8 Steps To Divorce: Charting Your Own Course To Getting ‘Unmarried’

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woman getting a divorce and getting unmarried

There's no single route through the divorce process — no magic road map, perfect prescription, or foolproof method.

Every divorce is unique, like a fingerprint. Only you know the true intricacies of your situation. Therefore, you're the most qualified expert to chart your own course through a very personal landscape of divorce.

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In an ideal world, you would simply choose the best way to move through your divorce.

Knowing instinctively what would make the most sense — given who you are, who your spouse is, and what your specific circumstances are.

But, in reality, how do you start? It can all seem so heavy, dark, scary, impenetrable, and overwhelming.

While each divorce is indeed unique, there are some common themes and some recommended stops to make along the way. My Getting Unmarried™ Road Map has eight general stops, including the final destination of happily ever after divorce.

For your individual case, you will need to consult with your own experts and find out the specific guidelines for your state, as each state differs in their approach to divorce particulars.

With that said, here are the 8 steps to charting your divorce course.

1. Decide if your marriage is truly over.

Are you lying awake trying to decide if your marriage is worth saving, wondering if you have anything left to give? Should you stay or should you go?

When trying to determine if your marriage is truly over, ask yourself these questions:

  • Why isn't your marriage working?
  • How would you like it to be, instead?
  • What relationship patterns do you notice and do they contribute negatively to your relationship?
  • What role do you play?
  • Have you communicated any of this to your spouse?

If you can recognize destructive relationship patterns, you may be able to interrupt them and create new, healthy patterns.

You may need professional help — a therapist, coach, or counselor can offer a neutral or different perspective as well as introduce healthy behaviors and communication methods.

It’s quite painful to be in a marriage that’s not working. No matter which path you end up taking, choose happiness over unhappiness.

2. Research divorce.

Learning as much as you can about your situation helps you make smarter, more informed decisions. Knowledge is power.

Read articles online and in print. Buy or borrow divorce books with topics that sound interesting to you. Talk to professionals and friends about divorce in your state.

Learn some basics about divorce and family law. Family law simply provides a framework for decisions, leaving it up to you, your spouse, and your divorce team to make the ultimate decisions within that framework.

Getting an overview of the law early in your process will help you have a better understanding of your options.

3. Set your intentions.

Divorce is filled with so many life-changing decisions to be made. Knowing your divorce intentions helps you recognize which path to take and which decision makes the most sense.

If you're clear, you can feel when your actions and choices are in alignment or not. Divorcing with integrity ultimately means acting in line with your values and intentions.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Who do you want to be through the divorce?
  • How do you want people (including your children) to see you?
  • What do you want your life to look like after the divorce is final?
  • What are your goals, intentions, and dreams?
  • Are they S.M.A.R.T. goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely)?
  • What behaviors do you need to change?
  • What new habits do you want to develop?
  • What action will you take? By when?
  • How will you celebrate your achievements?

Writing down the answers to these questions will help you achieve clarity. Having a written list can act as a touchstone — a reminder of why you’re doing this and what you hope to accomplish.

Place the list somewhere you can see it. Make it beautiful or inspiring, and you’ll be reminded to take action.

By setting powerful and positive intentions, you can use your divorce as a turning point — transforming your life in positive ways.

4. Select a divorce process.

A divorce includes changing your legal status from married to single, dividing your assets and debts, making child custody decisions (if you have minor children), and establishing cash flows (spousal and/or child support) between you and your spouse.

In order to achieve all of this, you need to select a divorce process — from doing it all yourself to a full divorce trial in court where a judge decides every aspect for you.

  • Do it yourself: Pro Per/Pro Se
  • Online document preparation services
  • Private mediation
  • One shared lawyer/paralegal
  • Two Separate lawyers
  • Collaborative divorce
  • Litigation

Explore the various options and processes of divorce, as well as interview multiple professionals. Each process has its positives and negatives and will be better suited to some situations than others.

Once you’ve done your homework on your state's specific variations and looked at each process in light of your circumstances and intentions, you’ll be better able to determine which way works best for you.

5. Build your support team.

Meeting with experts — such as a certified divorce financial analyst to help you understand your finances, or an attorney to understand your legal rights — is an important step to take.

You can start forming your team in advance of asking for a divorce (if you're the one seeking the dissolution) or during the process of divorce, if that makes more sense for your situation.

Possible experts in your team can include, but are not limited to:

  • Attorney
  • Mediator
  • Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA)
  • CPA/financial planner
  • Forensic accountant
  • Divorce coach
  • Therapist
  • Vocational evaluator
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Community
  • Religious connections

Surround yourself with people who support you on this journey and experts who have the knowledge and resources you need. Try to find people who lift you up and give you energy, rather than leave you feeling beaten down.

RELATED: 24 Harmful Myths About Divorce That Will Keep You From Ever Moving On

5. Organize your divorce.

Get your hands on any and all documents that you think might be relevant to your divorce. It's helpful to have a large accordion file to keep your paperwork organized in labeled sections.

Gather and compile, in one place, all financial documents that might be needed for negotiation and court records, along with your personal information.

Identify the types of decisions you’ll need to make for co-parenting and custody arrangements. Start thinking about the property in your house that's important to you.

Make a video or written inventory of your household and its contents. Create a list of items that were owned before marriage, as well as a separate list of items that were obtained during the marriage.

How well do you know your financial landscape? Get the details of your assets and liabilities, including copies of all financial documents, such as:

  • Mortgages, real property, deeds, and titles
  • Retirement accounts
  • Bank and investment accounts
  • Insurance policies
  • Business ownership and employment contracts
  • Credit-card statements
  • Tax returns

Finding the right expert, such as a CDFA, and having them involved in your negotiations helps to keep emotions from getting out of control and keep things rational and civil.

6. Set the tone of your divorce.

How you tell your spouse about an impending divorce typically sets the tone for the way the divorce will unfold, so you'll want to put some thought and planning into it if possible.

Take care when choosing your words and selecting your setting. How you communicate your goals and intentions can influence everything, from how your spouse responds to the process and experts you select.

If it’s an option, it's helpful to have a neutral third party, such as your therapist, to help shape and hold the conversation.

Equally important, if not more so, is how you tell your children about the divorce. Choose the time and the place with forethought and perhaps with guidance from the experts.

Child psychologists recommend being on the same page with your spouse as much possible with the information you share and using age-appropriate information.

For example, you’ll talk to your four-year-old very differently than you’d talk to your 14-year-old. Communicating with your children is heroic and sensitive work, so it's especially helpful to have expert guidance in this area of the divorce.

7. Negotiate your settlement.

This can be one of the most difficult and painful parts of the divorce process. It helps you get clear about what you want, what you’re entitled to under your state’s family law framework, and also what you’d be willing to settle for.

Knowing your bottom line and what you’re able to compromise on is a huge help when it comes to negotiating.

No one wins in divorce. But, you can work diligently — and intelligently — to minimize the damage and maximize a strong foundation for the future.

It helps to think strategically to know what you want and have an understanding of what your spouse wants. Try and figure out the motivations behind the behaviors.

You are the expert in your life. Chances are, you know your spouse better than anyone else. You know what makes them tick.

Remember that you're dividing up a finite amount of assets and cash flow. There's no magic "divorce bucket of gold" somewhere. Everyone needs to compromise.

Where are you willing to be flexible? What can you live with? It’s OK to have some non-negotiables. Know when to compromise and when to stand firm.

During the negotiations, emotions can run high and fear can rear its ugly head. Know, in advance, you and your spouse's triggers so that you can minimize the possible fallout and conflict.

By realizing the things that trigger you and your spouse, you can better manage the reactions and emotions as you engage in the divorce process.

8. Rebuild your happily ever after.

Divorce is a powerful life transition, which gives you the opportunity to redefine and rebuild your life.

You get to focus on yourself, your environment, letting go of the past, and creating a new future that’s more in line with your values and who you’ve become.

No area of your life goes untouched in a divorce. So, reassess your values, life preferences, home, routine, family structure, and relationships.

Don't forget self-care, as you’ll need to be rested and healthy to better handle all of these changes that come your way.

Work on preserving and rebuilding your finances by reviewing and refining your budget to get a clear picture of your financial landscape after the settlement is finalized.

Restructure your family unit. What does your post-divorce family look like? What are your new traditions?

Build self-awareness. How will you get to a place of forgiveness and gratitude, while letting go of any residual denial, anger, shame, and guilt?

Learn to trust yourself as well as others and explore what it takes for you to feel authentic, happy, and fulfilled. Where you go from here is entirely up to you!

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Kira Gould is a certified divorce coach and works with women who want to get unmarried with clarity, compassion, and positive intention. If you’d like to chart your own course through divorce but need additional information and knowledge, check out Kira Gould's free Getting Unmarried™ Road Map online workshop.

This article was originally published at Getting Unmarried. Reprinted with permission from the author.