Even if you don’t think there’s hope for the marriage, counseling can help you discover what went wrong, how to cope, and how to pick up the pieces to move forward. If your spouse won’t participate, go by yourself, because the benefits can help you put your mind at ease with the decision of divorce. Finding a qualified counselor can be easier than you realize, as your employer, friends or family might have recommendations. Without a close personal referral, websites like GoodTherapy.org and NBCC.org (the National Board for Certified Counselors) can be wonderful references.
2. Talk to an attorney before you do anything.
You don’t have to hire an attorney, but it’s highly recommended that you get as much information as you can before you start the divorce process. There’s a lot to know about divorce in Washington state and you can’t rely on your friends and family for information solely based on their personal experiences. Divorce laws are complex and vary tremendously from state to state. Often people fail to realize how much their own unique circumstances will affect the outcome of their case, despite how simple a friend’s divorce may seem.
The actions you take at the beginning of the divorce process can be monumental to the final outcome, so you need to understand your options before you take action. Later down the line, options may be taken off the table and it could be too late to change the results. Even if you decide to proceed on your own without an attorney, talk to one first to learn what you need to know to protect your family and your interests.
3. Don't move out of the marital home and leave your children with a spouse before consulting an attorney.
If you’ve been the primary parent and plan on having custody of your children after your divorce, there are important steps to be thought out. Leaving your children with a spouse before any court orders have been issued may have dire consequences on your ability to later obtain custody. It can be difficult to persuade a court that your spouse is an unfit primary parent if you were willing to leave your children alone with them.
Also, by leaving your house, you may be unable to return later after a court divides the property. The process of divorce and property division can be lengthy, so the best advice is to stay in your house with your children until after you consult an attorney. If your spouse is violent, this advice will be very different and you’ll need to take steps to protect both yourself and your family.
4. Don't stay in an abusive or dangerous situation because you don't know where to turn for help.
If you feel stuck in an abusive relationship, there are so many resources at your disposal. In Vancouver, WA, the YWCA maintains a domestic violence shelter as well as many programs to assist victims of domestic violence and can be reached at 360-696-0167. If you aren’t in the Vancouver area, you can visit DomesticShelters.org to find an organization near you that can help or a hotline to call. You can reach out to a member of the clergy, a counselor or friend or relative for help as well. Most communities have domestic violence programs that offer support, counseling and shelter, no matter where you are.
5. Take concrete steps to safeguard precious assets before you and your spouse begin discussing divorce.
One of the most common occurrences in a divorce is that certain items tend to ‘disappear’ and it becomes your word against your spouse’s word about where an item ends up. Things such as jewelry, art objects, family keepsakes and sentimental items which your spouse could remove easily need to be protected. The first step is to take a complete inventory of these for a fair division at a later date. Include pictures of the items, the date of purchase (or when you received them) and the general location of where they are in your home. Having a list of items will provide proof at a later date that they did, in fact, exist and will go a long way toward reaching an equitable division of your property.
6. Gather all your financial documents together before you or your spouse leave the marital home.
Divorce is not just an emotional strain; it's also a very serious financial burden on both parties. Before separating, make sure that you and your spouse have the important financial documents you'll need, including tax returns, pay stubs for both parties, bank account statements and any other shared account statements.