First of all, I’m sorry that your relationship is ending. Unless it was abusive and soul sucking. In that case, I’m proud of you for taking a huge step in taking care of yourself. It’s not an easy decision to come to. There are so many reasons it happens – some I can commiserate with, and some I really can’t. The following will help you in preparing to divorce an abusive partner.
So, for the purpose of this piece, I’m going to assume that you are
- a woman (cuz me too)
- you are on a spectrum of either a little nervous to petrified because you don’t know what to do to prepare and
- you are dealing with a potentially contentious separation, or perhaps you are leaving an abusive situation
I’m assuming these things because this is truly who I’m writing for…someone like me. I went through it some years ago, with two little girls in tow. I know how scary the unknown is, and I know how much bravery it takes to try to getting your life back.
Here is my advice for getting your shit together when you are preparing for divorce:
- Start at the beginning of your new life. That is, visualize what you see for yourself and your kids. This truly is a beginning for you.
- Change passwords to personal emails, social media, shopping, financial institutions, insurance, etc.
- It wouldn’t hurt to clear your browsing history and clear off anything that is private or sensitive that you wish to keep that way – think about something like Dropbox or similar to keep you documents safe if you wish to remove things off a hard drive
- If you believe your ex will take things that are yours that have sentimental value (as leverage or just because), consider finding a place for your valuables so they do not get ‘lost’
- Change your will if you have one. Change your beneficiaries on insurance and financial documents
- Take an inventory of what you own, and any money that is yours and that you can safely and privately stow away. If you have only a joint account, you need your own, stat. If there is time to spare, start saving some funds to your personal account or private stash/whatever. Some women who are very financially dependent on their spouse, will start purchasing gift cards instead to save and use later (Visa/Amex all have gift cards you can load with money)
- Borrow or sell (or both). Borrow money if you need to or can. I know. That sucks, and maybe you can’t. But if you are feeling trapped financially, and need to get out, ask for help. Sell items that you don’t need anymore (kids old clothes, your old clothes, items that you will be ok without)
- Find out your credit score. Creditkarma.com is great! If you can, you may want to open a credit card in your name only. You don’t want to start killing your credit, but this may be an alternative or supplement to borrowing from family
- Meet with a couple of divorce lawyers. Honestly, you might find one the first go-round, but if you can do it, try and interview at least two attorneys. This can get pricey, but it is worth it. There are lawyers that run on the lower end, maybe under $200 per consult, and then a high end, $300-500 per consult. Now, if you have a friend that really trusts their attorney, and you feel confident, then go for it – referrals from people you trust are awesome. That said, you want to meet with lawyers that SPECIALIZE in family /divorce law. Non-negotiable!!!
- Interview your lawyer. See my free resource here on questions to ask a divorce lawyer
- Document everything. Are you divorcing a toxic, abusive, or just downright difficult person? Do you have reason to believe that your ex is a danger to you or your children? I’m talking about mental, verbal, and emotional abuse, too. Document what you know, create folders of your email exchanges that you believe are important. You may wish to categorize the folders: disparagement, sabotage, parental alienation, neglect, etc.
- Make a list of people that you know who could support your claims.
- Understand that in certain areas of the country, if you leave the home, it can be seen as abandonment. Ask your lawyer, or a potential one during a consult about how to physically leave so that there is nothing that can come back to haunt you
- Tell someone, or a couple of people close to you about your plans to leave, especially if you have fear for your safety.
- When you start talking about separation agreements, or other documents regarding splitting – you are probably going to need your last few W2s, paystubs, account statements, etc. Total PITA. But if you end up physically separating, this is all stuff that you will likely need at some point anyway.
- Make sure you have all those important documents (good idea to confiscate any personal checkbooks, passports, IDs, etc. and keep them in a safe place). Make sure you gather the items you can’t print off from your computer ahead of time.
- Maybe not immediate for most of us, but important: get someone you can talk to about everything that you’re going through. Ask your friends for any therapist referrals, look at meetups for support groups, and make a point to do something for yourself regularly on a cadence that works for you (e.g. have a girl’s night out every two weeks, or dinner with your bestie each Wednesday, etc.).