Legal Insurance

6 Things to Consider Before Filing for Divorce

3 min read
Apr 26, 2023

Depending on your situation, a divorce may involve several legal proceedings — such as trials and negotiations — before being finalized.

To make the divorce process as simple and smooth as possible during a fraught time, here are six things to do that can help you get your affairs in order.

1. Decide what type of divorce you’re filing for

It's important to decide which type of divorce is right for your situation. For example, if there’s been no wrongdoing on the part of a spouse, then filing for a no-fault divorce may be your best option. Meanwhile, an at-fault divorce implies misconduct by a spouse.

If you and your spouse get along well enough to agree on the terms of your separation without court intervention, then consider filing for an uncontested divorce. Compared to a contested divorce, an uncontested one could potentially save you time and money since you’ll likely spend less time in court and spend less on legal fees. 

In terms of filing, the only option a petitioner typically needs to be concerned with is at-fault/no fault. Some states may have divorce agreement forms designated for uncontested divorces – since they tend to be simpler – so be sure to check your state’s guidelines.

2. Consider if you’ll need to hire a lawyer

Although you’re not required to hire a lawyer when filing for divorce, it may be advantageous to have one. Divorce lawyers can help you understand your rights and where you stand in the divorce process. You can hire a lawyer to handle your entire case or simply review documents, prepare papers, or provide legal advice.

Keep in mind that, in most cases, a divorce lawyer can only represent one party — so you and your spouse would need to consult separate lawyers.1

Hiring a lawyer can be expensive, but there are options to help bring costs down. For example, legal insurance can help save you money by providing access to a network of attorneys for a monthly fee. If you have legal insurance through work, be sure to check with your employer to see if divorce proceedings are covered. 

In addition to a lawyer, you may also want to consider enlisting the help of a mediator or other professional to help you navigate the process.

3. Get your finances in order

Financial wellness is always important, but it’s especially pertinent when you're going through a divorce. Having a clear picture of your financial standing can better prepare you for what comes next after a separation.

Create a list of shared assets, debts, and personal property. Make sure you have copies of important financial documents, such as:

  • W-2s
  • Pay stubs
  • Bank statements
  • Recent tax returns
  • Retirement accounts
  • Investment accounts (stocks, bonds, and other securities)
  • Credit card statements
  • Mortgage and car loan statements
  • Credit report

Have a plan for how marital assets will be divided and how you both plan to tackle outstanding debts.

Another thing you may want to consider is creating a post-divorce budget. After a separation, you might go from having a dual income to a single one. Determine your new cost of living and estimate your expenses. Look for ways to start saving money and free up some income. This way, you’ll be in a better position to support yourself after the divorce.

4. Take steps to protect your credit

How you handle joint accounts with your spouse may directly impact your credit, so it’s important to take steps to protect it. Consider paying off and closing joint credit accounts before separating. Because activity from a joint account typically stays on your credit report — even after the divorce is finalized — closing accounts can help protect you from the legal responsibility of late payments and other payment activity. Keep in mind that creditors generally don’t honor divorce decrees. So even if the decree specifies who’s responsible for paying which debts, creditors will still deem both parties liable.2

Some other things you may want to do to protect your credit include:

  • Convert joint accounts to individual ones: If paying off a joint account isn’t feasible, consider converting it into an individual account by removing your former spouse as an account holder or authorized user. Keep in mind that you likely will need your spouse’s consent before removing them from a joint account.3
  • Freeze your credit accounts: Freezing your accounts and cards is another option you can pursue if paying off joint accounts isn’t practical. This will prevent you and your former spouse from using the account until an agreement on who will pay the debt is reached.
  • Apply for your own credit card: Opening a new credit card in your name might help you preserve your credit health during the divorce. It can also help you build your own creditworthiness and work toward improving your credit score.
  • Alert creditors that you’re going through a divorce: It’s a good idea to contact your creditors and notify them of your divorce. You’ll also want to alert them if there’s a change of address, so you can still receive bills and notices concerning your accounts.

5. Organize and update official documents

It’s important to gather and make copies of all your shared insurance plans and estate planning documents. For any insurance plans — such as health insurance, car insurance, or supplemental health plans — if you are the primary account holder, those are likely already in your name. 

Just be sure to talk with your employer about changing your benefits, as a divorce is typically seen as a qualifying life event. This means you may be able to change your insurance plan outside of the open enrollment period. When you update your insurance plans, you might also want to name a new beneficiary for things like life insurance, retirement, and living trusts.

Don’t forget to update your will and powers of attorney if you want your assets and items will go to go to your children or other loved ones instead of your ex after you pass. Also, consider who you want to make financial and medical decisions for you if you’re no longer able to.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Divorces can be financially and emotionally draining. It’s important to dedicate time to taking care of yourself and surrounding yourself with a supportive network of family, friends, and professionals. 

In addition to loved ones, consider seeking the help of a therapist or community leaders for further emotional and mental support. For financial assistance, it may be beneficial to speak with a financial planner or certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA). Also, consider enlisting the advice of an attorney to help with legal matters and make the transition to the next phase of your life as seamless as possible. 

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1 “Can a Lawyer Represent Both Sides in a Divorce?” Attorney At Law Magazine, 2022

2 “How to Manage Your Credit During a Divorce” Experian, 2020

3 “I have a joint checking account with my spouse. I would like to remove my spouse from the account. Can I do that? Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 2020

4 “A Few Things To Consider Before You Move Out Of The Marital Home” McConnell Family Law Group, 2022

This article is intended to provide general information about insurance. It does not describe any Metropolitan Life Insurance company product or feature.