Originally posted in MomsCharlotte.

An upset looking women of color looking like she's resolved herself to divorce.Walk into any grocery store after the New Year and it’s predictable: “low fat” foods and shakes are everywhere you look. The lines at Weight Watchers are practically out the door. People are actually using their gym memberships! Or, Tony Horton and P90X may become your best new friend. (Do your best and forget the rest!) It’s that time of year when losing weight and getting fit are top resolutions and on everyone’s mind.

Those of us in the Family Law community, though, see the New Year as a time when different resolutions are made: when spouses who have been thinking about leaving an unhappy marriage decide to make a fresh start and begin the separation process.

If you, too, have chosen to end your marriage—or if you’re on the receiving end of divorce papers—then “fresh start” is putting it mildly. As I’ve discussed in past posts, the divorce process can be an emotional minefield, and sometimes it’s hard to know what part of it to tackle first. Take heart: there are steps you can take to educate and empower yourself as you plan for the next phase of your family’s life, starting with the following:

  1. Set your Objectives
    What do you want your family’s life to look like post-divorce? For example, joint custody or will one parent have primary custody of the children? Keeping or selling the family home? Once you have separated, what financial support will you need? What financial support do you have?
  2. Put Finances in Order
    Pull together a listing of joint and individual accounts. How much do you owe on your mortgage? What is the balance of your and your spouse’s retirement account? Review your prenuptial agreement if you have one in place – or, perhaps a postnuptial agreement may be the right choice for you now if there is still a window for reconciliation.
  3. Remember: Put Kids First
    Outline your ideal parenting agreement and consider consulting a parenting coordinator if you believe your post-divorce relationship will have high conflict. What will work best for the children? Determining the actual parenting schedule is more important than trying to label whether you have primary or joint custody. Knowing how difficult the transition can be for the entire family, how can you best co-parent?
  4. Choose an Attorney
    Research online, ask friends (if you are comfortable in doing so), and consider who will best suit you and your family. No two family law attorneys are alike and finding one you trust (and whose practice focuses on family law) could be critical to the final outcome of your case. Create your list of questions in advance of your first consult, to help you stay in control from the beginning, and to set the right expectations for both you and your counsel.

And as you plan, assume nothing! For example, if you’re a husband, don’t assume you won’t be eligible for spousal support. Social mores are changing. Today, more than ever before, fathers stay at home while many mothers provide the primary income for the family. This shift in the “economic balance” naturally leads to a shift in the proportion of husbands seeking support.

With fresh starts in 2020, know that moving forward with divorce may be challenging, but having a plan in place ensures you’ve done the best you can to prepare your family and yourself. Whatever your resolution, wishing you a positive and healthy New Year!

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