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Divorce 101- What Do I Do Now?

Get an attorney, get organized and get out of the relationship.


I had previously written an article about "Self Help Divorces" not always being the best option. (See my link to the article). Most folks think that divorces should be quick and easy and filed like 'TurboTax'. But, if you've acquired real property, have a pension, securities like stocks, bonds, whole life insurance plans, and don't forget kids- divorce is not easy. It's hard; emotionally, physically and mentally. Do not complicate the matter by trying to 'do it on the cheap' and getting yourself more worked up and confused. A divorce lawyer is usually the best person to contact after a family friend or relative who will help you through the difficult time.


What do I mean by "get organized?" It means, do an inventory of all your assets and liabilities. Write them all down on a sheet of paper.

Real estate

Get a copy of your deed(s), mortgage account(s) information, payoffs, taxes and utility bills. You will need to provide this information and supporting documentation to your attorney at some point. Having these documents at your consult will make things go easily and you will feel like you've gotten something accomplished.


Get copies of financing agreements or payoffs for automobiles. Find out what bank holds the financing, get the account numbers, get payoffs. Know that make, model and year of the vehicles. How many miles are on each of them? Are they specially-equipped (eg: Top of the line model, 4x4).

Bank Accounts

Where and what type of accounts do you have? Savings, checking, CD's, Christmas Club? Are they joint or individual? What are the numbers? What are the approximate balances in each? Get your most recent statement(s) and see if the bank can provide your reconciliation statements going back about one (1) full year before you've separated from your spouse. That way we'll know if anyone's been planning for their divorce (ie: looting the accounts).

Pensions, IRA's, 401(k)'s, 403(b)'s, Military Pensions, PSERS

Get copies of recent account statements. Numbers, values and dates on the statements will help a lawyer determine the true value of an account and what's been going on with the account. Again, if you have access to a spouse's account(s), get their statements for at least one (1) year prior to your date of separation. Who's in charge of the account? Get the name and number of the account manager or advisor.

Loans, Debts, Credit Cards

There may be some overlap in the information needed at this point, however, making sure you have a copy of all loans (mortgages included) will help your lawyer. Get copies of all recent credit card statements. Get account numbers, telephone contact information for the cards and know who's on the account (joint or individual). It's always a good idea to get a copy of your credit report at this time as well. You usually can get a free credit report at many online marketing locations, such as "" This way you will find out if your spouse has opened new accounts in both names or in their own name and racked up substantial debt that you may not be liable for in the end. Notifying the three most used credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) that you are separated or have filed for divorce will help eliminate some of this hassle.

Children and Other Vital Information

Probably the most important information and the most difficult to discuss (that's why I made it last) is getting the information needed to file the divorce. For the couple: full names, dates of birth, location of birth, SSN's, employer information and address, tax returns, W2's and work hours are all something a lawyer will need to have in order to properly process a complaint. You should also think about the children: Names, ages, dates of birth, locations they've lived in over the last five years, special needs if any and medications. A proposed custody complaint and Order or stipulation is a topic for another entire discussion, however.


If you've decided it's over and you've gone through the above 'homework' exercise, you need to get out of the relationship. Too many times, spouses are succeptable to claims from the other that 'we can work it out' only to be victimized further. Seek advice from a marriage counselor if needed. Speak to friends, co-workers, a member of the clergy, or a relative. But, make sure that you do not fall prey to a manipulator. Doing the right thing is never easy, but is always necessary- Winston Churchill.

If you have questions and need advice regarding divorce, custody, child support, alimony or APL, contact an experienced attorney at Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC. You may call us (717) 268-4287.