Where Do I Even Begin? How to Start a Divorce

The first step is often the hardest is true of many things in life and can especially be so for starting a divorce. When someone calls our office to start a divorce, their first question is often, where do I even begin? How do I start a divorce? Most people they’ve never been through a divorce before, and they don’t know where to start and what they need to do, let alone how to do it. And for many, they’re unsure exactly what mediation is and whether it would be a right fit for them or not. First off, we always share with them that the step they’ve taken to contact our office is a great start, and we understand how scary that can be. So for anyone reading this who isn’t sure where to start, please know that we know that the first step can be the hardest, and we want to make sure that you can take that when you are ready.

There’s No “Right” Time to Start a Divorce

First off, I think it’s imperative to acknowledge that there is no “right” time to start a divorce, it’s when you feel ready, and even then, you may not feel 100% ready, and you may still know that it’s time to do so.  Everyone is different, so don’t compare yourself to anyone else. You might know how quickly they started and moved through the divorce process. You need to do what’s going to be best for you and your family. Just like our mediation process is not a one size fits all process, the divorce process generally is not one-size-fits-all either. You need to think about what will feel best to you and how you want to do that. For some people, it’s starting off talking with a therapist or a divorce coach (both of which we have many wonderful referrals if you’re looking for one) to talk with and better understand whether divorce is right for you and your spouse.  For others, it’s jumping straight into learning what your legal rights are and figuring out the process by which you want to move through your divorce. And even for others, it’s filing a petition and starting the legal dissolution process right away. There isn’t just one answer for starting the process, and you need to be able to think through what will make you feel the most confident and comfortable moving forward.

Gathering Information

One of the best ways to start the process and allow yourself to feel confident with your decision and moving forward through the divorce process is to begin by gathering information. What I mean by that is in a few different ways. One is finding out your options of how you want to do your divorce and what professionals and processes you may work with. There are many ways to do your divorce. While we’re partial to divorce mediation and the benefits, there is also collaborative law or a traditional litigation process. There are all different hybrid methods that are possible for most people who have never been through a divorce before (or even those who have but it may be a very different situation), often educating themselves about how the divorce can be done. Many professionals like ourselves offer free initial consultations to help you better understand your options and understand the differences and benefits of the various paths.

Two, even if you’re unsure where things are heading, educating yourself and gathering information about your rights can help you feel more confident if you move forward with the divorce process. In addition to understanding the different methods, the divorce can take consulting with an attorney and/or CDFA (certified divorce financial analyst) can help you better understand what your specific situation looks like and provide you an understanding of your rights, and often calm fears over whether they’ll be OK after the divorce is over.  When consulting with professionals, you want to make sure that you are working with the right professionals and those who will help and not hurt your situation.  We have many referrals for great attorneys and CDFAs to work with even before the mediation process has begun. Even if you’re not ready to do any individual meetings with a professional, there are many resources for groups that meet in person or online to provide more information about the divorce process itself and allow you to start gathering more information. Also, some of these meetings can be done individually before you’ve even spoken with your spouse about divorce (like meeting with a divorce coach or individual attorney) or can be done jointly (such as a consult for mediation) if you’re both onboard and wanting to find out more information together.

Choose a Process

As I mentioned above, there are many ways that you can go through the divorce process and once, you’re ready to do it, you’ll need to choose the method that will work best for you and your spouse.  Sometimes you and your spouse may not be confident how you’re going to do it or unsure if you both agree on that process which is why the previous step of gathering information can be so important. Too often, people think that they MUST work with an attorney, so they automatically go out and hire an attorney without thinking about the other options they have for the process. Even in mediation, clients may choose to work with an attorney on the side or in the process. Still, you want to ensure that the attorney you select will respect the process you want to work within and understand and be comfortable in that role. Unfortunately, not all attorneys are mediation friendly or collaboratively trained. If you want to mediate or do a collaborative process, you don’t want to end up with a highly aggressive attorney who only litigates. On the flip side, if you’re in a situation where litigation is necessary, and possibly there’s even been domestic violence or abuse, you’ll want to make sure that the attorney you work with will be able to handle that situation and provide you with the correct information.

If you are looking to begin the divorce process and aren’t sure how to start a divorce, please give us a call as that is a great place to start, and we can point you in the right direction, even if mediation doesn’t end up being the right choice for you and your spouse. Contact us to schedule a free consultation with one of our mediators. Contact West Coast Family Mediation to begin.

by: Amanda Singer

Amanda Singer with west coast family mediation center

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