1. Talk to a number of divorce lawyers. Check out their ratings under AVVO and Martindale Hubble. Try to select an attorney that is familiar with your local rules and judges, and primarily practices in the area of divorce and family law. Figure out how you are going to pay an attorney.
2. Consider consulting with a therapist. Divorce is not easy. You may need assistance in the transition.
3. Get a new email account with a user name and password your spouse does not know and will not be able to guess. Get your own computer. You do not want your spouse to have any access to your computer.
4. Get a post office box. You want to make sure that you are able to get communications from your divorce attorney that are sent exclusively to you and are not accessible to other parties.
5. Set up your own cell phone account. You do not want your spouse to have access to your private conversations.
6. Get a copy of your credit report so that you can ascertain your credit history as it is made available to third parties. Make any necessary corrections.
7. Open your own bank accounts. These accounts should be in your own name and probably in a different bank than where your spouse’s or your joint accounts are located. Use a different address for your new bank accounts.
8. Make copies of your income tax returns for the last five years, including W-2s and 1099s.
9. Apply for your own, individual credit cards. Consider closing or placing limits on joint accounts.
10. Video or make a list or take photographs of all items of personal property in your residence and other real estate. Identify which items were gifted or inherited and which items you brought into the marriage. If you have any receipts for the personal property, make copies of them.
11. Consider hiring your own accountant or financial advisor.
12. Consider closing or freezing joint accounts.
13. You may want to consider advising your bank that no withdrawals can be made from retirement accounts, etc., without written authorization of both parties.
14. If you are the lower income spouse, consider finishing your education or additional training. Two cannot live for the price of one.
15. Consider whether or not you should look for a different job. This is not an easy decision, especially if there are children to be considered and the increased cost of childcare.
16. Decide where you are going to live. Are you best served remaining in the residence, or should you obtain alternate housing. Generally do not leave the residence without a prior, written agreement relative to placement of the children.
17. Get the basics, including dates of birth, social security numbers, date and place of marriage, information about prior marriages and divorces, occupations, employers, education and degrees of each spouse, payroll stubs, a copy of any prenuptial agreement, appraisals, business evaluations, if applicable, mortgage balances, retirement plan statements. Make a copy of all your financial records, including any assets or debts. Know the names and addresses of your financial institutions.
18. Try to assess your financial situation. What is the income of each spouse? What are the expenses of each spouse? Detail your assets and liabilities.
19. What are your employee benefits from your job? Make sure you get copies of life, health and disability insurance policies. Know who the beneficiaries are on these policies.
20. Provide your attorney with a copy of any Will or Trusts that are currently in existence. Obtain COBRA coverage information.
21. If you are moving into another residence, take your personal items with you, i.e., photographs, jewelry and items of special significance.
22. Consider what type of divorce works for you – collaborative, cooperative or traditional.
23. Talk to your spouse about the divorce. If both of you can agree to the divorce, the steps to completing the divorce process will be easier and you are likely to have a smoother transition.
24. Request an earnings and benefit statement from the Social Security Administration for yourself and for your spouse. Form SSA-7704.
25. Keep a log of the time you spend with your children and the type of activities in which you participate.