The 7-Step Divorce Checklist

divorce checklist
divorce checklist

Divorce is difficult, regardless of the circumstances. To get through this hard time, it can help to focus on concrete solutions. That’s where a divorce checklist comes in. A divorce checklist can offer a sense of clarity and direction when your marriage is in upheaval. You’re going to need to rely on your support group for emotional help, but there are some steps you need to take on your own.

For more help with a divorce — or a potential divorce — consider working with a financial advisor.

Step 1: Compile Important Documents

Once you’ve decided to split, the first step is to get all of your papers together. You honestly should start this before you tell your spouse you wanted a divorce, especially if they have more access to financial accounts. Arriving at a lawyer and financial advisor with your documents can save you a lot of time and money.

Here are just some examples of the general documentation you should get copies of:

  • Birth certificates and other identification for you and your children

  • Medical records for you and your children

  • Marriage license

  • Life insurance policies

  • Bank statements of all bank accounts

  • Credit card statements

  • Statements on retirement and investment accounts

  • Previous year’s taxes

  • Any employment contracts

  • Your family will

There’s also more divorce-specific documentation you need to have copies of, depending on your situation or where you are in the process. These include:

  • Pre- and post-nuptial agreements

  • Separation agreement

  • Restraining orders

  • Child custody and visitation orders

Step 2: Decide If You Need a Divorce Lawyer

Every divorce is different. You may be splitting amicably with few assets to divide. On the other hand, you may have a house, retirement accounts, children and other ingredients in the mix. Even if the divorce isn’t contentious, you’re going to still need to know your rights and where you stand legally. That’s where a divorce lawyer comes in.

If you decide you need a divorce lawyer, talking to one early on in the process will help you get on the right path. It can give you a lot of peace of mind knowing you have someone experienced in your corner.

Just because you have a lawyer, doesn’t mean you’re planning for scorched earth. A good lawyer will lead you through the process, showing you what to expect. While there are cutthroat options, know that’s not the only option for a good lawyer.

However, a good divorce lawyer can cost you a lot. If you need one, know that fees can range greatly from lawyer to lawyer. It’s best to come to your lawyer prepared with a list of what to accomplish and have your documents in order.

Step 3: Talk to a Divorce Financial Advisor

divorce checklist
divorce checklist

The next step on our divorce checklist is talking to a financial advisor, especially if you and your spouse share considerable assets. Having the counsel of a financial advisor is recommended while going through a divorce. Divorce financial advisors are specially trained in handling finances through a divorce.

A divorce financial advisor will take a complete inventory of your assets, advise you on dividing the assets and help you plan for child support or alimony payments.

Step 4: Determine What to Do with Children

If you have kids under 18 years old with your soon-to-be ex, deciding what to do with them is a big undertaking. This is going to vary a lot from situation to situation. Consider whether you or your ex-spouse will be moving. Talk about how custody will be split, and if child support will be paid. If your kids are older, weigh what they want.

Children can further complicate a divorce, legally, emotionally and financially. Divorce is a major upheaval for everyone involved – and children often bear the brunt of a family breakup. So, unless you have an amicable split, contacting a lawyer may be a good idea.

Step 5: List and Divide Your Belongings

You’re going to need to take inventory of all of your belongings and decide who’s going to get what. This can be simple, but chances are that for some items, it’s going to be harder. Large assets like homes and cars can be harder to split than who gets the dishware or furniture. Start your list with these large items, then methodically list out the rest of what you own.

Step 6: Get Yourself Set Up for a Separate Life

You need to start preparing for a life without your spouse. A large part of that is setting up accounts and policies in your name alone. Use SmartAsset’s best banks list to start shopping for a new bank to open an account with.

You’ll also may need to account for the loss of your spouse’s income, along with the cost of the divorce. Make use of SmartAsset’s budget calculator to establish a budget to help you afford the divorce, as well as life after it.

A big part of that budget will be housing expenses. Even if your spouse is the one moving out, that means you need to pay for your current place yourself. Keep in mind that, ideally you want no more than 25% of your earnings to go toward housing. Anything more than that and your situation may be difficult and unsustainable.

Step 7: Take Care of the Little Things

divorce checklist
divorce checklist

You may not realize the little pieces that need to be changed or updated when you get divorced. These can be things your spouse handled or had access to. These few often-overlooked items need to be part of your divorce checklist to maintain your independence and security:

  • Change your passwords to your email, social media and any private accounts

  • Update your health and life insurance policies or sign up for new ones

  • Open a P.O. box for your own mail

The Bottom Line

Divorce is a complex and often painful process. These seven steps on our divorce checklist give you a concrete way to move forward. In all of this, remember to give yourself grace. Even the most agreeable divorce is difficult and expensive. Focus on what you can do, knowing that you’re not alone in this and that the hard times will pass.

Tips for Financial Planning During Divorce

  • As we said above, a financial advisor can be a great aid for you while going through a divorce. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

  • Want to know how to keep your assets safe? Our article on how to protect your assets from a divorce is essential reading. Here you can learn how your state may affect how your property is divided in a divorce, and what you can do about it.

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