laws in your state, create a checklist of everything you need to prepare, point you to helpful resources, and avoid costly mistakes.
Gather documents. You will need originals or copies of all your essential documents, including but not limited to the following:
- Social security card
- Birth certificate
- Marriage certificate
- Prenuptial or postnuptial agreements
- Driver’s license
- Immigration papers, if applicable
- 5-7 years of tax returns
- Your recent pay stubs, if employed
- Bank account and credit card info
- Investments statements
- Debt statements
- Insurance policies
- Estate planning documents (wills, trusts, powers of attorney)
- Deed to your house
Your Spouse’s Information:
- Social Security number
- Photocopies of income or assets in your spouse’s name: paystubs, tax returns, investments, etc.
Your Children’s Information:
- Birth certificates
- Social Security numbers
- Medication prescriptions
Also, keep records of texts, emails, notes, letters, and other communications. The more contentious you expect your split to be, the more critical it is to collect information before you leave. Even seemingly insignificant documents can become necessary in your divorce case, so gather everything you can.
Familiarize yourself with divorce laws in your state. A little homework can help you know what to expect in critical legal processes such as the division of property, spousal/child support, and custody/visitation decisions.
List all property and assets. Take an inventory of everything you own together as a couple (and separately, if applicable) which includes anything that has real value, meaning it can be bought and sold—such as home(s), vehicles, furnishings, art, jewelry, antiques, collectibles, cash, stocks, bonds, retirement accounts, insurance policies, investment portfolios, businesses, patents, certain types of intellectual property, etc.
Make a financial plan. Open your own bank account and credit card. Create a basic budget. Assess your employment situation. Determine how much money you need to save before you can reasonably exit.
Plan the logistics of leaving. Consider how and when you will pack your things; where you will go at first; who you will stay with and for how long (you may want to stay with a friend or family member in the immediate aftermath of leaving); whether your children can stay there too. Consider your longer-term housing options, whether you’ll take a lease, etc.
Seek support. Tell someone you trust about your plan. It’s helpful if this is someone you can not only lean on emotionally but also stay with temporarily, who will watch your children while you talk with your spouse, and so forth. It’s also a good idea to see a therapist.
Tell your spouse (or not). Talk only when you are ready to go and have all logistics in place. Find the time and location to have an unhurried, uninterrupted conversation in a safe space. Think carefully about what you want to say; perhaps write down your thoughts and practice a script. Keep the conversation calm and rational, but know that your spouse may be hurt, angry, surprised, and upset. Be prepared to listen as well. Have a place to go separately right after the conversation. In some situations, such as if you fear a violent response, it is better to leave without discussion and go directly to a safe place, letting your lawyer take over from there.
Talk to your children. Parents should talk to their children together. Explain only age-appropriate basics; offer comfort; reassure them that it’s not their fault and you both love them very much. This conversation will be challenging, so stay strong and calm for them.
The caring and experienced family attorneys at SFLG can help you navigate your divorce from start to finish. We’re committed to helping you achieve a satisfying outcome through as graceful a process as possible.
By Debra Schoenberg