After years of marriage, the best vacation ever, or one of your ordinary fights, your spouse says, “I want a divorce.”
You feel a thump in your chest like your heart just hit your rib cage. Your stomach sinks. You can’t think straight. You doubt yourself: “Did he/she say divorce?” You want to scream, plead, cry, run, or rage, but what should you actually do?
What’s the first thing to do in divorce?
Take a deep breath* and then, do what the most sought after divorce lawyers do first: triage.
Triage – noun tri·age \trē-ˈäzh, ˈtrē-\
1 a : the sorting of and allocation of treatment… according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors
b : …sorting…according to the urgency of the… need for care
2 : the assigning of priority order… on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success
“triage” Merriam-Webster.com. 2023. (July 17, 2023)
Like an emergency room nurse or doctor evaluates a patient’s condition upon arrival, the first thing to do in a divorce is to determine the level of urgency of the need for care and prioritize the issues and actions that are most likely to minimize harm and optimize outcomes.
To ascertain the speed with which you should consult a lawyer or take action, you must identify:
- Any imminent threats of physical harm
- Any imminent threats of financial harm
- Critical court dates and/or deadlines
If you’re reading this, ask yourself these questions to determine the level of urgency in your case:
- Is my spouse threatening to hurt me or the kids?
- Do I have enough money to pay critical bills this month and next like, insurance premiums?
- Did my spouse or domestic partner recently sell assets, close credit accounts, or withdraw large sums of money from accounts?
- Does my spouse have a tendency to do whatever he/she wishes?
- Does my spouse gamble, take unnecessary risks or withhold information from me?
- Does my spouse have exclusive control and management of our finances and financial records?
- Did my spouse file a Petition and Summons for Legal Separation or Divorce?
- Is a court date or deadline scheduled in my case?
- Is my spouse level-headed and trustworthy or irrational?
- Has my spouse moved or locked me out or denied me access to our kids?
If your answer to any of the questions above is “yes,” consider taking the following action immediately.
1. Call DVSAS (Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services) at 877-715-1563 and find a safe haven
2. Speak to an experienced divorce lawyer to gain a clear picture of your circumstances in light of the law and receive recommendations on the next steps you can/should/must take in your case. Even if you want to amicably and compassionately resolve divorce issues, consulting an experienced family law attorney is invaluable.
3. If you have joint open credit accounts (e.g., home equity line of credit, credit cards): log in to your accounts, call or visit your lenders, ascertain the current balances and available credit, request/download copies of the last twelve statements for each account, and speak to an attorney about closing, drawing funds, or placing borrowing limits on open lines of credits. Subscribe to a credit monitoring service that notifies you if anyone uses your identity to try to secure new credit. Set up account notifications through your credit card companies to receive texts or emails whenever a new charge is processed.
In California, a spouse is prohibited from running up extraordinary and unusual debt in anticipation of, or in the midst of a separation, divorce or dissolution of a domestic partnership, but many do. If your spouse drains a bank account or maxes out the credit cards before announcing the marriage or DP is over, and you can prove the action was taken in bad faith, the court can order the spouse to refund your share of the funds and pay or assume the debt. The trouble is, if your spouse or domestic partner can’t immediately pay off any unconscionable joint debt and/or the creditor won’t remove your name from the liability, the third-party creditor may still attempt to collect the debt from you and you would need to seek reimbursement through the family court. In the worst-case scenario, you can be out of pocket forever.
4. If any court dates and deadlines loom (and they certainly do if you filed or were served with a Petition and Summons for Legal Separation or the Dissolution of a Marriage or Domestic Partnership or a Request for Order in California) immediately identify the date and time when you must file court papers or make a court appearance. Begin researching and preparing the documents you must submit by the deadline. California Courts Self-Help Guide provides a good introduction to the California divorce process, and an overview of steps and court forms parties must take and use to legally separate, get a divorce, or dissolve a domestic partnership.
5. Download my free 3 Keys to a Soul-Centered Divorce. The 3 Keys to a Soul-Centered Divorce is a method to approach divorce, and the free download includes Soul-Centered Divorce Planning Pages to help you clarify and prioritize issues.
6. Connect with your true self during divorce. Cultivate practices that help you cut through the noise and cope with the anxiety and fear that will inevitably arise. Find people and places to support your well being and process grief and loss of the relationship.
Take action and take good care.
Breath* is a book I recommend and if you use the link to purchase the book it will generate a commission that will fund the operating costs of this website.
Photo: Mural by Faith XLVII in Portland, Oregon