Legally dissolving your relationship from your spouse is an extremely stressful process – especially if you’ve been together for several years. This is why it’s important to keep track of everything you need to do by using a comprehensive divorce checklist.
Making a decision to file for divorce is never easy. Through the years, you would have acquired debt or other financial obligations, put money away for retirement, invested in certain assets and acquired property together.
Aside from the stress of physical and emotional separation, you must come to terms with new adjustments you’ll have to make, financially and socially. You might need to find a new place to live if you’re the one leaving your home and re-learn what it’s like to live alone if you’re not staying with family or friends.
If you’re pushing through with your intent to divorce your spouse, you can stress a little less by using this comprehensive California divorce checklist.
By referring to this guide, you’ll be sure to cover all the bases and, with the help of an experienced California divorce lawyer, be able to navigate the complexities of the divorce process smoothly.
The 12-Point Divorce Checklist For California
Like most things in life, proper planning can impact your ability to ease into the divorce process and deal with the many requirements and sometimes mentally exhausting and emotionally draining proceedings.
So, to get you started, and all prepped for what’s coming, use this divorce checklist to cover every single detail that can impact how you emerge from your divorce.
1. Ensure you have a support network in place.
It could be your closest friends or family members who already have an idea about your marriage troubles. Or you could also wait to tell them later about your decision.
Whatever the case, you need to have people you can depend on to provide emotional support – even if it’s just ears that are ready to listen. You can also talk to a professional, such as a therapist or counselor, to provide you guidance, particularly in terms of coping with the tremendous stress you’re bound to face before, during and after divorce.
2. Organize your financial and family documents.
Aside from child custody, financial arrangements are one of the most contentious aspects of divorce. Therefore, it’s important to get everything ready – whether your attorney will need them or for other legal reasons. Scan all original copies and save these in a centralized folder, and keep separate photocopies of each item.
While you’re doing this, file personal or family documents as well, so everything is organized.
Some important financial and family documents you need to note include:
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Mortgage and loan documents
- Debt records
- Tax returns from the previous year
- Payroll and employment information
- Copies of W-2 forms and income statements
- Social security statements
- Life and health insurance forms
- Investment account statements
- Retirement savings account information
- Pension information
- Deeds, wills and trusts
- Automobile titles
- Recent utility bills
- Your spouse’s driver’s license number
- Marriage license
- Prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement
- Birth certificates (including those of your children)
- Past judgments or pleadings (yours and your spouse’s, if any)
3. Conduct an inventory of your assets and liabilities.
Make a list of all your assets, including their value, as well as your debts. Your list should include what you own together as a couple and individually.
There may be instances when a spouse has a secret bank account or investment. If this is the case, inform your lawyer so they can find someone to investigate it.
4. Devise a custody plan.
Whatever the cause of your impending divorce, remember that your children’s needs and wellbeing take precedence over everything. You need to step up as a parent and ensure their welfare is protected.
It’s usually best for divorcing couples to work together in matters of child custody. However, consider having a parenting plan that embodies what you envision to be the ideal childcare setup. You may include details of your desired children’s living arrangements, including how much time they’ll spend with you and your spouse.
5. Decide on where you’ll live.
Are you planning to stay put in or leave your marital home? Whatever your plan, you need to inform your attorney, especially if you want to move out. If you’re seriously contemplating leaving, don’t go without legal advice. Instead, allocate time to look for a new place, whether you’re looking to rent or buy, so you’ll also get information on current market rates.
6. Investigate your spouse.
We’re using the term “investigate” here loosely, as you’ll need to do a bit of sleuthing. Nothing underhand at all, but find information you think will affect the outcome of your divorce significantly.
This includes information like past criminal involvement, alcoholism or other forms of addiction, periods of unemployment, gambling problems and if they had extramarital affairs or is already in a relationship with someone else.
Try to steel yourself from any lingering affection you may feel for your spouse and make sure you share this information with your lawyer before you file for divorce. Whenever you feel like keeping things from your lawyer because you are trying to protect your spouse or family, think of it this way: your spouse would be getting similar advice as you and would be probably making the same preparations.
7. Update your personal information.
If you and your spouse used to share an email or social media account, or if they had access to any of your accounts or know your ATM or credit card PINs, update these right away.
Use unique passwords and PINs so they’ll have a difficult time guessing those. Get a new email address if you need to.
8. Update your wills and trusts.
If you have a will or trust, update the information right away. You can, of course, remove your spouse as one of the beneficiaries of your estate, or elect another relative to take their place. By ensuring your will is updated, you’ll feel at ease knowing your children are protected and will be taken care of in case you are gone.
9. Remove cherished personal items from your marital home.
Discuss your plan to remove cherished family heirlooms or personal items from your home with your attorney. They’re the best person to advise you on what items qualify as separate property (as opposed to community property), which you can remove without any legal repercussions.
You can take items, such as your family heirlooms, your old photographs or albums, school yearbooks, personal magazine collection, etc., and put these in a storage facility. There’s absolutely no need to move everything out, but it would help to secure separate property that you hold dear.
Doing so will allow you to easily access personal belongings later if you move out and the divorce is still ongoing. Also, securing your personal items is a preemptive move in case your spouse becomes violent and starts destroying your personal effects.
10. Get a job and start fresh.
If you have been wholly financially dependent on your spouse during your marriage, you might want to start looking for a job soon. Of course, if all goes well, you might be awarded alimony, but it’s better to establish yourself and be independent financially as soon as possible.
Once you get a job, you can probably set up your own credit line – something you’ll find useful during and after your divorce. If you’re currently employed, then make sure you keep your job as it will keep you from suffering from financial strain, ensure you are productive and have something else to do other than stress over your divorce.
As with any major decisions you’ll be making from this point on, make sure you consult with your lawyer as they’ll have your best interests at heart.
11. Fill out and file the divorce forms.
To file for a divorce in California, there are several divorce forms that you need to fill out. Your attorney will be able to walk you through all the forms, as well as the filing process. You’ll need to take all the required forms to the clerk’s office of the Superior Court.
12. Talk to your children about the impending divorce.
Never mention your divorce plans until you are 100% sure. If you and your spouse are on speaking terms, have a civil relationship or agree that divorce is your best recourse, and discuss how you should bring up your decision with your kids.
As much as possible, keep a united front and inform them that you’ve made this choice. Make it clear to the children that it’s a mutual decision and that although your relationship as spouses will change, your relationship as their parents would not.
If you have older kids, inform them a few weeks prior to your physical separation, and tell younger children a few days before anyone moves out. Agree with your spouse on how much and exactly what you will tell the kids. Hold a family session on a weekend, preferably on a weekend morning. Be ready for questions, so make sure you and your soon-to-be-ex agree on appropriate responses.
After reading the divorce checklist, you may still have other nagging questions, and we’ve tried to cover some of them below:
What do I do while awaiting the final outcome?
While you’re waiting for the final judgement or mediation agreement, it would be in your children’s best interests to work through your differences with your soon-to-be ex-spouse.
If you can arrange for family counseling that’ll help ease your children into the reality of the separation, do so. Again, both parties need to consider the children’s welfare first, so be prepared to set aside your differences for the sake of your children.
Do I need to stay single while the divorce is ongoing?
It would be in your best interest to remain single until the divorce is finalized.
Cohabiting or starting a new relationship can complicate your situation and add more stress to the parties involved. Having a new significant other while the divorce is ongoing can negatively affect the alimony or child support you’ll receive.
What are considered special divorce cases?
There are specific types of divorce that require special consideration. These include divorces involving military officers, business partners or owners, and same-sex spouses. Each divorce category entails addressing the unique circumstances and important issues of the divorcing parties.
Who gets the pets in a California divorce?
Although most people consider pets as family members, the state of California views pets as property. Therefore, “custody” over your pets is usually decided on during the division of property proceedings.
To avoid any unpleasantness concerning pet custody, it’s best to go through mediation so the concerned parties can come to an agreement that will, hopefully, be beneficial to the pets in question.
How long does it usually take for a divorce to get finalized in California?
The mandatory waiting period for couples wanting to end their marriage through divorce in the state of California is at least six months.
The factors that can prolong this time frame actually depend on you and your spouse – whether you see a mediator or decide to litigate in court. Your disagreement over matters like child custody, property division, etc., could extend your waiting time.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself
While the divorce is ongoing, you may find yourself experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions.
There may be times when you feel like holding on to your relationship or when you’ll feel afraid of being alone again. You may even feel depressed and self-destructive.
When this happens, speak to your close friends and family members – people you know will understand and be supportive. Of course, you can also seek professional counseling, which is why, again, you need to have a ready support network to help see you through this difficult time.
Also, do your best to be there for your children and be an understanding and loving parent. Be ready for their tantrums and questions. Focus on setting their minds at ease – that you and your spouse will always be there for them.
Of course, it’s absolutely essential to have an expert, reliable divorce lawyer by your side – someone you can trust with your life.
If you happen to need a divorce attorney, please contact us at Heath Baker Law for a free consultation.
We’re seasoned California family law experts ready to help you achieve the best outcome for you and your children.