Before You File: The Ultimate Checklist to Properly Prepare for Divorce

divorce checklist

No one enters a marriage expecting it to end in divorce. But if you’ve reached the difficult decision to go your separate ways, it’s crucial to properly prepare before filing.

Divorce requires untangling your lives piece-by-piece, and overlooking important steps can lead to costly headaches. That’s where having a comprehensive divorce checklist becomes invaluable.

Understand Your Divorce Options

In New Jersey, depending on your unique situation, you have several different options for getting divorced. As an uncontested divorce firm, we focus on guiding couples through an efficient, amicable split when they are both generally in agreement on the major terms.

However, if you’re unable to see eye-to-eye or are divorcing on grounds such as adultery or abandonment, a contested divorce may be the option for you.

Our attorneys can outline the pros and cons of each route, factoring in whether you have children, the complexity of your assets/debts, and other key circumstances. Our goal is to determine the smoothest, most cost-effective divorce process tailored just for you.

Decide to Hire a Lawyer or Self-Represent

One of the most significant initial decisions is whether to hire a divorce attorney or go it alone. We strongly recommend professional legal counsel – even if things initially seem amicable.

Self-representation risks costly mistakes when dealing with children, assets, support obligations, and more. A simple oversight can have devastating consequences. With an attorney’s expertise, you’ll have an advocate ensuring your rights are protected and settlement is truly fair and equitable.

Prepare Divorce Paperwork

Before officially filing, you’ll need to prepare a comprehensive package of paperwork. Having these documents complete and accurate from the start is critical to avoid delays.

At a minimum, you’ll need:

  • Divorce petition/complaint
  • Tax returns
  • Pay stubs
  • Bank/investment account statements
  • Prenup or postnup agreements (if applicable)
  • Children’s birth certificates and social security numbers
  • Parenting plan details (for couples with kids)

Working with an experienced divorce attorney ensures you check every box and do not overlook any required documentation upfront. This prevents easily avoidable paperwork snags from stalling your case later on.

Serve Spouse with Divorce Papers

While it may feel emotionally challenging, serving your spouse with the divorce complaint is a required step that formally initiates the legal process in New Jersey. Don’t worry. We handle this discreetly and properly.

The complaint outlines your grounds for divorce and what you’re seeking in terms of asset division, alimony, custody, and support. This starts the clock on your spouse’s timeline to respond.

We’ll thoroughly explain protocols involved with service so you know what to expect next in the process based on whether the divorce is contested or not.

Create a Parenting Plan

For couples with minor children, one of the most important (and sensitive) divorce matters is developing a comprehensive parenting plan that serves the kids’ best interests.

We’ll guide you through decisions like:

  • Physical and legal custody arrangements
  • Visitation schedules
  • Procedures for introducing new partners
  • Method for resolving disputes

We aim to minimize conflict so you can focus on creating a nurturing environment together. With some patience and cooperation, an ideal parenting plan will take shape that prioritizes stability and emotional support for your children.

Calculate Child Support

In New Jersey, both parents are legally obligated to provide financial support for their children based on their respective incomes and level of parenting time.

To get a preliminary estimate, you can use New Jersey’s official Child Support Guidelines Calculator. Simply input details like the number of children, income, and parenting time, and the calculator will determine a suggested child support amount.

However, keep in mind this is just an estimate. Our team understands jurisdictional deviations, too, if special circumstances warrant an adjustment from the standard calculation method. We ensure your child support order is truly fair.

Identify Marital vs. Separate Property

Before assets and debts can be divided, we need to identify and classify your property as either marital (shared) or separate (individually owned). Generally, any property or debt acquired during the marriage is considered marital or shared jointly – regardless of whose name it’s under. This includes homes, cars, retirement accounts, investments, businesses, and so on.

Separate property covers anything you owned prior to the marriage or received as a gift or inheritance during the marriage. However, the commingling of separate assets can make the distinction tricky. We scrutinize documents to classify everything appropriately.

Decide How to Divide Assets & Debts

Dividing up your shared assets and debts equitably is one of the biggest financial obstacles in a divorce. After determining what marital property is, you’ll need to make critical decisions on who gets what pieces of the pie.

For many couples, the marital home is the most valuable asset to figure out. Will one spouse keep the house and buy out the other’s share? Or will you sell it and split the proceeds? Running the numbers on costs vs housing markets is crucial.

Other assets and debts to be divided include:

  • Bank accounts
  • Investment/Retirement accounts
  • Vehicles
  • Furniture/Household items
  • Collectibles/Jewelry
  • Business interests
  • Credit cards
  • Personal loans
  • Student loans

Spell out in writing which spouse claims responsibility for each remaining debt. With ample preparation, you can reach an asset/debt division that both parties accept as fair.

Evaluate Need for Alimony/Spousal Support

Depending on factors like the length of your marriage, ability to be self-supporting, and lifestyle during the marriage, one spouse may be entitled to request alimony or spousal support payments after the divorce.

We’ll closely evaluate circumstances like each spouse’s age, physical/emotional health, earning capacity, economic needs, parental responsibilities and more when determining if support is warranted per New Jersey law.

The court also considers marital misconduct like adultery, willful self-imposed financial woes, and other key factors we’ll review. With experience in NJ alimony guidelines, we ensure both spouses’ situations are properly accounted for before any award.

Move Forward With Confidence

At Netsquire, our divorce attorneys will be by your side from your first consultation through the final decree. We take the time to understand your unique situation and advise you on how to properly prepare every step of the way.

From ensuring you file the complete, accurate paperwork to negotiating an equitable division of assets and debts, we’ll make sure your rights are protected. Our team handles even the most complex divorce cases involving high-asset portfolios, business interests, and intricate custody matters with care.

Contact Netsquire today and let our compassionate team help you move forward with confidence toward your next chapter.

About the Author


John Nachlinger is a co-founder and managing attorney of Netsquire, a family law firm focused on streamlining divorces through effective mediation, settlement drafting, and court filing assistance. As a New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and Qualified Mediator, John guides couples toward equitable agreements without the cost and stress of litigation.

Recognized as a New Jersey Super Lawyer for over a decade, John’s client-focused approach aims to foster understanding during challenging transitions. With a background spanning top law journals, judicial clerkships, and boutique family law firms, John now applies his analytical skills to create workable solutions for all parties. His mediation services reshape the divorce journey by prioritizing compassion and compromise.

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