Happy Divorce Day? Five Initial Steps in the Process of Divorce

For many unhappy couples who make it through the gauntlet of winter holidays, the first Monday after New Year’s marks an unofficial annual observation: Divorce Day. A British survey showed that one in five couples start considering divorce or separation once the Christmas festivities come to an end. Filing for divorce on the first business day of the first full week of the new year becomes the deciding moment.

No matter when it happens, initiating a divorce can feel overwhelming. Keep in mind that divorce (like all aspects of life) is a process. If your New Year’s resolution includes parting from your spouse, here are five steps to consider:

Hire a Skilled Divorce Attorney: Although it is possible to do a DYI divorce, most people require the expertise of a family law attorney to see them through the process. Ask friends and relatives for their recommendations and interview your prospects to make sure the attorney is a good fit for your needs. (For more insight, read Five Steps for Finding Your Ideal Divorce Attorney.)

Assess Your Financial Well-Being: Take an objective look at your assets as well as your debts (both joint and personally held.) Whittle down personal debt and increase savings, if possible. Gather proof of income for yourself and your spouse. Consider your post-divorce budget and what changes may be required to make the transition back to single life. This assessment may also help you make decisions about who keeps your marital home or if you need to liquidate jointly held assets. Seeking the advice of a financial advisor can help make these decisions less stressful. (For more ideas, read Where to Find Help When Making Financial Decisions.)

Establish Accounts in Your Name: If your spouse was the primary account holder (bank accounts, credit cards, utilities, mortgage, car loans, etc.), it’s time to establish your own accounts and credit. If you hold the credit, open new accounts solely in your name or remember to remove your spouse’s name once the divorce terms are final. Resist the urge to make major purchases until the dust settles. Read Six Money Mistakes … When You’re Divorcing to learn more about financial pit-falls.

Behave Yourself: “No dating, partying, or hanging out till all hours of the morning,” cautions Cathy Meyer, a Certified Divorce Coach, Marriage Educator and Legal Investigator. “If child custody is an issue in your case you need to make your children your number one priority…which they should already be. Don’t act like a good mother/father, be one. This is an especially stressful time for your children and they need you to stay focused on meeting your child’s needs.” When is it safe to date? Read On the Rebound.

Take Care of Yourself: Use this time to focus on personal and professional goals. No matter how difficult and stressful, the divorce process will not last forever. Channel your energy into positive practices, such as gratitude, exercise, and taking care of yourself. (For other holistic tips, read Six About Six Ways to Be Grateful After Divorce.) If needed, seek out the guidance of a skilled therapist to help you through the emotional roller-coaster.