Prepare for Divorce: 10 Things Women Must Do * Reinvention for Women

Reading: 10 Pre-Divorce Moves Every Woman Should Make

Navigating Divorce

10 Pre-Divorce Moves Every Woman Should Make

Before you even utter the word divorce out loud, check these boxes

By Elise Pettus

When I realized I was facing divorce eight years ago, I knew that I needed to take action and had big decisions to make. But I was the first in my social circle to split and had no friends to turn to for advice or even a good attorney referral. That led me to start UNtied, a real-life and online support and education network for women navigating divorce and rebuilding their lives. Now in its sixth year, UNtied provides live information evenings, weekend workshops and social events, lifestream and video plus The Powder Room, a private Facebook forum for candid conversation on all things divorce.

These 10 steps, with tips distilled from over 40 expert panels and surveys of divorced women, will prepare you for the process, reduce your stress, and protect your future.

Prepare for Divorce With Legal Advice

1. Phone an attorney (or two or even three)
I often hear women say they “aren’t ready” to talk to a lawyer. It might be that they can’t yet wrap their heads around what is happening, or they’re afraid they might “escalate things” or they don’t know what kind of attorney they want (a mediator or a litigator?). Do not put it off. Do it now. Knowing early on where you stand and what your options are will help you enormously. Connecting with a knowledgeable, experienced professional who has your back will also give you a sense of strength and readiness. Not sure how to find a good matrimonial attorney? Consider asking friends who’ve been through a divorce, or an attorney you know and trust, if they can refer you to a good family lawyer. Don’t hire an attorney who doesn’t specialize in family law. (You can use UNtied’s vetted directory of family lawyers to get started.)

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Prepare for Divorce with the Right Documents

2. Gather the documents
This is the time to get a firm grip on the financial details of what you and your spouse make, what you owe and what you have accumulated (i.e. income, debts, and assets). That means gathering bank statements, mortgage statements, investment accounts, retirement accounts, loan documents, tax returns, etc. Watch the snail and digital mail for new statements, and be alert to any changes your spouse makes (a new account, money disappearing from a joint account, large expenditures, etc.). Use your camera phone to record documents that are not in your possession. If you don’t have access to these records (if the statements are online, and you are not the spouse with the password), request a copy of your tax return from the IRS.

3. Document your expenses
For everything. From babysitters to hair colorists to groceries. Gather receipts on all your expenditures for three months (six months is even better), go over credit card statements for three to six months, and break down your spending by category. You can do this in an Excel or Google spreadsheet. You might also consider signing up with or You Need a Budget, two applications that help you tally and categorize expenditures. Knowing exactly what you currently need to live on is essential. It forms the basis of any request for support (temporary or otherwise), and it sets you firmly in reality when it comes time to make decisions about your future.

4. Alter your will
You can’t completely disinherit a spouse but you can limit the portion of your assets they receive (note that the degree to which you can reduce their portion varies from state to state).

5. Rethink your health proxy
If something really, really bad should happen to you between now and the day you become legally divorced, think about who you’d want to have the authority to pull the plug or make life-or-death decisions on your behalf. If it isn’t your soon-to-be ex, then amend it now.

Prepare for Divorce with Your Finances

6. Open a bank account in your name
Preferably at a separate bank from where you keep a joint account. You will need it going forward and you want a place to deposit any monies that come directly to you.

7. Start saving
Begin building up some cash in this separate account for divorce-related or future-related expenses. Make regular deposits — maybe some of your paychecks, money from family members, or other income. Think of it as an emergency fund that might help you pay the retainer to secure a good attorney or the deposit on a rental apartment.

8. Build your credit
If up until now you’ve shared all of your credit card accounts, get a new card in your own name. Find out your credit scores and if you have credit “issues,” consider hiring a professional to help you restore your rating.

Prepare for Divorce By Creating New Contacts

9. Watch your e-trail
Be very careful about what you post on Facebook or send in an email. Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want your spouse or his or her attorney to see. Consider getting a new and private email account for all communication related to your separation or divorce.

10. Find your tribe
Many people discover that during the rockiest moments of a split when they most need affirmation and understanding, family members and longtime friends either don’t get it or just can’t seem to deliver the kind of support they need. There are lots of reasons for this, (which we will save for another time), but it’s painful to feel isolated when you need community more than ever. The antidote? Find a way to connect with others going through similar experiences. You might find a support group at a local community center or through a local parenting organization, synagogue, or church. There may be a group offered by a nearby family-therapy practice or even Meetup.

You've found your tribe

If you can connect with others going through a divorce, not to mention those who’ve gone through it and come out the other side, you are likely to find real understanding and support. Having a circle of people who “get it,” can have a huge impact on your well-being. It can help you feel saner, provide calm and give you needed perspective on your own issues. You’ll be able to speak honestly and authentically — you’ll even be able to share some needed laughs that others who haven’t been down this road (sorry marrieds) simply wouldn’t understand.


Read more divorce content on Covey: What Not to Say to a Friend Who’s Been Cheated On, Should You Divorce Because of a Spouse’s Porn HabitHow to Survive a High-Conflict Divorce with Yourself Intact.

  1. Angela Gardner

    Great information! I went through a divorce in 2012. The advice is very much on target. The only regret I have is that I didn’t get out sooner or realize the enormous debt my ex was creating for the both of us. Would you have any recommendations of a good resource to clean up credit and restore credit rating?

  2. Jeeva

    I am going thru divorce and I am stuck in the financial asset split
    He wants to take all liquid asset and 75% of it as I make more than him and he negotiated for his own benefit and threatened me with spousal support. He’s basically saying he will sign the settlement agreement only if he gets 75%, then he will waive spousal( long term marriage and no child support to me -I have 2 kids 75% of the time)
    I am having some conflicts and issues with my lawyer also which doesn’t help. Consulted couple of them and they advised to go to court because ex is Not following any rules and I don’t think he will share the money without going to court. They said prepare final declaration of assets before the settlement conference and that’s very important. Any advice? Anything else I should consider before the settlement conf
    Thank you for your time

  3. Alison Fletcher

    Hi, I am 55yrs old, no children together. I am extremely emotional find it difficult to focus on what to do first. My thoughts are all over the place. Have no $ for attorney. My husband has PTSD blew up over a small discussion walked out the door no where to be found or heard from 3 weeks later. My gut tells me he is having an affair. Shows no remorse for his actions blames for everything . Now he is texting, I have been responding which I found out is not good idea. So I cut that off. I found out he has been stashing $$ aside not claiming 0 on taxes, changed his address which I don’t believe he is really living there just getting his mail. Abandoned me with rent, utilities, furniture we just, bought. Told me to sell all my furniture in home to pay off bill and use my tax return to pay any remaining balance. I have no retirement very little savings. Have no idea where to begin.

  4. Karin

    Please understand I am not someone who shares this personal information easily. But I am clutching at straws here and need some advice. I am in a 30-year marriage with 6 children. Youngest is 14. My husband is not a bad person but we have no emotional connection anymore. I am not respected or listened to. My children follow his lead and consistently disregard me and are disrespectful even in front of him. He says nothing. They stand by him and he by his silence by them.
    I have started therapy however the continuation may not materialise for some months. Perhaps a little knowledge is really a very bad thing. It appears that my marital relationship has developed to mimic my relationship with my father. A man who was emotionally unavailable to me did not protect me or stand up for me and was unreliable and someone I was trying to make love me. I do not expect my husband to be a hero but I would take the bullet for him and be expecting a reciprocal relationship. But this is not the case. This has been highlighted with my husbands’ behaviour towards me over the past 3 years. I am 56 years old. I sleep on the floor of our office and have been for some time. This does not bother anyone in our household. I can not sleep next to him as I am conscious it is a time when he starts arguments and I get anxious and can’t sleep. I have stopped arguing with him. I have stopped sharing personal information good or bad as it just opens avenues for him to shout and be verbally mean and nasty towards me. He is cutting. After I try to point it out he says I’m shouting and screaming. eventually, he will half-heartedly apologise. I can not emotionally trust him. This even happens when things seem to be going well. When I have pointed out that what he is doing is hurting me he laughed and carried on.
    I have nowhere to turn and no one to rely on except myself. I have no money and no real skills. Honestly, things feel very hopeless at the moment.
    My father died last year and has opened a whole can of worms with regards to my childhood hence why I am seeking out therapy to make sure that I have done everything I can. But the more I speak about things thé clearer it becomes that there is nothing left for me here. I still care about my husband but it is not reciprocated. He consistently disrespects and disregards me. our relationship is nothing more than managing logistics. He is nice when he wants sex and once that is done everything is calm for a few days until something happens to annoy him at work or home regardless of what it is he will find me and yell at me. Apart from the sex, there is no intimate connection.
    I apologise it seems I have spilt my guts. 😔 I am generally a strong person at least on the outside. Now
    I am just lonely and afraid. I have no idea what to do. If I leave how I will lose my kids, he will not be kind or amicable. if I stay I am hurting them with my sadness.
    Most of all I am angry with myself because I have made bad choices. This marriage was a bad choice and I have wasted 30 years of my life with a man that has no interest or time for me but would rather sit on his phone. I am gutted.
    I’m sorry if this is not the right place to say all this stuff. I need help you navigate a path.

  5. Ami

    Your story is very similar to mine. I think you would be surprised by how your children will continue to be in your life after divorce. I tell myself this and I believe this. I’m also stuck like you, so I just really need us both to get out of the cycle of pain and start fresh. We are worth it. And 50s are a great time to start taking great care of ourselves and cut off hurtful people in our lives. We deserve basic health, happiness and peace…. And yes, comfortable sleep. I really hope we both give our ONE life a chance at living.

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