[author: Catherine Bechtel]
Can this relationship be saved? Deciding whether there is no alternative left than divorce is a deeply personal question. Before you throw in the towel on a relationship, it’s worth seeking some professional advice. Often, by the time clients seek the advice of an attorney, they have made the decision to move on. However, family lawyers often see a person long before that decision is final. When exploring options, it is worth seeking the advice of a marriage counselor or therapist. Marriage counselors and therapists report that married couples wait five years too long to seek counseling intervention in a marriage that is beginning to unravel. Even if it is too late, or you have an unwilling partner, therapy or marriage counseling is an important resource to bridge the transition to divorce. Some therapists will advise how best to tell the children about the separation. A family lawyer can suggest ways to understand the finances, assess how child and spousal support would affect one’s standard of living after separation, explain child custody and visitation issues, and demystify the divorce process.
If divorce is inevitable, it is important to gather the information you will need to inform decision-making, and streamline the process. You will need financial documents and information before you file. If you have not been involved in the finances during the marriage, you might feel particularly vulnerable during this time. Gathering documents when you are both living in the same house is easier than after you are living separately. A solid understanding of the assets and support exposure requires the last five years of state and federal tax returns, with the supporting documents and schedules, insurance policies, bank statements for the previous year, stock option or RSU grant schedules and summaries, pay stubs, credit card and brokerage account statements. It is important to gather deeds on any real property, mortgage statements, property tax information, and the closing documents from the purchase or sale of real property.
If you have not decided if you want to stay in the family residence, it is best not to move out, assuming there is no history of domestic violence, and the situation remains calm, if not friendly. If you do not have an agreement for how you will share the visitation of any minor children, it is best to remain in the family home until a written agreement, or schedule can be worked out. This also allows time for parents to work together on a parenting plan, and to tell the children what the schedule will look like. If the discord between parents prevents this kind of communication, it may take court intervention to get temporary orders in place before one parent vacates the residence.
There is a wealth of reading material directed toward parents about sharing custody and visitation. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers prepared a pamphlet called “What Should We Tell the Children?... A Parent’s Guide for Talking About Separation and Divorce.” This recommended read offers advice about how best to deliver divorce news to very young children, grade-schoolers and adolescents. Resources for preschool children include Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide for Changing Families, by Marc Brown, of the Arthur cartoon series, and his wife Laurene. Grade-schoolers might be comforted by My Parents Are Divorced, Too: A Book for Kids by Kids, by Annie Ford, Stephen Ford and Melanie Ford.