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7 Things You Should Know Before Filing for Divorce

Even if you think it will be amicable

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wedding cake topper of couple with shadow showing couple separate
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Chances are high that you’re in a dark place if you’re considering filing for divorce. It can be such a strange and excruciating purgatory to navigate, right? On one hand you know you want out of the marriage, but on the other you aren’t sure how to muster enough courage to end the relationship.

When I reflect on my own journey, I was full of excuses. I’d tell myself I would absolutely file on this far away date because then the holidays would be over, or my son’s birthday would be behind us and on and on. I’d dig up any reason to kick the inevitable down the road. The truth was that I was terrified of what it would do to my kids and to my own warped sense of normalcy. I didn’t want to be selfish at a time when selfishness was the only thing that could have saved me.

Once I finally marched my no-lawyer-having ass to the courthouse and filed the papers I filled out on my own, I justknewthe hardest part was over. I did it! Bring on the divorce! I was 100 percent sure my now-ex would not contest my filing because he constantly made it a point to tell me he wouldn’t fight me should I ever decide to call it quits. His actual quote was, “I’ll sign whatever you put in front of me.” Well, nothing could have been further from the truth.

Here, ladies, is the list I wish I had been given the moment I knew I was headed for divorce. It’s important to note that I was the breadwinner in my marriage and carried the entire financial burden in our joined lives. These are the lessons I had to learn the hard way. Take note and take charge. You got this.

Whose house? Not yours.
Well, not yours alone. For some reason it never occurred to me that I would have to split ownership of my house when I was the only one on the mortgage and the only one making monthly payments. It’s generally marital property if it was acquired during the marriage. And that means you both have an equal financial stake in the house. Period. You, your friends and your loved ones will be outraged by this fact. But trust me, the judge doesn’t care about the long explanation you’re about to conjure up that will probably start with, “But I don’t think you understand …”. The judge understands the law. And you have to face reality.

Hurt people are unpredictable.
Listen, you don’t really know your soon to be ex-spouse until they are faced with a divorce they don’t think they want. Or, maybe in your situation, the other party is fine with getting divorced, but they’re really angry with you. Whatever the case, don’t ever assume the person you loved and built a life with will continue to have your back and will look out for your best interests. Assume they want everything they can get and be prepared for that battle. The process will be a lot more manageable if you start from that place. And know that every fight won’t land in your favor. You will have to compromisea lot. Keep that in mind and, hopefully, your ex will surprise you and decide not to pursue half of your 401(k).

Prepare to pay.
The facts are simple. The person who made the most money during the relationship may be required to pay alimony. It’s all about maintaining the status quo. So if you were responsible for the bills while you were married, be prepared to make monthly payments to your ex once it’s all over. It doesn’t matter if you are living check to check, have custody of the children and are drowning in crippling debt. You may still have to pay alimony. Your ex could, of course, decide not to put a financial strain on you and decline any alimony request. But please refer to No. 2 on this list.

Get a lawyer.
I can’t stress this enough. You can’t do this on your own. So do what you have to do and get a good attorney. You might need to take out a loan to make the payments (you can easily spend over 20 grand on a standard, contested case), but please figure it out. Not only will you have a million questions, but you will also need someone who is fluent in legalese fighting on your behalf.

It takes way too long.
I don’t know why, but you can lose a year just exchanging all of the paperwork and handling all of the early court appointments. As much as you’ll want to tie everything up quickly because it’s pricey and you’re justover it, try not to rush too much. You could end up with the short end of the stick just because you can’t wait to start living your single life.

You will feel vulnerable.
There is no way around this. Too many strangers will have access to your most personal and private information. They will go through your finances and relationship dynamics with a fine-toothed comb. They will ask a million questions about your kids and what their lives are like. It’s exhausting and it sucks, especially if you aren’t big on oversharing. Just take several deep breaths and keep it moving.

It gets better.
The good news is that it will be over one day. You will get that document with the golden seal that says you are divorced. Some people cry over the finality of it all. Others dance with joy in celebration of their newfound freedom. No matter how you choose to face your new reality, please believe your life is just getting started. You have so much to discover about yourself. Plus, you just handled a grueling divorce like a champ. Now it’s time to show the world what a winner looks like.