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From beginning to end: A divorce checklist

You have reached the conclusion that divorce is inevitable. Now that you have made the decision and your feelings are out in the open, you may even feel as though a huge weight has lifted from your shoulders. For many, finally making the choice to divorce is the most difficult part.

However, the process is far from over, and on the other hand, you may be feeling stressed and overwhelmed at the thought of what the coming months may bring. Regardless of your feelings, you're likely wondering what to do next. Where do you begin? While each divorce is different, there are certain steps that, if followed, should help you to remember the essentials and thus make the entire process smoother from beginning to end.

Divorce to-dos

No matter what emotions you may have regarding the end of your marriage, the legal aspects of extricating yourself from a partnership may have you feeling a bit confused or frazzled. If you can take a step back from the emotional side of your divorce and, instead, address each part of the process in as calm and logical a manner as possible, you may find it easier to concentrate on practical matters. With the knowledgeable guidance of your attorney, you can if you concentrate on key issues, such as:

  • Separating your finances
  • Saving and budgeting for your new expenses, including the divorce
  • Obtaining necessary documentation
  • Securing your own health insurance and updating other insurance policies
  • Determining child custody

Severing financial ties with your ex may be one of the most complicated steps, but it's important to set up your own bank account and credit cards as soon as possible. While looking at finances, you'll also want to begin saving for the expenses that every divorce brings, as well as many of the other costs of single living, such as separate rent payments and utilities. As you work on your new budget, consider making copies of financial paperwork, as all divorce proceedings involve extensive documentation.

Obtaining your own health insurance is essential if your medical coverage was previously via your spouse's policy. There are several options you can consider — including COBRA, though it's rather expensive — and if you work full-time, you can discuss the process with your HR department. If children are involved, there are additional options for coverage, including low-cost medical insurance through the state of California. While reviewing these accounts and policies, you'll also want to look over any life existing insurance policies and update them to designate beneficiaries other than your ex-spouse.

Determining child custody

Divorcing parents have an additional consideration, that of child custody. Whether you can work out custodial and visitation rights yourselves or whether you need to get your lawyers involved, you and your soon-to-be ex will need to decide, among other aspects, how and when your children will spend time with each of you, whether you'll split parenting time fairly equally, or if you'd prefer one parent to have primary custody and the other to have a visitation schedule.

Resources

If you and your spouse are able to keep your divorce proceedings amicable and agree on most issues, an uncontested divorce is generally the least expensive, where a courtroom divorce trial is on the other end of the cost spectrum. Another possibility to consider is mediation, which utilizes a team of professionals to help you and your spouse reach agreements but is usually still less costly than contentious litigation.

At the end of the day, though, you need to do what's best for you — and, if applicable, your children — whether this means mediation, litigation or something else. If you're having difficulty deciding which approach is right in your situation, there are resources in the Santa Rosa area who can offer counsel on how best to begin or insight on any issues you may find confusing. With professional support, if you follow the steps above, you'll soon be on your way to a fresh start.

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