Untying the Knot: The Ultimate Divorce Checklist for a Smooth Separation

divorce checklist

Going through a divorce can feel overwhelming. Your whole world is turning upside down. Where do you even start?

Take a deep breath. We’ve been there too. As divorce lawyers in South Carolina, we’ve helped hundreds of clients navigate separating their lives from their spouses. It’s not easy, but having a plan makes a huge difference.

That’s why we’ve put together this ultimate divorce checklist. From having the initial divorce conversation to the final decree, these steps will help untie the knot as smoothly as possible.

Notify Your Spouse of Your Intent to Divorce

The divorce process starts with telling your spouse you want to split. This conversation is often the hardest part emotionally. The best approach is to be kind, be direct, and don’t get into specifics. This discussion is just about stating intent.

When choosing the time to talk, wait until both spouses can converse calmly without extended family present. Say something simple like, “This marriage is no longer working for me. I think we need to get divorced.” Short and to the point is best.

If high emotions are already running between spouses, writing a letter may work better than a face-to-face talk to convey the desire for divorce. This can help avoid a heated confrontation.

Find a Divorce Lawyer

Navigating all the complex legal issues around divorce is extremely difficult without legal representation. Hiring a divorce attorney provides critical counsel on topics like the division of assets and debts, determining alimony, South Carolina laws on child custody and visitation, and protection of retirement benefits.

When evaluating divorce lawyers, consider their experience, credentials, and interpersonal skills. Do they focus on family law? Are they familiar with South Carolina divorce statutes? Do they listen effectively? An attorney who truly “gets” you is essential.

Once a lawyer is hired, they can get the legal ball rolling by filing paperwork, communicating with the spouse’s attorney, and providing guidance at every step.

According to South Carolina law, a divorce action officially begins when the summons and petition are filed and served on the defendant.

Gather Important Documents

Financial documentation forms the foundation for determining the division of marital assets and debts.

Below are some of the key papers lawyers need to review:

  • Federal income tax returns from the past three years
  • Monthly bank statements for all accounts
  • Mortgage statements showing home value and equity
  • Documentation on car loans, credit cards, and other debts
  • Retirement account balances and statements

Make copies of every financial document collected. Store digital and hard copies securely, like on an encrypted flash drive. These will be referred back to frequently throughout proceedings.

Make Financial Preparations

With the decision made to divorce, separating finances from a spouse early on is wise.

Consider opening new individual checking and savings accounts if joint ones exist. Close any jointly held credit cards and open new ones only in your name. And, if you co-signed on a loan with your spouse, speak to the lender about the next steps. You may need to reapply for the loan individually.

Keep in mind that any debts incurred jointly during the marriage are considered marital property and must be equitably divided, even if only one spouse benefited.

Address Insurance Coverage

An important divorce checklist item is insurance policies. Review beneficiaries on life, health, auto, and home insurance. Remove your soon-to-be-ex if listed.

You may also need new or updated policies protecting just you after the marriage dissolves. Consult your lawyer on suggested coverage.

Make Child and Co-Parenting Arrangements

If you have children, making the transition smooth and stable for kids should be the top priority. Create an interim custody schedule so routines are minimally disrupted. Even if one parent will seek sole physical custody later, children remaining in the family home initially is usually best for them emotionally. Gradually move toward whatever permanent custody arrangement is decided on.

Be prompt and consistent with court-ordered child support payments to prevent future issues. Most importantly – keep conversations civil and focused on the children’s well-being. Hostility between co-parents only causes harm to kids.

Change Logins and Passwords

An often overlooked divorce checklist task – update all online and financial account passwords.

Remove an ex-spouse’s access to your email and social media accounts, online banking logins and payment credentials, memberships, and subscriptions solely in your name. For extra security, turn on two-factor authentication when available. Revoking account permissions is wise as well.

Update Important Documents

If a spouse is named in legal documents like a will, financial power of attorney, or healthcare power of attorney, these require revision.

Designate a trusted relative or friend as executor, agent, and medical decision-maker instead of an estranged spouse. Also, update insurance beneficiaries, bank account owners, and credit card authorized users.

Joint safe deposit boxes should be closed, and items removed or transferred to separate boxes.

Determine Marital Property Division

Dividing up assets and debts is a significant part of the divorce process. South Carolina is an “equitable distribution” state, meaning marital property is divided in a fair and just manner, but not necessarily 50/50.

The court examines factors like length of marriage, how property was acquired, and each spouse’s earning potential. Property brought into the marriage by one party or inherited is usually considered non-marital and awarded to them.

With lawyers on both sides, a marital settlement agreement is negotiated covering property and debt division. The court must determine whether it is fair before granting approval.

File for Divorce

Filing a Summons and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage officially starts the divorce proceeding in family court. This petition must include details on property, debts, marriage history, children, and proposed settlements.

The spouse requesting the divorce is the petitioner. The other spouse is the defendant. The defendant must be properly served with the summons and petition by a process server, sheriff, or deputized person.

South Carolina has some specific requirements for divorce. A couple must live separate and apart for one year before being granted a no-fault divorce (Section 20-3-10). This is known as the “separation period.”

Finalize the Divorce Decree

The family court will issue a final decree granting the divorce after settlement terms are negotiated and accepted by both parties.

This decree outlines specifics like:

  • Child custody, visitation schedule, and child support amount
  • Alimony determination
  • Exact division of assets and debts

Before signing, thoroughly review the decree with your lawyer to ensure it reflects what you agreed to. Once entered with the court, the divorce is legally finalized.

Get Support Through the Divorce Process: Contact Okoye Law Today

Being newly single takes adjusting. Our best tips? Surround yourself with loved ones, take time to heal, and be kind to yourself.

This new chapter brings excitement, freedom, and opportunity too. The possibilities are all yours now – embrace them.

And if you need an excellent divorce lawyer in South Carolina, contact our office. Our team at Okoye Law will treat you with compassion and help you achieve the best outcome. This is just another new beginning.

Contact us today to discuss your options.

Author Bio

rock hill criminal defense family and personal injury lawyers

Colin Okoye is the CEO and Managing Partner of Okoye Law, a Rock Hill, SC,  criminal defense, personal injury, and family law firm. With years of experience, he has zealously represented clients in various legal matters, including DUI charges, divorce cases, and car accidents.

Colin received his Juris Doctor from the Charlotte School of Law and is a South Carolina Bar Association member. His previous experience working as an Assistant Public Defender in the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit has equipped him with the necessary skills and knowledge to represent clients in a wide range of cases effectively.

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