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Blindsided by Divorce? Steps to Take Now


It may have began like any other day, until your world as you thought you knew it is shaken to its very core. Your spouse wants a divorce. He’s unhappy and wants out, and he decides to deliver this news to you as you’re heading out to take the kids to school. She had an affair and informs you via text on your way to a meeting. You didn’t see it coming. You thought everything was fine, right? You may have just chosen not to really see it, whatever it was. You could be feeling total shock, venomous outrage, complete devastation or all of those feelings within a 5-minute period. You may also feel relieved in a way. If you really let yourself think about it, you probably knew something was wrong.

Even though you may be falling to pieces (while the rest of the world seemingly goes about its business), there are actions we encourage you to take so that you can gain control over the situation when your spouse tells you he or she wants a divorce. Please don’t think these steps don’t apply to you, because your spouse feels “so guilty” and wouldn’t do anything else to you. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. It happens more than you would think, especially if there is a new love interest involved. Protect yourself, and remember that knowledge is power. Here’s how to start when your spouse tells you he or she wants a divorce:

  1. Call upon your support network – Who are the one or two trusted friends who will really be there for you when things are tough? The girlfriend who will not only show up with wine and Haagen Dazs at any hour of the night but will drag your butt to yoga class, watch your kids and help you march through the tasks ahead. The buddy who gets you out to watch a game or play a round of golf and listens to you vent, but who will make sure you tackle the action items on your to-do list and approaches your situation with a balanced approach. Keep in mind that the person who just bashes your ex won’t be most helpful here, as good as it may feel to do at points!
  2. Open a checking account – Open a checking account immediately with your name only. If you are working, immediately have your paychecks deposited into the new account. Transfer some funds from your current checking to the new one. Be sure to leave enough to cover any automatic payments and money for your spouse as well. Remember, your spouse could withdraw every penny right now from any joint accounts if he or she wanted to! You need to make sure you have some money to live, but don’t withdraw more than a reasonable sum or it could come back to haunt you.
  3. Gather important documents – You’ll want to have all key documents in a safe place. This includes statements for credit cards, bank and investment accounts, passports (especially for your kids), marriage certificates, birth certificates, social security statements, etc. You may want to store some electronically, such as a USB drive or on a service such as Drop Box. A Safe Deposit Box would be a good option for passports.
  4. Talk with a therapist – If you already have a therapist, call him or her now! Otherwise, now is a great time to start seeing one. A therapist can help you manage the intense emotions you are feeling so you can function through the process a little more clearly.
  5. Consult a lawyer – An initial consultation with a lawyer will give you guidance on your next steps and show you what to expect based on the laws of your state in terms of temporary orders you may need, child custody and a financial settlement.
  6. Tell your kids – You’ll need to tell your kids about the divorce. Hopefully both parents can deliver this message together. Ideally, both parents will stay in the same house for a week or two after telling the kids to help make they feel more secure, however this isn’t always possible.
  7. Take precautions for your kids – Tell your children’s teachers and principal. Schools often have support groups for children of divorce, and the school counselor can make special efforts to reach out. The principal can help you with guarding against any issues of potential kidnapping from the other spouse. Unfortunately, this does happen, so it is better to be safe than sorry.

This is an incredibly difficult time for anyone, and we know the last thing you want to think about is running to the bank and opening a new checking account. However, it’s so important to protect your money, legal rights and children in the midst of all of these big changes. Sign up now for your Untangle The Knot subscription to gain instant access to the complete In Case of Emergency Guide for much more information on what actions you should take now and how to complete them. Untangle The Knot offers many more resources to help you through this, including guides to finding a therapist and lawyer, scripts for how to tell the kids about divorce. With your free trial, you’ll also have access to a free consultation with our divorce coach to get you on the right path and help with going through a divorce. You are not alone. Let us help you through your journey.

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