Planning Checklist: BEFORE You File for Divorce

8 Steps to Consider if You or Your Partner Have Decided to File for Divorce

There are some steps you should take and considerations to keep in mind as you move through this time of chaos and confusion. Here are Both Matter's recommendations:


The best outcome for children is to have two parents in a functional marriage. If there is any chance your marriage is salvageable, focus on that before considering divorce.

We borrowed an exercise shown HERE from Nancy Fagan, an Austin-based psychologist and relationship expert. This wonderful tool builds on the work of John Gottman, author of the best-seller "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work". Nancy has assembled an incredibly helpful set of resources HERE – please check it out.


If you're certain you need to divorce, but haven't made it clear to your partner, consider the following:

  • When will I bring it up?
  • How will I discuss this in a way that makes both of us feel safe?
  • What will I say?

Stay calm and discuss your decision in a way that does the least amount of emotional damage to you, your partner and your child(ren). Be prepared for a strong emotional reaction from your partner and if you're in an abusive situation, please seek professional help.

If your partner isn't aware that this was coming (even you think he or she should be), be respectful of your partners feelings. And don't overwhelm him or her in a way that makes it seem as though you've planned a coup behind his or her back.

Understand that what you think is best for the children, what you believe is a fair separation of property and what you want life to look like after divorce may be very different from your partner's fundamental understanding of reality; that he or she may be in shock and completely unprepared for the conversation you'd like to have - tread lightly and don't force it.

It's best to consider the next six points and plan ahead before bringing it up to your partner if you can.


Divorce is often devastating for children. Please consider the following to mitigate their pain:

  • the who/what/when/where/how of explaining the divorce to the child(ren)
  • how to help the child(ren) cope
  • how you will split the child(ren)'s time
  • logistics of getting to-and-from school
  • minimize disruptions to planned events at school or with family & friends
  • etc.

Consider whether it's possible and makes sense to split the child(ren)'s time between the two of you equally. Even when one parent has acted as the primary caretaker, it usually makes sense to split time equally. The "other" parent's role is just as important to your child as yours; that parent may have previously viewed his or her role as the breadwinner who comes  home to his or her children each day, for instance. This 'new normal' will likely make the other parent consider how he or she will make more time to parent - and want to devote less time to work & career.

If you decide that you should have primary custody, consider the ramifications for your children of treating your coparent as less-than-equal.


Aside from the potential to create unnecessary emotional turmoil, a relationship outside of your marriage can become a point of contention during the formal divorce process. This may put you at risk of having e-mails, phone calls, tollway records, and other bills used against you - even in a 'no-fault' divorce state like Texas.

If you've already started a new relationship, consider putting it on hold until after the divorce is legally finalized.


Gather financial documents and make copies: a list of all your financial assets (equity in a home, cars, 401K, etc.), liabilities (credit card debt, mortgage, car payments, etc.), insurance, deeds, etc.


Divorce means lots (and lots) of paperwork. Keep all of the paperwork well organized in file folders so you can easily provide documents for divorce experts, financial planners, mental health professionals, etc.


If you're planning to move, consider all the possible ramifications. If you live more than about 15 minutes away from your co-parent, it will be nearly impossible to share custody equally over the long term. And if you're considering moving out-of-state, this will affect your ability to file for divorce.

Some states have residency requirements, for instance, which could delay when you're able to divorce. Moveover, each state has its own laws concerning grounds for divorce, child support, alimony or maintenance, division of property, etc.


Consider a therapist, if you haven’t already seen one, who can help you with the emotional impact of a breakup. Religious organizations often offer support groups for divorcing/divorced parents and children whose parents are going through a divorce. Teachers and counselors at schools can often help youngsters whose parents are divorcing. And, of course, there are tons of online resources to help you through the process.

Keep in mind that, like everything, the quality of divorce therapists varies . If you're unsure about divorcing, look for someone who's trained in discernment counseling. If you're sure, it's best to find a therapist that can effectively treat you, your coparent and your child(ren).

Talk to friends and family who are divorced for real world examples, tips and suggestions on what’s to come. Assemble a group of family and friends, who can help you through this process, either by listening or lending a hand when need be. Keep in mind your friends and family are likely to give you biased advice and may urge you to work with an attorney - and they may be right. However, it's all too easy to make irrational fear-based decisions particularly at the urging of your family and friends.

... If your airplane is going down, it's okay to put on your oxygen mask before you put one on your child. But make sure your long-term decisions are what's best for everyone involved, including your coparent who will continue to be your child's parent too.