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So You've Decided to Divorce.  Now What?  How Do You Prepare?

The decision of whether to file for divorce is a difficult one.  However, once the decision is made, it only leads to more questions-- such as, "How do I prepare?"  


From the time your spouse is served with the summons and petition for divorce to the time you appear in court for a temporary orders hearing can be a very difficult and awkward period.   This is especially true if you and your spouse are still living together.   This short article will address some of the more pressing questions, and it will offer some practical strategies you may employ prior to the filing of the divorce.


Gain control of your finances.   If you and your spouse have joint bank accounts, you should quietly open and fund an invidual checking account.  Above all, be fair and reasonable to your spouse in this process.  Do not "clean out" the joint accounts. A good rule of thumb is to take half of what is in the account.  So we are clear on this point, you will later be required to file a financial declaration form with the court, and you are required to disclose all assets.  Likewise, during the course of the divorce proceedings, the court will divide equally all marital assets, including bank accounts.  Thus, simply because you remove money from a joint account does not mean that this is now "your money".    You will later be required to account to the court for this money.   This being understood, there is some truth to the old saw that "possession is nine-tenths of the law."   During this uncomfortable period after your spouse has been served with the divorce petition, he or she may try to gain control of the finances in an unfair  way, leaving you without money to hire a lawyer, bill your bills, or to buy food.


Avoid domestic violence.  You know best what your spouse is capable of in the event her or she is served with a petition for divorce.  The sad fact is that many people-- especially men-- are capable of domesticv violence.   If you have reason to believe that your spouse will react violently, then you should make arrangements to move temporarily out of the home once the summons and petition for divorce are filed.    Where there are children involved, this process must be carefully orchestrated.   There is nothing preventing you from bringing the children with you to your new, and hopefully temporary, residence.   Many people-- especially women-- are reluctant to move out of the home, even temporarily.  They fear that this will guarantee that they will not be awarded temporary possession of the home.  This is simply not true.  It may sometimes be as long as a month, though, before a temporary orders hearing is held.  At the temporary orders hearing, the court will assign temporary possession of the home to one of the parties (usually the party to whom temporary placement of the children is awarded).  In the meantime, there are no legal means to force the other spouse out of the home, unless there has been actual domestic violence.   If there has been recent, actual domestic violence, then you may apply for a restraining order along with the filing of the petition for divorce.


Copy Important Documents and Create an Inventory.  As mentioned above, once the divorce process begins, there is a likelihood that you and your spouse will be living separately.   Therefore, it is extremely important to make sure that you have copies of all important documents.   At the minimum, this includes the deed to your home, insurance information, investment documents, and your will.  Similarly, make an inventory of all of the property that is in your home.   All of this property must be divided equally in the event of a divorce.  To make sure that certain items do no "go missing" once the divorce starts, you should inventory these items and, to be especially sure, you may want to create photographic or video evidence of the property.


Find a Lawyer.   You must immediately begin your search for a divorce lawyer.    There are many things that must be addressed very early on in a divorce case, such as the situation where there has been a non-marital child born.  A divorce affects most important people in your life, as well as your means of living.  You need a lawyer.    Before you choose, it is wise to get referrals from your friends, and meet with several lawyers.  You will be working very closely with your divorce lawyer and, therefore, it is critical that you feel comfortable with, and trust, this person.


With proper preparation, it is possible to minimize the emotional, financial, and potentially physical, trauma involved in the filing for divorce.

Jeffrey W. Jensen is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin family law attorney with twenty-six years experience in guiding people through the legal difficulties involved in ending a marriange.  Mr. Jensen's offices are located at 735 W. Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 1200, in Milwaukee.   For a free consulation, click the telephone icon: