You’ve wrestled with the idea of divorce for a long time. At first, it was just a quiet voice in the back of your head – barely a whisper: “This isn’t right… Things aught to be different.” The voice and thought were easily dismissed. Then, as time went by, that whisper became stronger: “I shouldn’t have to act this way in my marriage… What can I do?” You attempted to fix things as best you could but nothing worked. What can you do?
Deciding whether or not to leave your spouse is a big decision. Knowing what to expect in the divorce process can help you decide. If you have already made the decision or if you are still contemplating what to do, the list below can help you prepare to leave your spouse.
1. Seek Guidance and Support
Speak with Friends
If you have not already, speak with a few of your close, trusted friends and family members. These people know you the best. You should be able to lean on them for advice and support during this difficult time. If you do not have anyone close to talk to, consider speaking with a professional.
Speak with Professionals
There are a number of professionals who can provide you with objective advice. A pastor or preacher can give you spiritual advice. A therapist can help you process your feelings and clarify your thoughts. A divorce attorney can advise you on your legal rights and devise a strategy for separation. Even if you do not want a separation right now, knowing your rights if the marriage does fail will give you peace of mind.
2. Gather Information
Gather as many financial documents as you can. Once you leave, it will be harder to access these documents. Important documents include: tax returns, W-2s, pay stubs, bank statements, retirement/investment account statements, life insurance policies, credit card statements, and loan and mortgage statements. It’s also important to keep a copy of your most recent bills, including: medical, insurance, utilities, child care and other child related expenses.
Set Aside Money
Divorce is expensive. If you are dependent upon your spouse for financial support, consider setting aside money over time to cover at least one or two months without his or her support.
Additionally, if the two of you share joint checking or savings accounts, you are entitled to half of the funds in the account. Depending on the facts of the case, sometimes we advise dependent spouses to remove half of the funds before they tell their spouse they are leaving. It may seem underhanded but, in cases where it does not seem the supporting spouse will continue providing support once the dependent spouse breaks the news, it can be necessary.
Run a Credit Report
When separating, it is important to make sure a credit card or other loan has not been opened in your name without you knowing. Experian, Equifax, and Transunion all offer free credit reports annually. Follow the links provided to start the process.
Make Sure You Are Not Being Spied On
Spyware for computers and phones has made it easier than ever to spy on other people. It is important to educate yourself on how to spot and prevent this type of harassment.
Create a Budget
Now, more than ever, it is important to create and stick to a financial budget. When you have finished gathering your financial documents, you should be able to see what you have spent your money on in recent months. Make sure to list all of your fixed monthly expenses (those expenses that do not change over time like rent, cell phone bill, internet, etc.). Once you have subtracted the fixed expenses from your income, you will be able to determine how much is left over to spend on variable expenses such as groceries and gas.
Consider Opening a Post Office Box
If you decide to speak with an attorney or open up a separate checking account, you may not want your spouse to know just yet. Even so, you may need to send communication or the bank statements to a physical address. A P.O. Box will allow you to maintain discretion until you are ready to discuss your plans openly with your spouse.
Decide Who Will Leave the Home
There are pros and cons to both staying in the home and leaving. Either way, someone will have to leave. In North Carolina, you can only file for divorce once the two of you have been physically separated for an entire year. Living in separate bedrooms does not count. If you decide to stay, there is always the chance your spouse will decide to stay as well. If that occurs you will need an attorney to either negotiate a separation agreement on your behalf or file a claim for “divorce from bed and board.”
Decide How You Will Handle the Children
Make a plan for child care, education and custodial arrangements. Will the children stay with you a majority of the time? Will you and your spouse share 50/50 custody? How will the children be transported to and from school and extracurriculars? How will visitation occur? How much money will you and your spouse need to contribute to financially support the children. Read our basics of child custody guide to find out how North Carolina courts handle child custody issues. Read our child support guide to find out how North Carolina courts handle child support issues.
Consider Discussing the Separation with Your Spouse
Depending on how you think your spouse will respond, it may be appropriate to discuss the issue of separation before you actually separate. It is better for everyone involved if you can separate as amicably as possible. If that is not possible, it is better to put your ducks in a row before discussing the issue. Try to plan how you will tell your spouse in advance to avoid as much conflict as possible. Find a close friend or family member and practice with them a couple of times. Listen to their feedback. Hopefully, they can help you be objective about what you are planning to say and how you will say it.
Open a Separate Bank Account
Open a separate bank account. If you receive your paycheck via direct deposit, make sure your employer knows when to begin depositing your paycheck into the new account.
Open a Separate Credit Card
As we said before, divorce is expensive. If you do not have a credit card in your sole name, it may be a good idea to open one now. To stay out of debt as much as possible, try to use your credit card sparingly and for emergency situations only.
Follow Your Plan
After all of this planning, there is only one thing left to do. It is time to follow your plan. You have thought about it long and hard so be confident and trust yourself. Let your spouse know what you are doing and then move forward.
Things will be rough for a while but they will get better. It is important to follow your plan and lean on your support system during this time. Do not be afraid to reach out for help and advice from your friends, family, attorney and therapist. There is life after divorce. We are here to help get you there.
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