The First Steps

By: Equality in Marriage

So it's official -- you are getting a divorce. Wait, don't head straight for the couch with bonbons and a box of tissues. Now is not the time to fall apart; it's a time to step up to the plate and take control of your situation, effectively managing your divorce and transforming yourself through this transition. You have to take care of business and, in the coming months, there will be plenty of time to take care of yourself, too. Here's what you need to do first:

Put on Your CEO Hat

When you said "I do," you agreed to manage your partnership through thick and thin, in sickness and in health. Now is the "sick" part. Your relationship broke and must be severed, and your attitude and involvement can determine whether this will happen smoothly or be a rough ride. Make a commitment from the onset to be the CEO of your divorce process and actively manage all components, regardless of your partner's reactions or strategy.

Get Your Files in Order

As soon as divorce becomes a possibility, it is critical to make sure you have copies of all important financial and legal documents from your marriage (credit card bills, bank statements, investment reports, deeds, loan papers, etc.). You may also want to hire professional property evaluators to get an idea of your partnership's total value. In addition, take the time to sit down and document all the important information regarding your partnership and its demise. This will make your initial meeting with an attorney smoother and more cost-effective. Buy a notebook and start keeping a journal of all calls and activities related to your divorce.

Get Smart

Use the Internet, local legal associations, the library and other divorcees to educate yourself about the divorce laws and process in your state. You have multiple options for dissolving your marriage, and you must know the pros and cons of each. Don't stumble into an attorney's office oblivious to how the system works. Take time to beef up your mental library. The Equality in Marriage web site is a great place to start.

Keep Emotions in Check

There is bound to be a great deal of anger, resentment, loneliness and fear associated with your divorce. During the "business" part of this process, make sure you take the time to acknowledge those feelings and take care of yourself. Use your support network of family and friends. Seek professional help if necessary. But make sure the decisions about your process are being made with knowledge and dignity, not with your emotions. Focus on wrapping up this chapter, and don't make any major life decisions while the wounds are still fresh.

Start Recruiting Your Team

Now that your CEO hat is on, your files are in order and you've educated yourself, it's time to start building a team. Referrals from friends or acquaintances are a good way to choose a reliable lawyer. You can also call your local bar association for recommendations. Thoroughly interview any counsel supporting your divorce, be prepared for every meeting and come out of every consultation with a clear list of action items and deadlines. When choosing a lawyer, pay particular attention to how long they have practiced marital law in your state. Make sure that their personality and views are aligned with the factors involved in your case. If you think your spouse is going to be a tough opponent, ask your counsel about his or her experience in the courtroom and with appeals. Fees for lawyers vary but are usually between $100 and $200 an hour. Some lawyers provide the initial consultation at no cost. Make sure that you ask in advance for an estimate of total fees for the process and understand how you will be billed. Once you've selected an attorney, don't let your case become a secondary priority. Effective managers of a divorce realize they need legal -- and possibly financial -- support, but don't defer ownership of the process to these individuals. Always stay closely involved.

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