What you need to know before filing for divorce


The decision to divorce is an emotional one. Sometimes one spouse has been considering a divorce for months, and sometimes the decision is made impulsively. Because emotionally charged situations can lead to irrational thinking, it is critical to stop and think through what a divorce involves.

As you prepare for taking that step, consider the following.

Be certain you want a divorce

In the heat a destructive argument or the discovery of a yet another lie, emotions can rage. This is not the time to decide that divorce is the only option. Do you both want the divorce? Have you worked with a counselor as a couple? By yourself? Have you made an effort to rekindle your relationship and work out the issues?

Be absolutely certain that you want to move forward before you approach your spouse. After you have served your spouse with divorce papers it can be difficult to reverse the decision, even if you’ve changed your mind. A divorce can be granted if just one spouse wants to end the marriage.

Finding an attorney

Before signing a retainer, meet with at least three divorce attorneys. Attorneys have varying levels of experience, fee structures and styles. Are you comfortable with the attorney’s style? The fees? Has the attorney been practicing family and divorce law for at least five years? If you aren’t sure where to turn for referrals, the local bar association can provide names of practicing attorneys.

Think about your financial picture

Your financial future cannot be determined until you have an accurate picture of your assets and debts. Before announcing your intensions of divorce, gather the financial documentation for all bank accounts, mortgages, insurance policies, car titles, loans, household bills and statements, prenuptial and postnuptial marital agreements, and online accounts. This is a very important step, especially if your spouse handles all financial matters; some spouses withhold information or make obtaining that information extremely difficult for their partner. Make copies of all documents and take them with you when you meet with an attorney.

Make necessary purchases or sales

In most states, once you file for divorce the judge will sign an order that prohibits you or your spouse from selling, buying or disposing of any marital property. After you file for divorce, plan to talk over any sale or purchase you believe is legitimate with your attorney for guidance on whether or not you are allowed to proceed.

Community property

Marital property refers to any property acquired during the marriage, including the marital home, cars, furniture, jewelry, furs, and household furnishings. Community property states, such as California, have laws that maintain assets acquired during the marriage are to be divided equally between both spouses. Prepare a list of all marital property, when it was acquired, and, if applicable, whose name appears on the deed or title.

Spousal support

Give thought to your financial needs and career goals. If you are the spouse who will be paying alimony, share with your attorney how paying the support will impact your financial picture.

Child custody and support

For many couples, custody issues lead to countless arguments. Determining which type of custody you seek at the beginning of your divorce will allow your lawyer to advocate effectively for your position. If you and your spouse can agree on a plan before heading to court, everyone will benefit, especially the children.

Both parents are responsible to care for their children. Child support payments, or contributions toward child support, are outlined in a court order or established between the parties in a written agreement.

Where will you live?

Do not move out before talking with your attorney. Where you live upon separation can affect whether or not you have the legal right to live in the marital home during the divorce.

You still are married

Even if you are living separately and you and your spouse consider the relationship to be over, you are still married. Do not begin dating. In some states you could end up paying your spouse for the money spent on an extra-marital affair.

Take care of yourself: mind, body and soul

The divorce process is exhausting. Your emotional stability will help you make smart decisions. Reach out to friends and family for support. Sign up for a yoga class or learn to meditate. Take a walk. Listen to soothing music. Attend an extra church service. Whatever the case, be kind to yourself as you rebuild your new life.

Guidance and compassion are key components of successfully navigating a divorce. Los Angeles family law attorneys at Fernandez & Karney offer a free consultation to help you understand your rights and the divorce process. To learn more visit or call (310) 945-2349.