15 Steps to Starting the Divorce Process, if You Need a Life-Saving Divorce


First, make sure you (and the kids) are safe.


If your spouse has weapons or has a history of destructive behavior, you need to take precautions. If your spouse has a pattern of threatening you, you may need to get to safety before taking legal steps of any kind.  That might mean escaping with your children to your parents' house even out of state. Why? Because merely mentioning divorce may trigger your spouse to do something unexpected and violent.


The legal process of divorce is very different from what people expect


I would start by setting aside a few days to understand the legal process and to educate yourself about your options and how to protect yourself (and the kids) and (if desired) stay in your home.


1. If there has been domestic violence, CONTACT LAW ENFORCEMENT BEFORE YOU (or the other parent) FILE FOR DIVORCE or SEPARATION.  If there has been illegal activity such as child porn, drunk driving, child abuse leading to injuries, or forged signatures on IRS filings, report it in advance to your state or county agencies. Unfortunately, most of these law enforcement reports are closed without any arrests, but at least you have documented it and the date.  Insist that they take a report. If there has been violence, make sure that physicians document that your black eye or your child's broken wrist were due to abuse and who did it.  If you do this AFTER filing for divorce or legal separation, the Court might think you are simply making up allegations in order to get more assets, more child support, or simply to get revenge. Sadly, if done later, they may interpret your CPS or 911 calls as false, malicious, and vengeful. Don't be surprised if the other attorney alleges this.


2. LEAVE WITH THE KIDS WHILE YOU STILL HAVE THE RIGHT TO LEAVE. If there is domestic violence, report it and take the children and pets to a safe place (move to be with family and friends, or to a domestic violence shelter) before you file for divorce. As soon as the divorce or separation is filed, you may lose the right to move far away without Court approval. If you have already moved, ask your attorney what steps to take next. In some states, you may have to return for some period so that you won't be accused of abandoning the marriage. In other states, moving before the divorce gives your abuse disclosures credibility. This is why it's important to file a domestic violence report. Unfortunately, most of these reports are closed without any arrests, but at least you have documented it with law enforcement.


3. Set aside money for the divorce BEFORE you or your spouse file. You can put it in a new bank account, but you must reveal this separate bank account to your attorney when the divorce process begins. IMPORTANT: any debts or credit card purchases made prior to either of you filing for divorce or legal separation are joint debts. So you will find that many people pay their attorney's retainer using a joint credit card before either party files for divorce or separation. This only applies to situations where neither of you has filed any prior legal action.


4. Read or skim the NOLO Press book on divorce so that you understand the basics of divorce law, or as the Court calls it "family law." Family law does not work the way criminal law does. It’s good to know exactly what to expect. See Nolo's Essential Guide to Divorce
https://amzn.to/32vCF3J or if you're a senior citizen, get Divorce After 50: Your Guide to the Unique Legal and Financial Challenges https://amzn.to/3JtNa8b  


5. Know your state laws about divorce. Put together a list of your questions and concerns in a notebook with the words "Notes for My Attorney" written on the cover. There is no federal divorce law. Every state is different, so go to this article to find links to your state's laws: https://lifesavingdivorce.com/divorcelaws  Don’t rely on your friends for advice. They usually are misinformed or guessing, and guessing can be costly. Do online searches to get information from your local courthouse and your state's websites.  Many states have FREE online spousal support and child support calculators online so you can get a ballpark idea of how much spousal support or child support to expect. Another important fact to know is how long you have to be separated from your spouse before getting divorced, and how your state defines "separated." Does it mean residing in different locations? Does the clock restart if you have sex together?

6. Know your options for legal advice. Again, each state is different, but you can hire a divorce attorney, a mediator, or a paralegal. Only an attorney in your state is qualified to give you specific legal advice and help you fill out forms, but you may be able to hire an attorney a la carte to help you with just one or two forms. This is called an “unbundled” service. Not all states permit this. https://lifesavingdivorce.com/divorcelaws   In addition to having a legal professional, I'd recommend you hire a divorce coach because you'll need emotional support and help gathering and organizing documents.

7. Join a support group. You will need a lot of help, support, clarity, and encouragement as you go through this process. There are all kinds of abuse survivor and infidelity survivor groups for men and women. If you are an adultery survivor who is a Christian, check out DivorceCare. (DivorceCare is good for victims of infidelity, but it isn't as good for people who divorced due to abuse, porn, or addictions.) Abuse, addiction, and infidelity survivors (both men and women) can ask to join my private Facebook group, “The Life Saving Divorce.” (Answer all 4 questions.) Some good private faith-based groups online are Natalie Hoffman’s women’s group “Flying Free”; Sarah McDugal’s women’s group, “Wilderness To Wild”; Betrayal Trauma Recovery’s groups btr.org; Helena Knowlton’s women’s group “Confusion to Clarity ARISE”; or Gretchen Baskerville’s coed private Facebook group “Life-Saving Divorce Private Group,” for example.

8. For the spiritual side of divorce, read chapters 3 and 6 of my book, The Life-Saving Divorce. It will help you to defend yourself from people who stigmatize divorcees and use the Bible to judge you. https://amzn.to/3CCBsnr   Here are the Bible passages that condone divorce for sexual immorality, adultery, physical violence, chronic emotional abuse, family-endangering addictions, and severe indifference/neglect.  http:www.lifesavingdivorce.com/abuse-in-bible  And here are tips to answer people who say, "It always takes two to tango," or "You weren't perfect either." Find out if your church officially condones divorce for abuse (if that is your situation), you can download a chart to find out: https://lifesavingdivorce.com/unsafe. If your church does not, you may not get much understanding or emotional support.

9. If you have kids, please be prepared to talk with them. Here are some tips: https://lifesavingdivorce.com/tellkids.  If they've been traumatized by abuse, scroll down to TOPIC #20 on my Recommended Books page: https://lifesavingdivorce.com/links  Thirty years of research show that 8 in 10 kids of divorce turn out okay, so don't believe those who try to tell you that divorce universally destroys children and you must "stay for the kids." It's simply not true. See  www.lifesavingdivorce.com/abuse-and-kids  If you expect your soon-to-be-ex spouse to try to strip you of all custody and visitation rights, consider joining the One Mom's Battle private Facebook group. (It's for men too.)

10. Start gathering documents and make a safety plan. This will save you time, money, and legal fees. Here’s a list of 50 items: https://lifesavingdivorce.com/escape

11. Don’t delete demeaning texts, emails, notes, or voicemails. Save those as evidence. You may need it as proof of stalking, legal harassment, assault, defamation, blackmail, threats, lying, name-calling, put-downs, etc. This article shows you what to do. https://lifesavingdivorce.com/document

12. Set up a brand new Google account at a friend’s house or library or coffee shop, or any place that is not connected to the wifi in your own home. Set up at least one new email just to use for communications with your attorney. If your spouse is hostile and tech-savvy, you may have to get another phone (a "burner" phone) using a separate account or a prepaid calling card (not on your joint wireless or mobile phone account) so that you cannot have your location or calls tracked. As long as your phone is on the same account as your spouse's, they can find out who is calling you and whom you are calling. And of course, you can see their call logs too. if your ex is cyberstalking you, you may need to have your smartphone and computer/tablet wiped clean to remove any spyware. Learn more here: https://lifesavingdivorce.com/escape


13. If you take the initiative to file for divorce, serve your spouse immediately.  Divorce filings are public, and many law firms camp out at courthouses to find out about new divorce filings. Then they contact your spouse and offer representation quickly, often in less than a week. This is legal for them to do, but it may upend your plans of secrecy, protecting yourself, and being in a safe location when your spouse finds out.

14. If you are 62 years old or older, and were married for 10 years, divorced, and are not married now, you may be eligible for your ex's social security or disability benefits (even if your ex-spouse has remarried). Doing this does not reduce your ex-spouse's social security income. See https://www.benefits.gov/benefit/4388. If your spouse is enrolled in a retirement plan, you may want to hire a QDRO attorney who will calculate the division of the plan and put it in writing in your final court judgment (the divorce decree). Watch these two videos: https://youtu.be/QVWZfuXXX6g and https://youtu.be/gLMU9qSYc4I


15. If you have minor children together, insist on using a co-parenting app to authenticate your communication. With a co-parenting app, such as the top-of-the-line Civil Communicator, or the familiar standards OurFamilyWizard, AppClose, or Talking Parents, you can download all interactions, showing when emails were sent and opened, and what date a response was sent and received. It is very difficult to falsify an email or voicemail in these co-parenting applications. "Authentication" is very important for the Court. In today's world with tech-savvy ex-spouses and artificial intelligence, it is easy for them to lie about what you have said, done, and written. They can alter photos and even use AI to duplicate your voice and make it sound as though you are saying something hostile toward them, the Court, or your own children.

BONUS. Manage your expectations. Divorce involves a lot of major changes compressed into a one- or two-year period. If these changes were spread out over 10 years, they would be easy to handle. But in a divorce, you don’t have that luxury. So strip down your life to the essentials. Get rid of optional activities and expenses that will take your time, money, and attention away from the task at hand: caring for yourself and your kids spiritually, emotionally, and legally.

Are you going through a life-saving divorce and need support and clarity? I’d like to invite you to my private Facebook group, "Life-Saving Divorce for Separated or Divorced Christians." Just click the link and ANSWER the 4 QUESTIONS. This is a group for women and men of faith who have walked this path, or are considering it. Supporters and people helpers are also welcome.  I’ve written a book on divorce for Christians and other people of faith, The Life-Saving Divorce: Paperback: https://amzn.to/3cF1j25  Or eBook: https://amzn.to/3CCBsnr

Also, sign up for my email list below or HERE www.lifesavingdivorce.com/courage






Start Here



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Common Myths






GET THE BOOK! The Life-Saving Divorce is about divorces for very serious reasons: a pattern of sexual immorality, physical abuse, chronic emotional abuse, family-impairing addictions, abandonment, or severe neglect. This book will give you hope for your future, and optimism about your children. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.



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