Whether you’ve been thinking about divorce but haven’t made that final decision yet, or you’ve already decided you are absolutely getting a divorce, you may be asking yourself whether starting now – during the pandemic – is the right thing to do. While you shouldn’t rush to judgment just because your spouse may be annoying to you while you’re in such close proximity (we all have patience thresholds!), these are steps you can take now to help you decide when the time is right.
Here’s what we suggest:
Jot down some bullet points (in private, under lock and key) to help you sort through what you feel and what you know. Why do you want a divorce? What are your specific concerns? What behaviors are triggering your decision? How will your life — and if you have children, their lives — be affected by divorce?
No one should make a life-changing decision based on abnormal conditions, so ask yourself these questions based on home life as usual, not this atypical up-close-and-personal time you’re experiencing now. However, if your current situation has led to your witnessing unacceptable behaviors toward your children or yourself, you may feel validation of your contemplation of divorce. [NOTE: If at any time you feel you may be in physical danger by staying with your partner, seek help immediately. Search online for local domestic-abuse resources or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233).]
On the other hand, you may be seeing the best in your spouse during this time and wondering if some counseling and collaboration might help you find common ground to rebuild your relationship. If you think that reconciliation is a possibility, follow your heart. Sometimes hitting “PAUSE” helps couples see a better path forward for their relationship.
Whatever your ultimate decision, here are some steps you can take now:
Take notes and gather documents
Begin documenting you and your partner’s schedules, financial considerations and other aspects of home life that may be important to custody and financial negotiations. What are the normal routines in your household? How much time does your spouse spend with the children during a traditional workweek, and what are the circumstances surrounding those shared experiences? Think through your lifestyle and expenses to get a good sense of what your life costs, charting out what monthly payments you have, how those payments are managed, how much cash is being used by everyone in the family, etc.
While you’re in this mindset, get a jump on compiling bank records, retirement and brokerage account statements, tax returns and other financial documents for the past three years. Save them on a thumb drive for ease of storage; you will need these as your divorce progresses.
This gathering process can be overwhelming, but you do not have to feel overwhelmed! Many spouses do not have access to this information and, if they have access, they may not know how to digest it. That is where a good family lawyer comes in who will walk you through this process.
Put privacy measures into place
Privacy is vital any time you are preparing for divorce, and especially now, as your spouse may have occasion to glance at materials on your desk or computer screen. Be aware of what is visible on your mobile devices, change your passwords if your spouse knows any of them, and make sure you’re not using a source that’s backed up to the cloud or a hard drive they can access. Keep your internet search history private, too.
Research and talk to some divorce attorneys in your geographical area
If you have a trusted friend who may be a resource (e.g., they have gone through their own divorce, they are a financial advisor or attorney), you can ask them for a referral. You also can search on LinkedIn or other media sources identifying attorneys in the area of matrimonial and family law. Assuming you can find a private place to talk, you even can begin interviewing attorneys. A good attorney — one who has your best interests in mind — will ask questions to make sure you’ve given your decision the careful consideration it merits. They will guide you through your initial decision-making and be thoughtful and measured in their approach.
It’s also a good idea to look for someone whose attitude mirrors your own. For example, if your goal is to minimize damage to your relationship and your family, then don’t choose an attorney who’s talking about how they’re going to “take ‘em for everything they’re worth.” Your lawyer should advocate on your behalf in the manner you prefer.
Set your vision for your post-divorce life
Think about what the other side of your divorce should look like. If you have kids, how do you picture co-parenting? You can literally vision-board your custody agreement. Also take a step back during the time when we are all quarantined at home and remind yourself not to micromanage your co-parent. As you move ahead with divorce proceedings you will need to prepare for the reality that your partner probably won’t do everything your way, and be ready to make peace with that.
However you envision your future, you can keep moving towards divorce — even now.