Did your own divorce catch you completely off guard?
You might not have your life playing out before a global audience on Netflix, but here are some “first steps” you can take to get you through the immediate aftermath and onward towards a better future.
Here are the first 7 steps to you should take after being blindsided by divorce.
- 1. Speak with an attorney to learn your rights
- 2. Figure out where to live — which might mean staying put
- 3. Gather all important and records
- 4. Apply for your own credit card and start a separate bank account
- 5. Practice self-care
- 6. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family — but don’t take divorce advice from them!
- 7. If you want to attempt a reconciliation, suggest it!
1. Speak with an attorney to learn your rights
When you open the door to the surprise sight of a process server handing you divorce papers, it can feel like the floor is opening up to swallow you whole.
Often the most difficult part of an out-of-nowhere split is coping with the idea that while you were going about your marriage and everyday life, your spouse was plotting a divorce.
So, your first step: get yourself caught up to speed. You need to learn about divorce and your rights as soon as you can — and you need absolutely accurate information.
The best way to do this is to make a free consultation with a family law attorney.
You can explain your situation and ask all your questions, and get reliable answers about your finances, strategies, possible outcomes, and what you must do to protect yourself and your children.
There is no reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed of your situation. Family law attorneys have seen it all and have helped people in similar situations.
Knowing your rights and best options can feel like securing safe harbor in the storm. It is in your best interests to be informed.
2. Figure out where to live — which might mean staying put
Unless you are in an incredibly hostile situation or abuse is present, think twice before volunteering to move out of the marital home.
Just because your spouse has filed for divorce and/or has demanded that you leave, this does not mean you are obligated to move out.
Your house — even if your name is not on the mortgage — is your family home, and remaining there ensures that you continue to have frequent and continued contact with your kids.
Voluntarily leaving your children in the home with your spouse essentially tells the court you are content being the non-custodial parent.
Is this what you want? By staying in the home, you may be opening up more child custody options as your divorce moves forward.
By moving out, you are in a situation where you will need to pay rent on a new place and still be required to pay marital bills, such as covering a share of the mortgage.
Having to essentially pay “double the bills” each month can take a heavy financial toll at a time when you don’t need added financial stress.
Being in the home also means that you can ensure that your home remains in good shape and market-ready if you decide to sell.
If your situation with your spouse is so uncomfortable or if you are fighting so much that it is affecting your children, it may be in everyone’s best interests to come up with a different living arrangement.
If you do move out, it is important that you insist on a written, strong and detailed custody and parenting time plan so that there is no confusion when it comes to your time with your kids.
3. Gather all important and records
During a divorce, records and financial documents can be an important asset to use as evidence and as the basis for asset division, alimony and child support.
Here is a printable PDF of important records to gather. Some spouses may try to hide assets or funnel money out of joints accounts for their own financial gain.
Pulling your credit report and obtaining a minimum of one year in banking records can help you to more clearly see any unusual activity. Your lawyer can help you examine these.
Bonus tip: You can use the financial information you uncover — from utility bills to health care costs — to create a monthly budget for yourself. Working out your personal income and outgoings will also help you evaluate your need for alimony and child support.
4. Apply for your own credit card and start a separate bank account
Having a credit card your own name only is a good way to start building financial independence and good credit.
Your credit score matters: it can be really helpful if you’re looking to buy a home, car or just need extra financial aid to get back on your feet.
Likewise, start your own checking account and begin depositing your paychecks in it.
Before you touch money left in joint accounts, ask your attorney what the best step is. Some spouses decide to freeze joint accounts so that money can be divided fairly in the divorce.
5. Practice self-care
You had the rug pulled out from under you. It’s normal that you are feeling upset and stressed.
In the midst of what can feel like a very chaotic time, you need to make a pledge to yourself to get enough sleep, eat well, exercise and consider seeing a therapist.
Journaling your thoughts can be an excellent way to compartmentalize your thinking and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.
6. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family — but don’t take divorce advice from them!
Your friends and family are your lifeline for emotional support. But when it comes to divorce advice, you’re almost always better off passing.
For example, your best friend just got a divorce last year and is eager to tell you all the ins and out of the process.
Only problem? The friend lives in California, which has some very distinct and different divorce laws from New Jersey.
If your divorced friend lives in New Jersey, the advice still might be off, depending on the types of issues he/she dealt with versus those involved in your situation.
Family law can change dramatically from year to year so even the most well-meaning advice might already be outdated. Instead, rely on your inner circle for unconditional love — that’s what they are there for!
Bonus tip: When reaching out to friends and family, do so on a one-on-one basis. Resist the urge to post invectives against your spouse on social media — vitriolic and alienating posts can come back to haunt you in your divorce, and any social media post about your divorce compromises your privacy. Do your best to keep your divorce offline.
7. If you want to attempt a reconciliation, suggest it!
If you had a big blow out fight that ended in your spouse filing for divorce in the heat of the moment, give your spouse some time to cool off (and you cool off too) and then take a deep breath and have a conversation about whether a divorce is what you both truly want.
Often, when one spouse hurriedly files the other spouse is so shellshocked that they don’t speak up and say anything. You don’t want to look back years from now with regret.
Are there serious issues you need to work through, such as one of you cheated? It may be that instead of proceeding straight to divorce, you owe it to yourselves to try marriage counseling first to help you save your marriage.
Be prepared that your spouse may stick with their decision, and if that’s the case, you will need to find a way to accept it (counseling is good this too!). By law, one spouse disagreeing with the divorce will not stop the process from moving forward.
Also be aware that if your spouse filed legal papers, there is a court docket number attached to your case.
Should you reconcile, your spouse will need to file a motion to dismiss.