5 Important Things to Do Before Informing Your Spouse You Want a Divorce

By: Melissa L. Exline, Esq.

The assumption is that you have fully evaluated your emotional state and you are sure, 100%, that you want a divorce.  If that is the case, and you know this is something you have on the horizon, it is better to take some steps before you actually have the very hard and realistic discussion about the fact that, yes, indeed, you are seeking a divorce.  These 5 things being done in advance can make a difference or prevent issues from cropping up in the divorce process:

1. Learn About the Ways to Get a Divorce:

You will want to know your options.  This requires you having an understanding about yourself and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse.  If you have the ability to get along, and you can agree that you don’t want to burn the marital estate down while trying to divorce (after all, that only makes lawyers more money and costs you money), then there are other ways.  This could include pre-litigation negotiation, mediation, or collaborative divorce to get you to a joint agreement before you even come close to the courthouse steps.  If, on the other hand, there is very little chance for amicable discussions, or a “grown up” way of handling things, then you may be forced into litigation in order to protect yourself.  The key here is doing some research online or attending a local workshop on divorce.

2. Know What You Have and What You Owe:

It comes up regularly – oh, that cash that was in the safe – it’s gone, and it has been gone for years (or so claims one spouse over the protests of the other).  Rather than relying on what you each think you know, go through the safe and have evidence of what is in there.  Take pictures, make copies of financial records (or download them all onto a thumb drive or other method of taking the information) and generally have an understanding of what is included in both the martial estate and the potential separate property claims of each side.  If you have debts, be aware of how extensive this is (i.e. tax debts, car payments, credit cards and 401(k) loans, to name just a few).  Make a detailed list and have the records to back this up for every asset and every debt for items in either party’s name and joint accounts.  Know which accounts are joint or not as well.  Indeed, a nice spreadsheet given to your lawyer is always a welcome organizational tool.

3. Think About What Custody Should Look Like:

First, be aware, in Nevada, the best parent is “both parents.” As such, sharing the custody 50/50 is the typical starting point unless there are significant issues.  Wanting more time, or even feeling like you have a decent case for more time, is often not enough.  There are a lot of sample schedules online to give you an idea on how to share your time with the children.  You must be ready for push back on your ideal choice and listen to the input of the other parent on why one schedule might not be as workable as you first thought.  Having a plan A and then be willing to go to plan B or even C, can make a world of difference.

4. Make a Budget:

Based on where you will be living, you need to make a plan on how much it will cost you to live.  This is extremely important and one of the things lawyers often spend time with clients going over.  If you have explored this in advance, it will save you money and time.  How much does your new house or apartment cost?  What is the deposit to get in?  Can you make it? Do you have enough for living there with your car payment, food expenses, insurance, utilities, phones, etc.?  Download a basic budget and have these numbers ready.  Bring this with you to your first meeting with your lawyer and have documents in your hands that back up the likely expenses you noted in your budget.

5. Consult an Experienced Family Law Attorney:

It helps to have a plan and discuss things that you think might come up after you inform your spouse that you want a divorce.  The attorney can make suggestions and go over things you find worrisome.  Moreover, the attorney can address things with you that you might have missed when doing steps 1-5 above.  Do research on your lawyer options and it cannot hurt to meet with more than one.  It can seem expensive but having a good fit with your personality is important in this process and rushing in with the first name suggested to you could be something that does not work for you down the road.  Overall, get good advice on your financial situation and custody options and explore your child support or alimony options.  Having information helps you make better decisions.

If you are looking at telling your spouse you want a divorce, don’t just jump right in and hope all the information gathering works out after-the-fact.  This is a big deal.  Your children’s lives and your financial well-being are at stake.  Take some time to make sure you are prepared before jumping head-first into the deep waters of divorce.

Kimberly Surratt served for eight years on the executive council and has been the vice chair and then chair of the State Bar of Nevada Family Law Section. In addition, she is the President-Elect of the Nevada Justice Association and the chair of the domestic lobbying committee. She has lobbied with the Nevada Justice Association since 2004.

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