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When are you really ready to separate? Can I do this?

February 7, 2012 | by Rose H. Stout

I would venture to say that at any hour of the day people are making the decision to divorce or separate. Some of these decisions are planned and well-thought-out, while others are made rashly with very little forethought.  If you are the spouse contemplating a separation, what should you do?  Here is a short list of steps that I would strongly urge you to take in order to protect yourself and your children, as well as your assets.

  1. Soul Searching.  Spending some serious time alone analyzing your relationship with your spouse is a critical first step in making the decision whether or not to divorce. Do you still love your spouse? Does your spouse still make you laugh? Are you just having a bad month? How will your life be different without your spouse? How might your child’s life be impacted without the consistent presence of both parents?  These are the types of questions you need to wrestle with, being totally honest with yourself, before moving forward with your decision.
  2. Counseling.  I highly recommend scheduling an appointment with a professional counselor to explore your feelings. Perhaps consider both individual counseling as well as marriage counseling. It is well worth it to yourself and to your family to exhaust all avenues of saving your marriage before making the decision to divorce.Counseling can also provide both of you with insight on how to handle a separation with your children. How do you tell the children you are separating? When do you tell them?  Remember, if you have children, your relationship with your spouse does not end at divorce. The two of you still have children to parent and perhaps even grandchildren to share. The manner in which you handle this will impact your future relationship with your entire family.
  3. Gathering Documents. Copy any and all documents related to your finances including your federal tax returns for the past three years, current paystubs, and bank statements from all bank accounts for the last year.  Make copies of documents related to all of your assets including the deed to your house, car titles, investment accounts, retirement accounts, stock accounts, stock options, life insurance policies, etc. Copy documents related to any and all debts including mortgage statements and credit cards for the last year, and all cell phone statements for the last six months.  Once you secure copies of all the appropriate documents, store them in a secure place – perhaps a friend would keep them for you, or at your office.
  4. Hiring an Attorney.  It is very important to schedule an appointment with a divorce attorney early on in the process so you can become familiar with North Carolina family law. Nearly every aspect of the dissolution of your marriage is controlled in some way by what the law requires.  Seeking legal advice can certainly help you avoid problems down the road. Remember, it is difficult to change things once they have been done.  Attorneys prefer to be proactive and plan ahead rather than work to fix something that has already happened, especially when it could easily have been avoided. Selecting a divorce attorney who you feel comfortable with and who is a right “fit” for you should be done carefully. At the initial meeting, be prepared with a list of questions you want to ask the attorney. The attorney’s answers should provide you with a level of comfort and confidence with the attorney.
  5. More Soul Searching.  Once you have sought counseling, you have gathered documents’, and you have explored good legal advice, you should ask yourself again if you are indeed ready to separate.
  6. Don’t Move.  Unless there are issues regarding safety or abuse, you should not move out until you have at least done items 3 and 4 above and have sketched out a roadmap of where you are going.
  7. Retain an Attorney.  If you have taken the steps above, and you conclude that separation is inevitable, then be sure to hire a caring and experienced attorney before you proceed.

Divorce is never easy, but taking your time and working with skilled professionals to help you rationally sort through these decisions will give you the confidence to move forward.

Rose Stout is a Board Certified Family Law Specialist by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. She concentrates her practice in the area of domestic law and represents clients in all aspects of family law, including divorce, custody, equitable distribution, child support and alimony. Rose has extensive trial experience at the district court level and has spoken at family law seminars on various family law issues....LEARN MORE

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