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Divorce is a major life transition, and working your way through it is no easy task. Assuming that this is your first divorce, you probably have no idea what to expect. Even if it isn’t your first divorce, every situation is unique, and there may be surprises in waiting that you didn’t encounter before. To help you prepare both materially and emotionally, we’ve assembled this advice on what you can expect throughout the divorce process.

Divorce preparations: The initial stages of planning

  1. Find out about the state laws governing divorce in your area. Many states require that certain “good faith” thresholds be met before filing for divorce. So you may need to attend mandatory marital counseling or observe a predetermined “cooling off” period before you can go through with the process.
  1. Begin discussing child care considerations. This will be an important part of maintaining stability for the kids. You don’t want to start them at one child care center only to have to quit later, and having them attend two different centers is not the best either, since this is throwing additional turnover and transitions into their lives. It helps to start thinking about these things ahead of time rather than later. Also, keep in mind that some areas can carry waiting lists of up to a year or more, especially for younger children. Stricter regulations for infants and toddlers limit capacity for those ages, and even prevent many providers from offering care. (Paradoxically, the same amount of space can be licensed for 10 infants or for 20 2-year-olds, so it’s a bigger hassle and expense for centers to care for infants.) Thus you’ll want to be considering child care arrangements early.
  1. Consider filing for a legal separation. If one party simply up and left, you may need to (or want to) file for a legal separation as the first step. Not all·states allow for a legal separation, but among those that do, it can be a way to protect your interests until a divorce is imminent and papers are filed, thus buying some time.
  1. Start assembling any and all paperwork according to the criteria outlined in the steps of divorce.
  1. Begin thinking about your future living arrangements. At least one party will need a new place, and in some situations, the house may need to be sold and both parties will have to relocate. Start looking into these issues now, since apartments or housing can also take time to find.
  1. You’ll want to start calling around and get new quotes on things like insurance expenses, which often change in rate when you’re out on your own and no longer married.

Divorce preparations: Bracing yourself for what’s to come

  1. As someone with children and possibly a great deal of accumulated assets, don’t be surprised if it turns into a long, drawn out process, even if you two are cooperating. Anticipate some frustration to come.
  1. Finances are typically a leading source of anger in the divorce. No matter how things are divided, neither party will think it’s fair, since each of you will be collectively poorer after the divorce. Brace yourself for this, and the sooner each of you begins thinking about these issues, the better.
  1. Recognize that throughout the divorce, the spotlight may be on you. As family attorney Laura Wasser states, “it’s going to be interesting to people that your marriage is coming to an end, through schadenfreude and perhaps nothing else.” (Interview, June 2012, p. 114) People are social creatures, and often nosy ones. You should expect that you might become the talk of the town or the topic of conversation among your social circles as soon as others become aware of the news. In the absence of fact, they’ll guess, infer, and conjecture about what went wrong, so you may even have to deal with false rumors or misinformation. You can tone this down by keeping things to yourself, but the news generally gets out sooner or later.
  1. Many people overlook this aspect of divorce, but lawyers say that fights over pets can be especially tough. Be aware that this might come up as an issue.
  1. Expect a period of adjustment for both you and the kids. Realistically, it takes the average child at least 2 years to adjust to the changes of divorce, and depending on their predicament, it may take adults just as long. Expect behavioral problems, falling grades, or other issues during this period of transition.

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