Ready for a Divorce? Here is a Checklist You Can Follow to Get Started

Feb 27 2023 - Posted by , in Divorce

Divorcing a spouse is a process.  As you get ready to go through the process, the more you do to prepare, the smoother you can expect it to go.

If you have decided that it is time to bring your marriage to an end, there are several steps you can take to get started. Here is a checklist that breaks down the initial divorce preparations into four key categories:

Category 1: Collecting the Records You Will Need for Your Divorce

You will need to collect several types of records during your divorce preparations. These records relate primarily to your income, assets and debts. To get started, you will want to make copies of records including:

  • Checking and savings account statements
  • Investment account statements
  • Retirement account (i.e., IRA, SEP IRA, Roth IRA and 401(k) statements)
  • State and federal tax returns and business tax returns
  • Paystubs, W-2s and 1099s
  • Real estate and personal property deeds and titles
  • Mortgage statements and other loan documents
  • Credit card statements
  • Prenuptial or postnuptial agreements (if any)
  • Articles of Incorporation for businesses owners
  • Health insurance policies
  • Stock options, restricted stock, earning bonus units, and profit-sharing unit documents

For purposes of dividing your marital property, you will also need to prepare a list of your assets also referred to as an “inventory.”  This inventory includes real property (i.e., house, land), personal property, bank accounts, retirement accounts, and other personal property. When preparing your list, you will want to make note of whether you believe each asset qualifies as “separate” or “community” property for purposes of your divorce:

  • Separate Property – Separate property generally includes assets that you or your spouse owned prior to your marriage. It also includes assets acquired by a spouse by gift or inheritance.
  • Community Property – Community property generally includes assets acquired during the marriage, other than by gift or inheritance of a spouse. Contributions to retirement accounts during the marriage are one example of community property.

There are exceptions to these general rules, and if you don’t know how to classify certain assets, that’s okay. Do your best for now, and then you can review your list in detail with your divorce attorney.

Category 2: Identifying and Evaluating Your Options

While it is true that getting divorced is a process, there are actually a variety of different processes that spouses in Texas can use to bring their marriage to an end. As you start framing your thoughts about your divorce, you will want to think about which option (or options) might work best for you:

  • Kitchen-Table Negotiations- Some couples are able to reach agreements regarding the division of their property and children’s issues sitting together at the kitchen table. After the spouses reach their agreement, they each contact their respective attorneys to advise them of the “kitchen-table” agreement which the attorneys will incorporate into formal divorce documents for the court to sign.  This method is typically the least expensive option because the spouses are not paying their attorneys to negotiate their agreement.
  • Negotiations – Many couples are able to address all matters pertaining to property division, financial support, and children’s issues through a series of negotiations by their attorneys. These negotiations can be done by emails exchanged between attorneys, phone calls between attorneys and in-person meetings or teleconferences. During these negotiations, each spouse is represented by his or her own attorney, and at the end of the process, the spouses enter into a final divorce settlement agreement. 
  • Mediation – If the Kitchen-Table and Negotiation approaches are not successful, then the courts require divorcing couples to attend mediation. Mediation typically occurs as a supplement to private negotiations. In mediation, the spouses (and their respective attorneys) work with a neutral third-party mediator who helps to clarify issues, identify common ground and explore creative solutions that allow the spouses to move forward.  The couple has the final decision-making power in mediation. If the divorcing couple does not reach an agreement on their property and/or children, the couple’s next step is litigation, where a court will make the final decision on the issues not agreed to at mediation. The mediator is not a “private judge.” The mediator does not possess the power to make decisions for the divorcing couple-only the divorcing parties have the power to agree on their disputed issues.
  • Arbitration— If the divorcing couple cannot reach an agreement on dividing their property and/or children’s issues, they have the option to pay an arbitrator to make a final decision on their property division and children’s issues. The arbitrator is usually a retired judge or an experienced family law attorney with an arbitration certification. There are pros and cons to arbitration which can be discussed with your attorney. An arbitrator can be thought of as hiring a private judge.  If the divorcing couple hires an arbitrator, then they would not appear at a court for a State judge to decide the couple’s unresolved disputes.
  • Collaborative Divorce Collaborative divorce is a unique process that involves interest-based negotiation by the parties. The standard divorce process is set up to be adversarial in nature, whereas a collaborative divorce is focused on the parties reaching a mutually agreeable resolution. The parties and their attorneys work together to accomplish the parties’ goals. A formalized structure is used by the parties and their attorneys to provide efficiency in the divorce process while experts are also used to help facilitate the negotiation process. Collaborative divorce is not appropriate for all cases, but where it is appropriate, the benefits are numerous to the parties during the divorce and after the divorce is final.
  • Divorce Litigation – When divorcing spouses are not able to come to terms on their own or with the assistance of attorneys, they have the option to take their divorce to court. While litigation is generally the most costly and time-consuming option, in some cases it will be the only practical option that spouses have available.

Ultimately, unless you decide to litigate, this choice is not entirely up to you. You and your spouse will need to agree on how best to resolve your differences during your divorce. But, by thinking critically about the options that are available to you, you can formulate informed preferences, and then you can work with your divorce attorney to steer your divorce in your desired direction.

Category 3: Beginning to Prioritize

Compromise is a key part of the divorce process. Neither spouse gets everything, and Texas’s divorce laws are designed to ensure a “just and right” outcome in light of each couple’s unique circumstances. With this in mind, as you prepare for your divorce, you will want to begin prioritizing matters such as:

  • Which of your community assets matter most? If there are certain assets you want to keep because they are important to your financial wellbeing (i.e., your retirement account) or they hold sentimental value (i.e., your family home), you will need to think about which assets you are willing to give up in order to protect those you want to prioritize.
  • Do you want to maximize your assets or pay off debts? Many spouses use their divorce as an opportunity to liquidate assets and eliminate debt. Is this something you want to consider, or are you more focused on wealth accumulation at the present time?
  • What are your goals regarding financial support? Will you need financial support after your divorce? Do you want to keep as much of your income as possible? From blending your financial support and property division negotiations to focusing on tax mitigation, there are a variety of strategies available regardless of what your goals may be.

Category 4: Looking Toward the Future

When going through a divorce, the decisions you make will impact your life for years (if not decades) to come. With this in mind, it is critical to make decisions with an eye toward the future. As you prepare, you will want to focus on considerations such as:

  • Long-Term Financial Planning – In addition to focusing on your immediate financial needs, it is important to consider your long-term financial goals as well. These goals can come into play in many aspects of the divorce process.
  • Anticipating Changes – When thinking about the future, what changes do you anticipate? Are you planning to retire? Are you planning to move? Will your children be moving out? Are you interested in a career change? These are all relevant (and important) considerations as well.
  • Preparing a List of Questions – Finally, as you work through your preparations, you will almost certainly have questions. As questions come up, write them down so that you can gather the information you need from your divorce attorney.

Ready to Get Started? Schedule a Confidential Initial Consultation Today

If you are ready to begin the divorce process, we invite you to contact us for more information. To arrange a confidential consultation with divorce attorney Christine K. Lincoln, please call 281-970-9005 or request an appointment online today.

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