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Getting a Divorce: The Difficult First Steps

by Steve Fritsch on December 9, 2014

After going back and forth with your spouse, again and again, you have finally decided to get a divorce. It’s never an easy decision. But there comes a time when additional counseling probably won’t work, and the thought of staying together, for whatever reason, is unimaginable.

The first steps that you take after that can affect not just what happens during your divorce proceedings, but possibly for the rest of your life.

You First Need to Talk to an Attorney

This may sound like we are just pitching our services, but it’s true. Even speaking with an attorney early in the divorce process can help you start moving in the right direction. We offer free consultations for those who just have questions, are unsure they want to go through with it, or are seeking some guidance. We just want to help.

It doesn’t matter if you have decided to do an uncontested divorce, haggle with your spouse in court over property or child support, or maybe you just have not yet made up your mind. You need to sit down with a good attorney and get some good advice.

There is a lot of misinformation out there about proper court procedure in California to get a divorce. Some people think that spouses getting an uncontested divorce cannot disagree about anything, at anytime. Other people have the wrong impression of how the community property laws of California might affect their interest in the marital home.

Going to an attorney that is willing to listen to your unique situation can give you the best idea of how to move forward. Maybe you and your spouse should try an uncontested divorce, where a separation agreement showing that homes, cars, child support and even custody have been approved could be a real possibility.

In other instances, an attorney with experience in broader family law issues might suggest a different path if there has been significant domestic violence in the marriage.

Or maybe there has been infidelity or other deception in the marriage. It is not unusual for a spouse who has been deceptive during the marriage to try and present information or facts such as monthly wages or assets in a manner that is less than completely candid.

Most importantly, an attorney can guide you in the right direction that works best for your particular needs and circumstances.

Protect Yourself – Obtain a Copy of Financial Information Important to the Marriage

Whether you move forward with a contested or uncontested divorce, or even if you decide to step away from the divorce process, you need to protect yourself both physically and financially.

Every marriage is made up a variety of financial agreements, arrangements, contracts and circumstances. In most cases, any financial gain or improvement that occurs during a marriage in California is considered community property to be divided. Property obtained or purchased before marriage is typically separate property.

But sometimes the deeds, signatures and special documents that are proof of purchase and sale, or other documents can help to determine whether property is community or separate property.

So having copies of these documents can go a long way to helping you prove basic information about the assets and liability of both spouses. This helps you make certain that the final division of property is based upon the truth, and is fair to you. The documents that would be good to copy include:

  1. Tax returns for the last 5 years for both spouses.
  2. Bank account statements.
  3. Loan documents for house and other physical property owned (real estate).
  4. Copy of any loan application provided to a bank or other institution, which should show a list of assets and liabilities of at least one spouse, if not both.
  5. Copies of any will and/or trust documents.
  6. Proof of ownership documents of any other asset (boat, motorcycle, etc.)

If You Have Difficulty Resolving Important Issues with Your Spouse, Consider Going to a Mediator

A mediator is a trained professional that has been taught to use subtle, sensitive and supportive means to find common ground, and break down barriers between conflicting sides to have them reach mutually agreeable solutions.

Sometimes during divorce, it not easy for spouses to get out of a blaming mentality. It’s a natural reaction, because people that sometimes have devoted years and years to a commitment are just trying to understand how things went wrong, and easily throw blame away from themselves instead of accepting some of the responsibility.

And that‘s where a really effective mediator can be so instrumental. Slowly, they can reveal common goals that the spouses still have, and seek the little nuggets of agreement that exist within what often is a turbulent sea of anger and blinding denial.

Over time, a mediator can help to dissolve the negative feelings that can prevent spouses from moving along that necessary line, from point A to point B that allows them to rationally divide the assets and liabilities, custody and child support of the marriage without spending years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, fighting over a record collection.

Men Should Consider Going to Counseling

It’s just a fact that men typically don’t have the emotional support system that most women have. Really trying to dig deep and excavate core feelings about old relationships, new relationships and what went wrong are not the typical fodder heard with the guys in the garage, or during a halftime break in a division title football game.

So men should seriously consider going to counseling both before and during their divorce process has started. Problems like financial stress caused by supporting two households and alienation from kids that used to be “best buddies” can keep you up late into the evening, with no apparent solutions in sight.

Spouses on the way to being single again need to start talking about these problems, and keep an open mind to new references of understanding and agreement. Yes, it may take even months for small breakthroughs to occur.

But it can be heartwarming and strengthening to know that at the same time one relationship is ending, a stronger, more capable person who can better weather the emotional turmoil that this process can cause is coming out on the other side.

With These Steps Completed, You are Ready to Make the Big Decisions and Move Forward

Once these preliminary steps have been taken, the process of divorce will not probably seem so daunting.  Using common sense, along with the patient guidance of an attorney who suits your needs, your prospects of coming out of the divorce process standing on firm ground will be greatly improved.

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