Your Divorce To-Do List | DAWN - Michigan's Original Divorce Attorneys for Women

Your Divorce To-Do List

If you’re considering a divorce, there will come a time when you have to put the emotional piece of the puzzle to the side in order to tackle the business.

From collecting paperwork to hiring a legal professional, focusing on your to-do list can become the much-needed escape from the emotional roller coaster you’ve been riding.

I asked divorce experts to help me create a To-Do list for women starting the divorce process. You’ll see their detailed advice below (you may want to print this article and use it as a checklist!):

Tip #1: Be an Educated Divorce Consumer

The more you know about divorce, the less time and money you waste and the more empowered you feel. Rather than calling your friend to find out what attorney he or she used in their divorce, do some research about the various types of divorce (mediation, collaborative, litigation). Choose the type of divorce you want first, then choose an attorney who practices that method.

Learn as much as you can about divorce by reading about it, asking your friends what they wish they’d known before they got divorced (or what they wish they could redo), and interview different divorce professionals to create the best team for you and your specific needs.

— Susan Pease Gadoua, LCSW, Author of Contemplating Divorce, A Step-by-Step Guide to Deciding Whether to Stay or Go,

Tip #2: The Separation Agreement

Take a look at the dynamics between you and your spouse and see how the power is used and abused. If you feel that your spouse is controlling, secretive and manipulative then this same behavior will manifest throughout the process of ending your marriage. If your spouse is involved with another person, then the influence of that person will affect the dynamics in creating the separation agreement.

The important aspect in the ending of a marriage is the separation agreement and too many people say I want to get divorced rather than I want to have what I have a legal right to have when this marriage ends. Issues of responsibility for children, property and finances are the focus of the separation agreement. A lawyer’s job is to negotiate the separation agreement for you and you can save money by not taking your emotional issues to your lawyer and focusing on getting the agreement done as quickly as possible.

— Marilyn Barnicke Belleghem M.Ed., Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Author of Questing Home,

Tip #3: Get the Paperwork in Order

If you think you may want a divorce, I recommend you get all your documentation in order in advance before things get complicated (detailed list below). I also always ask the client to provide me with a wish list and a statement as to where they want to be in a year post divorce. It’s something they should really carefully consider. I like to know these things, because it helps me develop a strategy with them and how to best achieve their goal, if possible. As I review their wish list, the documents I may need or require may change. The client and attorney must work together to identify, assert and prove all claims to be successful in proving what the client is entitled to in the divorce.

Here is a more detailed list of some of the things I suggest prospective clients do and documents they should obtain if they are considering divorce:

  1. Social Security Earnings Statement: This is a wonderful snap shot of both parties’ respective income and shows a clear and concise picture of the earning history of each party.
  2. Last five years of tax returns and all W-2s, 1099s and K1.
  3. Current copies of all bank, brokerage and stock account statements.
  4. Employer’s Benefit Manual: These handouts often provide a detailed list of every benefit provided by an employer to an employee (i.e., health insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, 401(K), ESOPP, ESPP, pension information and the like).
  5. If a pension is involved, documents from the plan administrator detailing the nature of the pension, the benefits of same, the specifications and a form Domestic Relations Order the plan administrator requires to divide the pension.
  6. Copies of any other defined benefit and defined contribution retirement account statements, (i.e., IRAs, 401K, 403(b)).
  7. Copies of all the children’s savings accounts, 529 Plans, savings bonds, etc.
  8. Documentation to prove the existence of any other asset.
  9. Copies of credit card statements to show debt and charges. Year-end summaries are extremely helpful.
  10. Inventory of any safe or safe deposit box and safeguard any item you cannot bear to have disappear. Make videos of and photograph all items.
  11. Inventory artwork, wine collections, furniture, furnishings, jewelry, sentimental property or other valuable collections. Again, make videos of and photograph all items.
  12. If you are under your spouse’s health insurance policy, this will no longer be an option post-divorce. Obtaining and maintaining your own health insurance must be explored.
  13. Obtain current mortgage statements. If there is an open line of credit, see if you can have the bank require dual signatures before anyone can access the line. If there is a concern the other party will loot the line of credit and dissipate the money, it may be prudent to close or suspend the line of credit.
  14. Each party’s last three pay stubs.
  15. If you are claiming something is premarital or inherited and not subject to equitable distribution, it is your burden of proof. You will need to compile all documents necessary to show its immune status.

— Jeralyn L. Lawrence, Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, P.A.,

Tip #4: Red Flags

Now that you are single, again you need to learn to pay attention to those red flags. It will keep you from sailing, head first, into disaster and another failed marriage. No matter how good looking and alluring your new “friend” may be those red flags tell the true story about who you are dealing with.

Protect your children: Are you a single parent who is involved in online dating? If so, I caution you to not introduce your children to anyone you meet while dating online until you do a background check on them.

— LaVonya Reeves,


Tip #5: Pack it Up

Allow yourself to mourn when you are ready. If you aren’t ready to deal with the emotions from the memorabilia of your married life, pack it in boxes- put a huge label Marriage Memorabilia and open it when you are ready. Feeling weird and emotional when you see and touch the items are a hint to pack them up.

— Zele, ZOrganize – Organizing Services for Homes and home-offices,

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Rachel Frawley

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