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I am getting divorced: What are the first steps I should take?

Your spouse finally said those words you thought might be coming but hoped you'd never hear:

I am filing for divorce.

As much as you'd love to, you can't withdraw and stay in bed, sheets pulled over your head. There are things you must do immediately to protect yourself in a divorce as you move forward. This list is a good place to start.

  1. Meet with an attorney. You will need your own attorney - not someone your spouse knows or has hired before - to represent you and be your advocate. Ask the attorney the specifics about how you will be protected during your meeting.
  2. Tell your children. Both parents should discuss with their children how the family is changing - and let them know both parents love them.
  3. Maintain a cordial relationship. It's best to put aside all the bitterness you might feel toward your spouse and try to stay friendly. It will make it easier to get through the divorce proceedings.
  4. Keep tabs on your credit reports. Watch your credit reports to make sure your spouse isn't charging debts you could be responsible for paying down the road.
  5. Close any joint accounts. You need to make a clean break from your spouse financially.
  6. Study your finances. Dive deeply into your household finances to determine the assets you and your spouse own and must divide. Having this information available will help determine how to share your assets and split your debts.
  7. Protect your money. While funds are still being divided, ask your bank to require two signatures for withdrawals from jointly-held investment or savings accounts.

Your divorce attorney will have other tasks for you to accomplish, as well, but these are things you should be prepared to do immediately.

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