Apr 16

Why Divorce Preparations are Crucial for Ensuring Security and Peace of Mind

Written by: Dorien Morin-van Dam


If you are at the very beginning of the road to divorce, contemplating separating and then divorcing your spouse, you are at the beginning of an emotional and financial rollercoaster. That is why divorce preparations are crucial to a successful divorce.

The more you know, the better the outcome. Think back to how much time you spent on planning your wedding, you owe it to yourself and your children to take time to plan out this next phase of life well.

Learn Your State’s Requirements for Filing for Divorce

One of the first things to do as you start your divorce preparations is to learn about your state’s requirements for filing for divorce. Some States have other obligations that must be met when you divorce, including separation.

Those rules are important, so you can start living separately in your home a little earlier if necessary. In South Carolina, there is no such thing as legal separation.

You are either married, or you are divorced once a judge makes it official.

Divorce preparations for those who live n South Carolina

The Five Grounds for Divorce in South Carolina

There are five grounds for divorce recognized by South Carolina Family Courts:

  1. Adultery: This is a fault-based ground, meaning one spouse cheated on the other.
  2. Desertion for a period of one year: This is another fault-based ground, where one spouse has left the marriage without the intention of returning for at least a year.
  3. Physical cruelty: This fault-based ground applies when one spouse has inflicted physical abuse on the other.
  4. Habitual drunkenness (or drug use): This fault-based ground applies when one spouse has a problem with excessive alcohol consumption or drug use.
  5. Living separate and apart for a period of one year: This is the only no-fault ground for divorce in South Carolina. It means that both spouses have agreed to live separately for at least one year with the intent to end the marriage.

While fault-based grounds can potentially expedite the divorce process (down to 90 days), they often lead to more contention between spouses.

If you have been the victim of domestic or substance abuse, it is even more imporant you hire an attorney who has experience and knows how to advocate for you and your child custody case.

A no-fault divorce, based on separation, may be a more amicable option for couples who have already decided to end the marriage.

What Is The First Thing To Do When Separating?

While there’s no single “first step” that applies to every separation, prioritizing clear communication and protecting your well-being are crucial. Here’s a good starting point for divorce preparations:

  1. Secure Important Documents: Gather copies of essential documents like financial statements, account information, and proof of income. This will be helpful for future legal or financial decisions.
  2. Consider Legal Guidance: Consulting with a family law attorney can provide invaluable support throughout the separation process. They can advise you on your legal rights and help navigate custody arrangements, child support, and property division.
  3. Prioritize Communication: Establish clear communication channels with your soon-to-be ex. Discuss how you’ll handle finances, co-parenting logistics if you have children, and dividing household responsibilities during this transition period.
  4. Focus on Self-Care: Separation can be emotionally draining. Prioritize your well-being by creating a support system of friends, family, or a therapist. Taking care of yourself will allow you to navigate this challenging time with greater strength and clarity.

Spouses on a coach, contemplating separation and divorce

Decide What Kind of Divorce Process You Want

You might not know this, but you have options. You may decide on an undisputed or contested divorce. In divorce disputes, the case has its decisions taken by courts. With contested divorce, you agree to redress any issues related to the divorce if they have contested your divorce.

Uncontested divorces can be less stressful, less costly and can lead to an outcome that makes the whole family happier. An unconstested divorce is less costly, but may not be the right choice for those with lots of assets and children.

In South Carolina, mediation is a mandatory step before a divorce or child custody case proceeds to trial, emphasizing its importance in resolving disputes amicably.

What To Do If You Anticipate High-Conflict Divorce Proceedings

Building on the insights from our previous post, “Overcome Emotional Turmoil: 10 Essential Tips for Surviving a High-Conflict Divorce“, navigating a high-conflict divorce requires a strategic approach.

Personality disorders and a history of abuse are strong indicators of a potentially difficult split. Understanding of what’s to come and what to do can help you prepare for the challenges ahead.

Here are 10 tips:

  1. Understand you cannot control your ex, only yourself
  2. Set boundaries with high-conflict personalities
  3. Limit how much contact you have with your ex
  4. Communicate as much as possible via writing and keep a written record
  5. Don’t react if your ex tries to bait you
  6. Turn to law enforcement if necessary
  7. Keep your children out of disputes during a high-conflict divorce
  8. Find the right support network
  9. Channel your energy into positive activities
  10. Enlist the help of a therapist for added support

Divorce Preparations for an anticipated HIgh-Confilct divorce includes putting physical space between soon to be ex-spouses

Divorce Preparations Includes Gathering Paperwork

Before talking with a divorce attorney, start gathering relevant paperwork aka all important documents you might have access to.

Make copies of your mortgage statements, credit card statements, tax bills, tax returns, credit card bills, medical bills, investment accounts, your passport and driver’s license, utility bills, social security card, insurance policies, credit report, rent or mortgage costs, you will need copies of any and all financial statements to get the legal process of divorce started.

Make copies of everything you can think of including pay stubs and your spouse’s income information. Need a divorce checklist? Click here.

Identify Your Personal Property and Marital Assets

The next step of divorce preparations include identifying and writing down your personal property and shared assets and marital property. That includes the marital home, a second (vacation) home, a few cars, a pension, marital debt, bank accounts, savings accounts, joint accounts and 401K.

Write it all down so that when your divorce lawyers needs that info, it’s handy and at the ready.

Organize Your Legal Documents for Divorce Preparations

Label and organize everything you’ve gathered and made copies of. You’ll be surprised how much paperwork goes into divorce proceedings.

Your divorce lawyer needs a clear picture of your financial situation to work with you for a positive outcome.

Withholding important information from your family law attorneys is not a good idea as it might actually hurt you in the end.

Stack of organized divorce paperwork

How Do I Prepare Financially for a Divorce?

Facing divorce can be emotionally overwhelming, but taking control of your finances can ease some of the burden. Besides gathering financial documents, here are some key steps to get you started:

  • Understand Your Budget: Track your income and expenses to understand your current financial situation. Knowing where your money goes will be crucial for creating a budget for your future as a single person.
  • Separate Accounts: If you have joint bank accounts or credit cards, consider establishing separate accounts to manage your individual finances going forward.
  • Consult a Financial Advisor: A financial advisor can provide guidance on dividing marital assets, planning for future expenses, and adjusting your investments or retirement plans to reflect your new financial reality.
  • Be Prepared for Short-Term Expenses: Divorce can incur legal fees and other unexpected costs. Set aside emergency funds to cover these expenses and avoid financial hardship during the separation process.

Who Loses More Financially in a Divorce?

There’s no simple answer to who loses more financially in a divorce. The impact can vary significantly depending on several factors, including:

  • Pre-Divorce Income: The spouse with the lower pre-divorce income may experience a steeper decline in their standard of living, especially if they were a stay-at-home parent.
  • Custody Arrangements: Child support payments can ease the financial burden for the primary caregiver, while the supporting parent may see a decrease in disposable income.
  • Asset Division: The division of marital assets, like property and retirement accounts, can significantly impact both parties’ financial security.
  • Spousal Support: In some cases, alimony payments awarded to one spouse can offset some of the financial strain.

Studies suggest that women, especially those who were homemakers during the marriage, might face a greater initial financial hardship.

However, both spouses can experience financial difficulties during and after divorce.

The key is to prioritize open communication with your ex-partner or a mediator, alongside consulting a financial advisor, to ensure a fair and sustainable financial future for both parties.

Calculator and paperwork - part of Divorce Preparations

Choose Your Divorce Lawyer and Divorce Team

Select carefully trusted people for your divorce process. A divorce team may comprise the mediators of a judge, financial planner, forensic accountant, psychologist for assessment of child custody issues, a guardian ad litem and a trustworthy divorce attorney.

Navigating a divorce is an important task. Make the best team for the success.

To build this team, start by selecting the best divorce lawyer for your case.

Questions to Ask Your Divorce Lawyer in the First Consultation

In your first divorce consultation, you need to feel heard and feel comfortable with that individual.

Bring the following list of questions to ask your potential divorce lawyer and decide based on the answers you receive.

  1. What is your experience in handling divorce cases in South Carolina*?
  2. What is the likely timeline for my divorce proceedings after this initial divorce consultation?
  3. What are the grounds for divorce in South Carolina*?
  4. How will property division be handled in my divorce?
  5. What are my rights and obligations concerning alimony (spousal support)?
  6. What are the possible expenses I might incur during the divorce process, starting with this divorce consultation?
  7. Are there any additional legal actions that would be appropriate in my case?
  8. How should I protect my digital assets and maintain my privacy during the divorce?
  9. How can I ensure a smooth and efficient divorce procedure?
  10. How will our communication and updates be handled during the divorce process?
  11. What plan of action can be used to achieve my desired outcome?
  12. Are there any possible challenges or obstacles you see that I should be aware of?*If you do not live in South Carolina, insert the name of the state you live in!

Divorce Preparations: What Will Your Divorce Cost?

Knowing the potential cost of your divorce upfront can help with budgeting and navigating the process with more peace of mind. Here’s a breakdown of some factors to consider:

  • Filing Fees: Every divorce requires a filing fee, usually around $150.
  • Lawyer Fees: Attorney’s fees are a major expense. Hourly rates can vary significantly, but expect them to range from $200 to over $500 per hour. The complexity of your case and the lawyer’s experience will determine the total cost.
  • Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce: Uncontested divorces, where both parties agree on everything, are much cheaper. Contested divorces involve court hearings, potentially requiring additional filings and increasing the lawyer’s workload.
  • Experts and Witnesses: Depending on your situation, you might need experts like appraisers or mental health professionals. Depositions, involving witness testimonies and court reporters, can also add to the cost.
  • Mediation: South Carolina mandates mediation in most divorce cases. Factor in the mediation fees when estimating the overall cost.

By considering these elements and discussing them with a lawyer, you can get a clearer picture of the potential cost of your divorce in South Carolina. Always ask your atoney what their estimated attorney’s fees will be.

What to Expect: Child Support

If you have children, child support will be a factor in your South Carolina divorce. Both parents share the financial responsibility for their children, and the court uses a specific formula to determine the amount.

South Carolina follows the income shares model, aiming to ensure the child receives a proportional share of each parent’s income, similar to what they would get if the parents were together.

Here’s what the South Carolina court considers when calculating child support:

  • The number of children
  • Child custody arrangements
  • Each parent’s gross income
  • Any alimony paid between the parents
  • Existing child support or alimony obligations from other relationships
  • The number of other children in each parent’s household
  • Additional expenses like children’s health insurance, extraordinary medical costs, and work-related childcare costs

The Department of Social Services provides child support guidelines, accessible through their child support calculator: link to calculator.

These guidelines are a good starting point, but they may not apply in cases with very high incomes (over $30,000 per month) or a large number of children (more than 6).

Consulting a lawyer experienced in child support calculations is recommended for these situations and for personalized advice on your specific case.

What to Expect: Child Custody

Determining child custody arrangements is a crucial aspect of divorce involving children in South Carolina.

Some key factors to consider include:

  • Jurisdiction: The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) establishes the “home state” where a child custody case can be filed. This is typically the state where the child has lived for the past 6 months. Courts in other states generally won’t have jurisdiction unless the home state releases it.
  • Best Interests of the Child: South Carolina law prioritizes the child’s well-being in determining custody. The court considers 17 factors, including the child’s needs, parents’ capacity to meet those needs, existing relationships, stability of living environments, and mental and physical health of all involved.
  • Mental Health: Mental health can be a factor, but a diagnosis alone doesn’t disqualify a parent from custody. The court considers the severity, treatment received, and the impact on parenting ability. Mental health professionals’ evaluations may be relevant.

Important to Note:

  • Agreements on jurisdiction outside the home state are not valid.
  • Mental health evaluations in custody cases can be expensive.

Divorce Preparations: What to Expect of Alimony

Alimony, also known as spousal support, is a financial arrangement between divorcing spouses in South Carolina.

It’s designed to provide ongoing support for the spouse with less financial means. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect:

  • Types of Alimony:
    • Permanent Periodic Alimony: Regular monthly payments, typically awarded in long marriages. It terminates upon remarriage or death of either spouse.
    • Lump Sum Alimony: A one-time or fixed-term payment, not modifiable based on changing circumstances.
    • Rehabilitative Alimony: A finite amount to help a spouse gain financial independence. It can be modified and terminates upon remarriage, death, or certain other events.
    • Reimbursement Alimony: Reimburses one spouse for financial contributions made during the marriage. It’s a fixed sum, unaffected by changes in finances.
    • Temporary Alimony (Spousal Support): Provides support while spouses are separated but still married.
  • Factors Affecting Alimony Awards:
    • Length of marriage
    • Age and health of each spouse
    • Education and earning potential
    • Standard of living enjoyed during the marriage
    • Current and anticipated income of both spouses
    • Marital misconduct
    • Property division
    • Child custody arrangements
    • Tax implications
    • Prior support obligations
  • Duration of Alimony: There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Permanent alimony can last indefinitely, but usually ends upon remarriage or death of a spouse. Rehabilitative alimony has a set duration. Lump sum and reimbursement alimony are one-time payments. Generally, the longer the marriage, the longer alimony payments might last.
  • Who Can Get Alimony?
    Either spouse can be awarded alimony, depending on the factors listed above.
  • Calculating Alimony Amounts:
    There’s no set formula. Judges have discretion based on the specific circumstances of each case. Some methods used for estimating alimony include maintaining the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, the “York” alimony formula (used for shorter marriages or similar incomes), and the equalization of income method.

Remember, an experienced divorce lawyer can help you navigate alimony issues and ensure a fair outcome in your South Carolina divorce.

envelop with alimony money

Preparing Kids for an Impending Divorce

Divorce can be difficult for children to understand and cope with. While you are busy with divorce preparations, they might be scared, sad, and angry, too.

Ways to help prepare your kids for an impending divorce include:

  • Be honest and upfront with your children. Let them know what’s going on in a way that is age-appropriate.
  • Reassure your children that they are loved by both parents. This is important to emphasize throughout the divorce process.
  • Avoid putting your children in the middle of your conflict with your spouse. Don’t badmouth your ex in front of your children.
  • Create a stable and predictable routine for your children. As much as possible, try to maintain their regular activities and schedules.
  • Let your children know that it’s okay to express their emotions. They may feel sad, angry, or confused. Be there for them and listen to their concerns.
  • Seek professional help for your children if needed. A therapist can help them cope with the changes that are happening in their lives.

divorced man in a therapy session

Taking Care of Your Mental Health When In the Middle of Divorce Preparations

Going through a divorce can be stressful and take a toll on your mental health.

These tips might help you cope:

  • Find a support network and support group: Having a group of people supporting you during a divorce can be helpful. This could include friends, a family member, clergy members, or a therapist. Joining a divorce support group with peers who are going through the same process can be quite helpful, too.
  • Channel your energy into positive activities: Taking care of yourself is important during a divorce. Make time for activities that you enjoy and that help you relax, such as exercise, spending time in nature, or hobbies.
  • Enlist the help of a therapist: A therapist can provide support and guidance as you cope with the emotional challenges adn deep pain of divorce.
  • Limit contact with your ex as much as possible: If you have a high-conflict spouse, limiting contact with them can help to reduce stress. If you have to communicate, try to do so in writing or through a co-parenting app.
  • Don’t react if your ex tries to bait you: A high-conflict spouse may try to provoke you into an argument. The best way to deal with this is to stay calm and not react.
  • Keep your children out of disputes: Don’t put your children in the middle of your conflict with your ex.

finding a new place to live after divorce

Finding a New Place to Live

This is also a time to start thinking about where you will live during divorce preparations, divorce proceedings, and after your divorce is final as you will need to set up separate households and separate bank accounts, going forward.

Whether you expect an amicable divorce or a high-conflict divorce, it’s important you have a place of your own, away from the marital home where you feel safe during divorce negotiations, away from your soon-to-be ex-spouse and former spouse.

You will need to create a monthly budget with your attorney based on an estimation of your future income, including alimony and child support payments.

schedule a consultation

How Long Will Divorce Preparations Take?

Divorce preparations can take weeks to months. It depends on what you need to gather, whom you choose as a divorce attorney, and how cooperative your spouse is.

The legal process of divorce is bound by the law, which differs from state to state. As you prepare for divorce, prepare for extension and added time. The legal process usually takes more time than expected.

What Not To Do When Going Through a Divorce

Divorce can be an emotional time and it can be tempting to lash out at your ex-spouse or try to win at all costs.

Avoid doing these things during your divorce:

  • Don’t speak negatively about your ex to your children. This can put your children in a difficult position and damage their relationship with their other parent.
  • Don’t try to hide assets or income. This will only hurt you in the long run when it comes to dividing marital property.
  • Don’t drag out the negotiation process. This will only increase your legal fees and make it more difficult to move on with your life.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you agree to a certain settlement, be sure you can follow through.
  • Don’t represent yourself in court. Divorce law is complex and it’s important to have an experienced attorney on your side.
  • Don’t assume your spouse is out to get you. Most people just want a fair settlement and to move on with their lives.
  • Don’t focus on revenge. The goal of divorce is to resolve your legal and financial issues, not to punish your ex-spouse.
  • Don’t be afraid to compromise. There is no such thing as a “perfect” divorce settlement. Be prepared to give and take in order to reach an agreement.
  • Don’t forget about your own well-being. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally during this difficult time.
  • Don’t start dating during divorce proceedings. This might cost you dearly. Listen to your lawyer for the best advice on dating during divorce.
  • Don’t post to social media! Be sure to not post anything on social media that can and will be used against you in court!
  • Don’t empty your joined bank account. Do start your own separate bank account, but don’t shut your spouse out of a joined bank account.

Sad child whose parents are going through a divorce

Will You Need a Forensic Accountant?

While not necessary for every divorce, a forensic accountant can be a valuable asset in uncovering hidden finances during the discovery process and divorce preparations and ensuring a fair settlement, particularly in complex situations.

Some factors to consider include:

  • High-Asset Divorce: If you or your spouse have significant assets, such as a business, investment accounts, or valuable real estate, a forensic accountant can help value these assets and ensure an equitable division of marital property.
  • Suspected Hidden Assets or Debt: If you suspect your spouse is hiding assets or debt, a forensic accountant can investigate financial records to uncover discrepancies and hidden accounts.
  • Business Ownership: If you or your spouse own a business, a forensic accountant can value the business and determine its financial health, which can be crucial for dividing marital assets and determining spousal support.
  • Alimony or Child Support: When determining alimony or child support, a forensic accountant can analyze income and expenses to ensure accurate calculations. This is especially important in situations with complex finances or significant income fluctuations.
  • Equitable Distribution: South Carolina is an equitable distribution state, meaning marital property is divided fairly but not necessarily equally. A forensic accountant can help ensure you have a complete understanding of the marital estate’s value for a fair settlement.

Will You Need a Guardian Ad Litem?

While a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is not involved in every custody case, their role is crucial in ensuring the child’s best interests are represented in court.

Here’s a breakdown of when a GAL might be appointed:

  • When the Court Needs More Information: If the judge feels they lack sufficient information to make an informed decision about custody or visitation, a GAL can investigate and provide a neutral perspective on the child’s situation.
  • High Conflict Custody Cases: In particularly contentious custody battles, a GAL can help ensure the child’s voice is heard and their needs are prioritized amidst the conflict.
  • Parental Agreement: Even if both parents agree to a GAL, the court can still appoint one if deemed necessary to protect the child’s best interests.

Don’t Miss Meetings or Court Hearings

Showing up for meetings and court hearings is crucial throughout your divorce proceedings. Here’s why:

  • Represents Respect for the Court: Your attendance demonstrates respect for the legal process and the judge presiding over your case. Missing court can negatively impact how the judge views you and your case.
  • Protects Your Rights: Divorce settlements address critical issues like child custody, child support, and asset division. Being absent from hearings can prevent you from presenting your arguments and could result in an unfavorable outcome.
  • Avoids Delays: Unexcused absences can lead to postponements, extending the overall timeline and potentially increasing legal fees.
  • Maintains Control: Active participation allows you to advocate for your best interests and influence the final decisions. Your presence ensures your voice is heard throughout the process.

If unavoidable circumstances prevent you from attending a scheduled meeting or hearing, immediately contact your attorney to explain the situation and discuss possible solutions, such as rescheduling or presenting your case remotely.

Family court judge with a gavel

Setting Up for Success as Co-Parents After Divorce

Divorce can be a difficult and emotional experience, especially for children caught in the middle. But even though you and your ex-spouse are no longer romantically involved, you can still work together to raise your children in a healthy and supportive environment.

Here are some key strategies for setting yourselves up for success as co-parents during divorce preparations:

  • Open Communication: Effective communication is the cornerstone of successful co-parenting. Establish clear guidelines about how you will communicate with each other, be it through email, text messages, or a co-parenting app. Keep your messages focused on the children and avoid bringing up past issues.
  • Develop a Parenting Plan: A well-defined parenting plan creates a roadmap for decision-making and reduces conflict. The plan should outline custody arrangements, visitation schedules, and how you will handle shared responsibilities like schooling, extracurricular activities, and healthcare.
  • Minimize Conflict: Children are perceptive and can easily pick up on tension between their parents. Focus on resolving disagreements amicably, and prioritize the well-being of your children above your own differences. If communication breaks down entirely, consider seeking mediation or co-parenting counseling.
  • Consistency is Key: Children thrive on routine. Try to maintain consistent rules, discipline approaches, and expectations between your households. This will provide your children with a sense of stability and security.
  • Celebrate Milestones Together: Even though you’re divorced, you can still celebrate your children’s milestones together. Attend school performances, graduations, or other special events as a united front. This shows your children that both parents are still actively involved in their lives.
  • Respect Each Other’s Parenting Styles: You and your ex may have different parenting approaches. Respect these differences and avoid criticizing each other’s methods in front of the children.

Setting Boundaries for Visitation

While a parenting plan outlines the general framework for summer visitation, establishing clear boundaries during divorce preparations can ensure a smoother experience for everyone involved. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Communication is Key: Discuss any planned vacations or schedule changes well in advance with your co-parent. This allows them to adjust their schedules and mentally prepare for the change in routine.
  • Be Specific: Clearly define drop-off and pick-up times and locations. This eliminates confusion and avoids unnecessary delays or arguments.
  • Respect Each Other’s Space: If your child will be staying overnight at your ex’s place, establish boundaries regarding phone calls, bedtime routines, and access to electronics.
  • Maintain Consistency: As much as possible, try to maintain consistent rules and expectations between households. This provides a sense of stability for your child.
  • Limit Overscheduling: Children need downtime to relax and recharge. Avoid overscheduling their summer with activities and outings.

Parent with young child during a scheduled visitation.

Once Your Divorce is Final, Update Your Will and Power of Attorney

Finalizing a divorce is a significant life change, and your estate plan should reflect your new reality. This includes updating your will and power of attorney documents.

Will: Your ex-spouse may have been named as a beneficiary in your previous will. After a divorce, you’ll want to ensure your assets are distributed according to your current wishes. This might involve naming new beneficiaries, such as your children or another trusted loved one.

Power of Attorney: This legal document grants another person the authority to make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. If your ex-spouse was previously designated in this role, it’s crucial to update the power of attorney to appoint someone you trust entirely, especially if you have minor children. This ensures your wishes are carried out and your children are cared for according to your preferences in the event of your incapacitation.

Connect with the Family Law Attorneys at Dell Family Law

If you are unsure about how to proceed with your divorce preparations, or if you are ready to meet with a family law attorney, consider contacting us at Dell Family Law. We can navigate you through this process of divorce from start to finish. Reach out for a consult.