Making the decision to divorce is a difficult one. It is usually a months or years long process, and not something anyone takes lightly. And it’s a scary decision to make, even if ultimately it feels like the right one for you. How do we tell the children? How will I manage finances? How do we divide what we do have? What will we do with our debt? What about the house? Should I withdraw money from my 401K? How do I tell my spouse? Which issue do I address first?
They are all good questions and ones you need answers to. Here is my advice for how to get started once you have made the decision you want to divorce – or once you learn from your spouse that he or she wants a divorce:
- Take a deep breath. No, seriously. Take a deep breath. There are answers to all of these questions that you have. You have just made one of the most difficult decisions you will ever make in your life. It would be unwise to take any hasty actions that you will later regret.
- Educate yourself. We have an amazing tool at our fingertips – the internet. While we want to avoid self-diagnosing with the help of Dr. Google or becoming a lawyer overnight with one-size-fits-all forms on legal sites, the internet is still an amazing resource where you can find helpful information at any hour of the day or night. Use that resource to learn about different legal processes available to you and qualified attorneys that you might want to talk to.
- Consult with a divorce attorney before you take any action. I cannot stress this one enough. While the internet is a great place to start for the basic information, attorneys who focus specifically on family law matters will be able to advise you based on your family’s specific circumstances. It’s true that no two families are alike. Your family IS special, and you deserve advice that is specific to your family’s needs. A family law attorney can help you with how to tell your spouse, when and how to tell your children, and answer all of your questions about what happens with your financial estate during and after the divorce. Knowledge is power and relieves fear of the unknown that you may have had when you first made your decision.
- Find the right family law attorney for you. Sometimes people find the right lawyer on the first try. And sometimes it takes talking to two or three attorneys. A divorce will be one of the most significant events in your life and that of your children. You do not want to navigate the divorce process with someone you do not feel you trust completely. Make sure you find a lawyer that you connect with and who you feel confident has your needs and goals at the forefront of the process.
- Give strong consideration to using the Collaborative Divorce process. Sadly, some people have never heard of Collaborative Divorce and some family law attorneys don’t offer it to their clients. Collaborative Divorce is process that is defined in the Texas Family Code – every family law lawyer should be talking about it with their clients. But it also requires special training and not all divorce lawyers have that training. Collaborative Divorce is a process that by law does not involve the courthouse, hearings, or judges. Collaborative Divorce attorneys, sometimes with the assistance of jointly retained financial and parenting professionals, help divorcing couples to reach agreement on how to divide the financial estate and to create a parenting time schedule with their children. With this process, there are no public courtroom hearings and no guesswork about what a judge might do. It’s a process that is private, confidential, and the outcome is completely within the control of the divorcing couple.
Rhonda Cleaves is a family law attorney who has been Credentialed by Collaborative Divorce Texas. Although her clients primarily reside in Collin, Dallas, Denton, and Tarrant counties, Collaborative Divorce and video meetings allow her the opportunity to work with clients across the state of Texas. For more information, Rhonda can be reached at (972) 403-0333