January 8

I Want a Divorce! … Now What? (Taking Your First Steps)

You’ve been wrestling with the idea of getting a divorce for months – maybe years. You’ve finally decided that you’re ready. (Or you’ve realized that, ready or not, you just can’t take it anymore!) You know you want a divorce. The biggest question you have now is: Now what?

The Biggest Challenge When You’re First Facing Divorce

While deciding to get a divorce is certainly no picnic, figuring out what to do once you’ve made your decision is no easier. The reason is simple.

Divorce is HUGE.

It affects almost every area of your life. It’s such a ginormous change in so many ways that you don’t even know how to start dealing with it.

Picture of jenga gamePlus every piece of divorce is interconnected. Every change to one area of your life seems to affect some other area of your life. It’s like a giant game of Jenga: if you’re not careful about which block you move, the whole tower can come crashing down!

For example, you know that either you, your spouse, or both you AND your spouse, are going to have to move out of your home.  But, in the beginning, you may not know which one of you is going to leave. You aren’t sure when one of you should leave. (Do you separate now, or is it better to wait?) And, of course, you don’t know how much money will be available to pay a second set of household expenses no matter who leaves.

Because of all that, looking for another place right away may seem pointless. Yet you still can’t help but wonder whether that’s what you’re supposed to be doing! 

Wondering about that (and a million other things!) leads you to realize …

The Second Biggest Challenge You Have When You’re Facing Divorce

When you’re first facing divorce you experience what I call “a knowledge gap.” It’s that gaping hole between what you NEED to know to navigate through your divorce successfully, and what you actually know right now (… which probably isn’t a lot.)

You know you’re supposed to be doing something. You’re just not sure what it is!

You’re not sure whether you should be looking for a lawyer, finding a new place to live, trying to figure out what’s going to happen to the kids, or taking steps to safeguard your money. Between not knowing what you should be doing, and feeling like you have to do everything at once, it’s not surprising that getting a divorce often feels so overwhelming!

The problem is, that sense of being overwhelmed can cause you big trouble.  It can paralyze you with fear. Or it can drive you into doing something rash that you shouldn’t be doing, but don’t know you shouldn’t be doing it. (Because you feel like you’ve got to do something you act before you think. That generally doesn’t work out well!)

Knowing the right steps to take when you’re facing a divorce – AND knowing the right order to take them in – is critical if you want to get through your divorce in the least destructive way possible.

Black circles with the word "Step" in them linked by red arrows; when you want a divorce you must go step by stepThe First 7 Steps to Take When You Want a Divorce

The biggest key to getting through your divorce with your sanity and your psyche intact is to take every part of your divorce one step at a time. Doing anything else will only lead to you being confused, overwhelmed, and making needless mistakes.

Here is what you don’t want to hear. No matter how much you may think you can multi-task, you can only do one thing at a time. When you try to do everything, you end up doing nothing. Plus, you exhaust yourself in the process.

Of course, it’s easy enough to tell yourself to only take one step at a time. However, doing that – and knowing which step to take at any given time – is anything but easy.

While every divorce is different, the process that people go through when they’re facing a divorce is surprisingly similar. The first few steps in almost every divorce look a lot alike.  What changes is the order in which you tackle these steps. (If you start your divorce by immediately fighting in court you’re going to take these steps in a very different order than you would if you and your spouse try to do things more amicably.)

No matter how you start your divorce though, you’re going to have to manage these 7 steps in the early stages, when you are first facing divorce.

Close up of a therapists hand taking notes while a troubled woman rests on a couch in front of her. Counseling.

 1. Get Yourself Emotionally Stable.

Getting your emotions under control in the beginning stages of divorce may seem like an impossible task. You can’t eat, you can’t sleep, and you probably spend much of the day crying or walking around like a zombie. Yet, the sooner you start working on managing your emotions, the better off you will be.

That’s not to say that you need to ignore your emotions or become a robot in order to get through your divorce. You do, however, need to get yourself into a place where you’re not so emotional that you just want to hide in bed underneath the covers all day.

You’re going to have to make hundreds of decisions while you are going through your divorce. Some of those decisions will be small. (… like deciding when to take off your wedding ring – although that can feel huge!) Some of those decisions will be big (… like deciding when you’ll get to see your kids, and what you’re going to do with your house.)

But, big or small, you can’t decide anything when you’re an emotional wreck.

2. Educate Yourself

The more you know about how divorce works (preferably before you’re in the middle of it!) the more secure you’re going to feel while you’re going through the divorce process. Plus, the more you know, the better your chances will be of getting the outcome you want.

There are a ton of myths and misconceptions about divorce. If you believe some of those myths – (like “your lawyer will handle everything,” or “the judge will make sure you get what’s fair,”) you’re liable to get burned. Big time.

If you understand the truth about how divorce really works, you will give yourself a huge competitive advantage. You won’t be as apt to make stupid mistakes while you’re going through your divorce. You’ll be able to manage your divorce (and your divorce lawyer!) better and save time and money. Most of all, you’ll save yourself an untold amount of grief, aggravation, and frustration.

It may be a cliché, but knowledge really is power – especially in divorce!

Stack of documents

3. Start Collecting Your Financial Information

The amount of paperwork you need to compile to get through your divorce is often measured in feet rather than inches. (Although, if you keep your records electronically, your pile may not look quite so high!) At the same time, collecting, sorting, and organizing financial documents is nothing short of torture for most people.

Unfortunately, divorce is a document-driven process. The sooner you can start collecting and organizing your financial paperwork, the more smoothly your divorce process is likely to go.

What’s more, it’s not unusual for important paperwork to disappear as soon as the word “divorce” is mentioned. One spouse may be actively trying to hide information. Or s/he may just want to make getting a divorce more difficult. Either way, collecting paperwork once a divorce is filed is often a much longer, rougher process.

That’s why the smartest thing you can do when you know you want a divorce is to gather your financial information and start putting it in order. 

4. Think About Logistics

When you’re facing a divorce it’s easy to get so focused on what’s going to happen to you after your divorce that you forget to think about what’s going to happen to you during your divorce. Unfortunately, getting a divorce can take anywhere from a few months to a few years. Because of that, you need to spend some time thinking about the logistics of your life during your divorce.

You’ll need to consider where you’re going to live, and where your kids will live, while your divorce is going on. You’ve got to think about HOW you and your kids will live before your divorce is final.  You’ve also got to think about who is going to pay for what until you’ve finally split.

There are a ton of small, mundane details of life that you and your spouse have got to either figure out or fight about before you’re anywhere near the end of your divorce. Dealing with those details, and fighting over those details, can take an enormous amount of time and energy. What’s more, managing a ton of small things diverts your time and attention from the big things – the things you truly NEED to think about.

Because of that, the more quickly you can manage the logistics of your life right now, the more headspace you will free up to deal with the bigger issues you’re facing.

What Are You Looking For question asking your mission, goal, quest or objective in searching for something you want or need

5.  Decide What Matters

Most people are so busy worrying about getting divorced, that they don’t stop to think about what’s important in their divorce. They never take the time to distinguish what matters from what doesn’t. As a result, they get blown around like a leaf in the wind during the divorce process. 

When you don’t know what matters, you can’t make good decisions. When faced with a choice you will simply do what feels right in the moment, without understanding the impact that your decision will have on your divorce as a whole. That’s when you make mistakes.

Of course, figuring out what matters the most to you in your divorce while your head is spinning and you’re an emotional wreck isn’t always easy. You’re so terrified and confused that you have trouble knowing what you want for dinner, let alone deciding on what’s really important to you long term. That’s why getting your emotions under control first is so important.

One way or another though, you’ve got to decide what matters to you if you want to have any hope of getting it.

6. Plan When and How You Will Tell Your Spouse That You Want a Divorce

One of the most difficult discussions you will ever have in your life is telling your spouse that you want a divorce. It’s also one of the most important discussions you will ever have.

Why? Because the way you break the news that you want a divorce to your spouse will dramatically affect how your divorce process goes from that point forward. It sets the tone for your whole divorce.

If the first time your spouse learns that you want a divorce is when s/he is served with divorce papers, you are setting yourself up for a fight. The same thing is true if you tell your spouse that you want a divorce in any way that is angry, callous, cold, or insensitive. When you treat your spouse like yesterday’s garbage, your spouse is likely to treat you like public enemy number one.

On the other hand, if you can tell your spouse that you want a divorce in a way that is as kind and respectful as possible, you have a much better chance of keeping your divorce from escalating into a war. (Of course, there are no guarantees. No matter how kindly you try to convey your decision to your spouse, s/he can still react badly. But you will at least have done your best not to make an already difficult situation one thousand times worse.)

7. Put Together Your Team

If you want to give yourself the best chance of getting through your divorce without completely destroying everything you care about, you need to put together a proper team. That team will be there to help you and to support you all the way through your divorce.

The first group of people who are on your “divorce team”  are divorce professionals: divorce lawyers, therapists, financial professionals, and divorce coaches. Depending on your circumstances, you may need all of those people and more on your team. Or you may need less. But to think that you will make it all the way through your divorce without using ANY divorce professionals is dangerous.

Your divorce team should also include your family and close friends. It can include divorce support groups. But, it should only include people who are clearly on your side. (For that reason, your in-laws usually don’t make good team members. Even if they love you, blood is thicker than water.)

No matter who is on your team, or how large or small it is, there is one thing you need to always remember: No one should go through a divorce alone.

Empty sandals on a road with the saying, "When in doubt, just take the next small step."

Your First Steps in Divorce

Divorce is scary. It can be overwhelming. But when you break it down into small, manageable steps, like those outlined above, it becomes “do-able.” (That’s not to say it will be fun! … but it’s do-able!)

Knowing how divorce works, and what you’ll need to do first, can help you move forward with confidence. 


Want to know more? The Divorce Road Map 2.0 is an online program that is specifically designed to fill in your “knowledge gap” so that you can manage your divorce with more clarity and less expense. CLICK HERE to check it out.


deciding to divorce, divorce advice, divorce blog, divorce strategy, divorce tips

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  • Karen, you are awesome, thanks for the advice. Unfortunately, my soon to be ex wife will not read anything. But having foud you makes me happy positive and optimistic that all will end well. I have bent over backwards for her but it’s never enough Fortunately I’m in a community property state and 50/50 is the law. No minor children but we have three buisnesses together that she would destroy in a ouple of months as she refuses to work 40 hours a week in her own business. You are an angel and cannot thank you enough for you advice.

    • You are so welcome! I’m glad my articles help!


      PS As for your wife, you know the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink!” … not that I mean to imply that your wife is a horse! But, you get it! 😉

  • This article is great. The start is no doubt the scariest part. Having this checklist gives me an idea of how I should handle this. I have been collecting your guides. Great stuff!

  • I have been a loner for the biggest part of my life. As a child I was extremely shy and never really bonded with anyone. Every person I tried to befriend ended up dominating the relationship.

    • How long your divorce takes depends on you and your spouse. The more you agree, the faster things can go. Exactly how fast you can get divorced depends on the law in the state in which you live. I suggest talking to an attorney in your area to get a better idea of what you may be facing.

      Also, if time is important to you, you’re probably going to want to get a lawyer. Going the DIY route may be cheaper, but it will likely take longer because you don’t know what you’re doing. An attorney can usually get you through the court system much faster.


  • Think about all your steps before you actually file for it. Kids, alimony, place to live if you are moving out, property, debts etc.

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