You never thought the dire divorce statistics in the US would ever include you, right? Even if it seems like a nightmare, don’t wait too long to get started on your divorce planning. Your soon-to-be-ex is likely already laying a plan to get the most they can from a settlement, and you don’t want to be caught unprepared.

Whatever you call it—a pre-divorce checklist, an exit strategy—there are some items you need to begin collecting now for a divorce hearing. The internet can bring a plethora of information to you with a few keystrokes, but it can be overwhelming and some information may be inaccurate.

Who do you turn to for help? The “top” attorney in your community might be available if you can pay their premium rate. But, consider other categories of assistance as you hit roadblocks, including the more affordable option of a legal document preparation service.

So take a deep breath, and let’s go over what you need to do now.

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Get help filing a California divorce!

…or continue reading the article below to learn more about the divorce process explained.

Pre-Divorce Checklist Item 1: Gather Your Information

Begin a list or spreadsheet of each account the two of you have. Note which are joint accounts and which are individual accounts.

In order to be considered a “separate” bank account that is protected during a divorce, the account had to have remained separate for the entire marriage. There are considerations for adding income earned during the marriage to a separate account as well as community property funds and inherited funds.

Here are some accounts you can start with:

Checking and savings accounts
Insurance policies
Retirement and/or pension, including IRAs

Next to each account, designate columns for account numbers, contact person, and phone number for the bank or other entity as well as a column for notes. Create a file in your computer and a hard-copy file for each account on your list. It might seem like a lot of work, but you will need digital copies to share with your advisors and hard copies for protection. You don’t want to get locked out of accounts or lose everything if your computer crashes. If you don’t want to create hard copies, be sure to save your files in multiple locations, including a cloud account only you can access.

Pre-Divorce Checklist Item 2: Separate Joint Accounts

Item #2 on your pre-divorce checklist might involve a trip to the bank. While you are working on your spreadsheet, you may need to act quickly in separating yourself from any joint accounts you have with your spouse. They may not be the type to swoop into the bank one late afternoon and empty the accounts, leaving you with nothing—but then again, divorce can sometimes bring out the worst in people.

The way to do this isn’t difficult. Call the bank and ask that a freeze be put on individual withdrawals on a joint account. In other words, both of you must approve any withdrawal for the time being. It’s best to tell your spouse you are taking this action so as to ward off any surprises at the bank or ATM.

Also, you can begin discussions on dividing assets with your spouse.  Each of you can put your share into a new individual account. That sounds easy, but this is another issue that often needs help from a professional, such as an attorney, a paralegal, or a mediator. Once an agreement is reached on how much each gets out of a joint account, legal document services can formalize it for presentation in court. If you’re tight on money to spend on legal help, don’t worry; cost-effective help is available.

Pre-Divorce Checklist Item 3: Create an Inventory of Major Shared Assets

You’ve already got a spreadsheet of your finances going—now’s the time to add a list of your joint assets. Simply add columns or pages to accommodate the data about assets like homes, investment property, jewelry, cars, boats, artwork, and antiques.

These assets may be outlined in a prenuptial agreement if it exists. But if not, it may be in your best interest to make these decisions as amicably as possible. If you don’t, the court will decide for you based on your state of legal residence and other circumstances. If the court makes the decision, both you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse may come away worse off than if you’d managed to negotiate yourselves.

Pre-Divorce Checklist Item 4: Choose Your Legal Services

There will be points in the divorce discussions when you will need professional legal advice. If you want to hire an attorney, don’t simply take a friend’s recommendation without checking out several attorneys. Everyone’s case is different.

As a part of your pre-divorce checklist, do some research on your legal options. Seek out someone who knows your goals in the divorce and who will listen to you. Ask potential selections about what they specialize in, who will be working on your case, how they prefer to interact with clients, and how much they charge.

Unless you have unlimited funds, you need to know that an average hourly rate for divorce attorneys in California is $384, with some charging up to $500 per hour. When you reach a point at which you simply need a bit of guidance, other levels of assistance may be a more cost-effective choice. For example, if you need a form completed but aren’t sure how to go about it, an online legal document service can help.

There Is Affordable Help Available

After you complete your pre-divorce checklist and are ready to begin, remember that you don’t need to face divorce alone. There is aid available at every step, ranging from support from a friend to paralegals, mediators, online legal document services, and then attorneys. Together, you and your team of advisors can bring order to the chaos by being prepared and organized.