How to Best Prepare for Your Divorce with a Divorce Planning Checklist
Written by: Megan Dell
Here’s how you know it’s time to start your divorce checklist:
You and your spouse are constantly arguing, with one of you sitting on the couch and the other standing, arms crossed. The room is cluttered and messy, with papers and toys strewn about.
The air smells stale and musty, with the scent of old food lingering from the kitchen. You’re shouting at each other, and your faces are red with anger.
You hope your children are really asleep instead of overhearing. You feel frustrated and exhausted, and it feels like you’ve been having the same fight for years, even after seeing a marriage counselor.
When the Time to Prepare for Divorce is Now
For many people, there comes a time when you just know your marriage cannot be saved and it might be time to prepare for divorce.
If that happens for you, divorce preparation can make the legal process move more smoothly and provide you with a sense of control desperately needed after feeling so lost during your marriage.
The Divorce Planning Checklist
Keep reading to learn how planning ahead can make divorce proceedings less stressful and more efficient.
Bookmark this page and use it as your Divorce Planning Checklist!
1) Start Keeping Secrets to Protect Your Divorce Plan
It is common to begin preparing for divorce without your spouse knowing. If that is your goal, then you may have to keep secrets as you develop your plan. If you are the victim of domestic violence, it is especially important that you can prepare for divorce without your spouse learning of your plans.
The three most common secrets spouses tend to keep when planning for divorce are:
- A new bank account where the spouse can start putting money, often to pay for their divorce attorney.
- A post office box where bank statements and other mail can be sent without the spouse’s knowledge.
- New passwords to prevent the spouse from accessing emails and other accounts. (It is always a good idea to change your passwords when getting divorced!)
It is also a good idea to consider what your social media accounts reveal about your life and whether you should restrict access to your posts as you prepare for divorce.
2) Save Proof of Your Claims to Prepare for Divorce
If you expect to have a contested divorce, it is a good idea to save proof of any facts relevant to your marriage. These can be your marriage license or, if you are alleging a common law marriage, other marriage documents.
If you are planning to seek a fault-based divorce or believe the Family Court should consider any history of domestic violence when making decisions about your case, it is necessary to collect evidence and relevant paperwork to help prove your claims. Preferably, these materials should be stored in multiple, digital locations your spouse does not have access to.
Because fault claims are often made early in the divorce process in South Carolina, you may need this proof sooner than you think (such as when preparing for a temporary hearing).
Additionally, if you have ever signed a prenuptial agreement or postnuptial agreement, you will need to have copies of those important documents too.
3) Identify Marital Assets and Debts & Obtain Records
One of the most useful steps you can take in divorce preparation is to identify all of your marital assets and debts. Part of dissolving a marriage includes having to divorce financially; the process can be more streamlined if you have detailed information about the marital estate. However, before you start making such a list, you should review the laws as related to property division in South Carolina.
If you own a marital home, then you will need copies of legal documents related to the marital property, such as the real estate titles, mortgages, and recent mortgage statements.
For financial assets, including joint accounts, you will need bank statements from savings accounts (including from savings accounts), statements from retirement accounts, copies of life insurance policies, and tax returns plus the relevant documents used to prepare the returns.
If you or your spouse own a business, then you will need the business’s financial records and relevant paperwork, including payroll records and financial statements.
To determine debts, having your credit report, credit card statements, copies of any promissory notes, medical bills, and any financial statements submitted when applying for a loan will be helpful.
You can use all of this information to create an asset and debt worksheet, either on your own or with the assistance of your divorce lawyer. Being prepared increases the likelihood you’ll have an uncontested divorce.
4) Consider Alimony: Do You Need It or Will You Be Required to Pay It?
South Carolina divorce laws related to alimony are different than most other states. Part of your divorce checklist should include reviewing the law that will apply to your own divorce. If you want to receive alimony, you should pay special attention to the limitations on dating while separated!
Because a determination of alimony is so fact-specific, you should also collect important paperwork related to spousal support and alimony, such as tax returns, pay stubs, and proof of regular expenses.
5) Understand Child Custody and Child Support as You Prepare for Divorce
Child custody is always determined based upon the best interests of the children. However, under South Carolina law, child custody arrangements frequently affect the calculation of child support.
To prepare for divorce, you should give serious thought to possible child custody results, including parenting or visitation schedules.
Regardless of how child custody is determined in your case, it is likely one spouse will pay child support and one spouse will receive child support. You should be prepared for that likelihood before you start the divorce process.
6) Figure Out Where You Will Live
Determining where you will live can be the most time-sensitive question to answer. Unless you are preparing to file for divorce on a fault ground, then you and your spouse will have to separate before you can file an action for separate support and maintenance before you can get an actual divorce.
Unless you can prove a fault ground, either you or your spouse will have to move out, and there is no way to force your spouse to be the one to move! So it may be necessary to find short-term housing so you can separate and then file an action in Family Court.
As far as long-term housing is concerned, if you and your spouse own a home, then you will need to decide whether you want, and are able, to keep the house and pay for the related expenses. Many spouses find the former marital property is too large and too expensive to maintain on their own.
If you do not plan to keep your marital home, then you must consider the costs associated with relocating and establishing a new residence. You will also need to decide whether to rent or buy a new residence. If you intend to buy a new property, then you will need to consider your credit report and history, your income, and how much a lender is likely to allow you to borrow.
7) Create A Budget: How Much Will Your New Life Cost?
To genuinely prepare for divorce, you must start evaluating how much your new life will cost and determining how you will pay for your expenses, both short-term and long-term. This kind of planning is extremely helpful because it can guide your priorities during the divorce proceedings.
You can find a budget worksheet online, or you can use the South Carolina financial declaration form as a starting point. Both you and your spouse will need to complete this form during the divorce process.
8) Emotional Support as You Prepare for Divorce
Dealing with divorce court is overwhelming, emotionally exhausting, and often a distraction from the more enjoyable parts of your life. Before you start the divorce process, you should establish a network of people who can provide emotional support that includes at least one family member and at least one trustworthy friend.
You should also consider whether you might benefit from seeing a therapist or counselor as you work to divorce emotionally from your spouse.
Ultimately, as you prepare for your post divorce life, you want to have a support system who can remind you of your goals and help you focus on what is most important.
9) Consider Hiring A Divorce Lawyer
As part of your divorce preparation checklist, you should consider whether to hire a lawyer to guide you through the legal process. Divorce proceedings are emotional, but you must be able to focus on the relevant law and persuading the Family Court to award relief consistent with your goals.
Family law attorneys are familiar with the legal process, and you can rely on their experience and skills to guide you. You can also seek an award of attorney’s fees from your spouse, which can help minimize your out-of-pocket expense.
Most lawyers experienced with divorce can help create a personalized “prepare for divorce checklist” with your specific goals in mind. Even if you expect to have an uncontested divorce, getting the advice of a divorce attorney can allow you to move forward with peace of mind.