Divorce isn’t a word you have on your mind the day you say “I do.” However, your “I do” has turned into an “I don’t.” Whether you saw this coming or are reeling from the blow, you’re about to make a series of decisions. None of them likely seem to have many good options. Still, almost every decision could have a significant financial, legal, and relational impact for you, your soon-to-be ex-spouse, and any children involved, regardless of age.

Many decisions will also have ripple effects for extended family, community, and social circles. What’s the best way to navigate this potential minefield with the least amount of collateral damage? How do you protect yourself? These tips will help you navigate the rocky road that lies ahead.

Know what you want.

This statement sounds simple, yet most people wander through their divorce determined to get what’s fair without thoughtful evaluation of what they want, don’t want, and need. To clarify what you wish to have, try drawing three buckets and label them want, need, and let it go, respectively. Then start listing items below each bucket. Be completely honest with yourself about what you truly need and want. This exercise will also be a handy visual to help you stay on course while negotiating with your almost ex-spouse. It’s also important to consider what your spouse wants and why. The more you and your attorney understand what motivates your spouse, the better positioned you will be to decide what to ask for, what to fight for, and let go.

Understand it’s business now.

When you married your spouse, you entered into a legal contract. Of course, there were feelings and flowers and rings involved, but you signed a binding agreement that day. Now you’re entering into a lawsuit to terminate that contract. You probably never thought of it that way, but the fact is that divorce is a legal proceeding. It’s more than a court case. It’s a lawsuit against someone you once loved and maybe still do. It’s essential to navigate the business aspects of the case when your emotions are in check.

While it’s also critical to acknowledge and process your feelings with the appropriate people, you have to remember that this is the legal dividing of your marital assets and responsibilities, governed by state laws. Divorce laws differ from state to state and sometimes are implemented differently by various county judges. That’s why you must understand and protect your rights. Be aware of the law and know what a court might do. Then focus on creating settlement negotiations in a way that will get you your top divorce priorities with as much grace and dignity as you can.

Know your numbers.

The first step is to order your free credit report through a company like Credit Karma or Experian. Start understanding where you are today by gathering your tax returns and financial statements on all assets you own and the debt you owe. Start tracking your expenses and make sure you have a bank account and credit card in your name. Organizing as much of the financial records that you have access to before you interview attorneys will save you billable hours. You’ll need to create a financial affidavit that the court requires at some point. Your attorney will help you complete this, so it’s essential to get the most accurate information possible and document where you took the numbers from. If you have access, your attorney can help with that as well.

Create your empowerment team.

While your friends and family care about you, even the most well-intentioned advice may cause confusion and unnecessary stress. You will be making the most complex and critical financial decisions of your life during an emotionally chaotic time, so you need a professional team to help you deal from a position of strength, not weakness. You will need an attorney specializing in family law; you’ll also need to decide which process you will use to get divorced. There are three primary processes: mediation, collaborative or traditional litigation. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. Selecting the right fit for your family’s unique interests could result in an enormous saving in the amount of time, cost and conflict involved. Now is also the time to find experts to help guide you through divorce’s financial, tax, and emotional aspects. No matter how strong your team is, you’re the CEO, and you must manage the process as well as each team member.

Remember you’re writing your next chapter.

While it’s ideal to remain amicable during the divorce process, it’s critical not to sign a bad deal under any circumstances. Once you come to some agreement, your attorney will draft a Marital Settlement Agreement or MSA. The MSA is a lengthy document detailing all the parameters of your divorce, and it’s vital to get a second or third set of eyes to look it over before you sign. Keep in mind that the document is only good as it’s legally enforceable. There are many logistics in retitling assets and removing names from debt. Practical implementation of this document is imperative.

As difficult as it may be, keep looking forward rather than looking back. Remind yourself that your decisions today are the foundation of your future. Remember to nurture yourself, protect hope, and be open to all possibilities. The end of your marriage may or may not be amicable, but you chose to manage your emotions and prioritize so that the divorce and co-parenting might be cordial. Each step you proactively take, as well as the missteps you avoid, will get you closer to the future you want to create. Divorce can be a scary and emotional time. The marriage that you thought you’d be in forever is coming to an end. Regardless of the reason for the divorce, it’s essential not to let your emotions get the best of you. While going through your divorce, take time to reconnect with yourself and find out who you are outside of your marriage. When you get to the other side, you’ll be glad you did.

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