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Navigating Divorce: What to Expect Step by Step

The divorce process doesn't come with a "how-to" manual, and there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach. Here are 7 steps to help make it more manageable.


Entering the world of divorce is a daunting experience. You are likely fearful of the reactions from those affected and uncertain of your future. Adding to the unpredictability, most of us have no idea where or how to begin the divorce process (especially if your spouse was the one that demanded a divorce) and all that we need to consider and decide along the way. Your trust has been broken, and yet the divorce process necessitates that you find and trust strangers to look out for your best interests.


Unfortunately, divorce doesn’t come with a step-by-step manual. When I begin divorce coaching with a new client, most find comfort discussing the big picture view of the divorce process. Only once they understand the overview can we focus on segmenting those stages to more manageable, smaller pieces. Ruminating on future problems that may arise or past mistakes is overwhelming and often paralyzing. Stay present and focused on what you can do today that aligns with your big picture goals (learn how to do this in Step 8 of our Divorce Recovery Series).


Once you (or your spouse) have decided to divorce, there are two immediate issues that need to be addressed: temporary living arrangements and telling the kids (if you have any). The following 7 steps will help to help break down what may seem an overwhelming divorce process into smaller, more manageable pieces.

1. Temporary Living Arrangements with Your Spouse

You may have the means to live in a separate residence during your divorce proceedings, but that doesn’t mean you should. Speak with a marital attorney before making this decision as you could be forfeiting ownership or providing an unnecessary opportunity for your soon-to-be ex-spouse (STBX) to hide assets. Regardless, you needn’t think long before you realize how many sleepless nights you’ll have if you have to share a bed with the spouse you are divorcing. Do you have a spare guest room? If not, who gets the couch? I strongly recommend purchasing an air mattress, as it is much more comfortable than the sofa, especially for an extended period of time.

2. Telling the Children About Your Divorce

Now it gets difficult – telling the kids. Depending on the age of your children, they may have suspected this was coming for awhile. Children are often more intuitive than we give them credit for, and if you believe they are oblivious to your marital problems, you are likely wrong. This is true whether they witnessed you crying, in a screaming contest with your spouse, or simply the lack of smiles and laughter between the two of you.

Most child specialists recommend that both parents tell the kids together, avoid assigning blame, put up a unified front, and most importantly, assuring them that you both love them and will always be there for them. The concept that the family structure is changing and not destroyed, ending, or broken is the best approach. However, there are exceptions to every rule. If you are in an abusive marriage or the likelihood of a contentious divorce is high, we recommend that you consult with a certified divorce professional. We offer a Free Rapid Relief Call for just this occasion.

Managing your children’s reactions and establishing attainable parenting guidelines is vital to your children’s well-being. This process is new for everyone involved. The more pliable you and your soon-to-be ex can be, the better for everyone. It is advisable to inform your child’s school regardless of how embarrassing it is for you. Teachers and guidance counselors will often show leniency for the occasional incomplete homework assignment or minor lack of judgment your children may display. Additionally, some teachers may offer increased communication regarding any changes in your child’s behavior and more comprehensive academic support while at school.

3. Telling Friends and Family About the Divorce

Since you’ve taken the plunge, for your children’s sake, and started telling people of your divorce, you’re probably wondering how, when, or if you even should tell your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers. The answer is sometimes for the first two and rarely for the last two — with the exception of your boss or dedicated HR representative.

Telling your children is the hard part, telling your friends and family is when divorce becomes real. Most people fear humiliation, others fear condemnation, but we need not concern ourselves with the opinions of others, especially during divorce. You should be selective about the people you tell and have a reason for telling them. This is also a great starting point to shortlist people for your personal divorce support network. Just as you are selective about the people you tell, be discerning about the details you share. Your priest doesn’t need to know the last time you were physically intimate and your butcher doesn’t need to know who gets the house. Undoubtedly, someone will ask you a question you find intrusive, inappropriate or frankly, something you just don’t have the energy to answer, and it’s perfectly fine not to! “I appreciate your concern, but I don’t want to discuss that right now” works wonders!

4. Understanding Your Legal Options

Now that you have your personal bases covered, it’s time to focus on the divorce logistics. Take a day or so to research and educate yourself on the different legal options available for divorce in your state. You’re not studying for the bar, just learning enough to ask the right questions when selecting an attorney. For a high-level overview of the differences between litigation, collaboration, mediation, and arbitration, listen to Journey Beyond Divorce founder Karen McMahon’s discussion with 40-year family law attorney, William Laufer.

5. Choosing an Attorney and Other Divorce Professionals

Use this knowledge to select the matrimonial attorney who has the best track record for the legal option you wish to pursue. You don’t want a general attorney who “sometimes does divorces.” One of the first tasks your attorney will assign you is preparing a net worth statement. Doing this ahead of time will save you money and another meeting. A net worth statement is a document that lists what you owe and what you own and is generally the cornerstone of divorce negotiations. Which is why you want to get it right and one of the big reasons we recommend a CDFA, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst on your professional divorce support team. If you and your spouse previously shared a financial advisor, it is highly recommended to bring in an outside professional to ensure your best interests are being sought. Some CPAs (certified public accountant) and CFPs (certified financial planner) are also CDFAs, making them the ideal choice to assist you with your financial goals.

6. Determination of Future Living Arrangements

While the legal and financial considerations are the largest and most central part of the divorce process, deciding what to do about the marital residence(s) and your future living arrangements is the next big step. There are many aspects to consider when choosing your next home, especially if you are sharing custody of school-age children. You may be tempted to look for a private sale to save on closing costs or forgo a home inspection if the house looks fine. Do not cut corners here! If using a realtor or real estate agent, look for ones that offer a discount on closing cost for the newly divorced or have experience in selecting neighborhoods with good school districts. If you are selling your marital home, try to use the real estate agent as your buyers’ agent; they will often reduce their closing percentage on both transactions, saving you thousands of dollars!

7. Post-Divorce Obligations

Once your divorce settlement is “signed, sealed and delivered,” you must begin the post-divorce obligations of changing beneficiaries on wills and life insurance, updating allowances on your W-4, submitting a change of name and address forms to applicable institutions (including your passport and driver’s license), and adjusting health insurance. Many states prohibit making these changes until the divorce agreement is approved by the court, so check with your attorney first. This painful chapter is over, what will your next one be?

If you need support or additional guidance during any part of the divorce process, we encourage you to reach out to us for a Rapid Relief Call with one of our certified divorce coaches.



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