Living in a marriage that's gradually running out of steam can be very difficult. Sooner or later, it will occur to one of the spouses that anything, even divorce, would be better than to continue as things are. This is a hard mental hurdle to jump over, especially if you cherish your married identity or have children from the marriage, but once you've crossed the threshold and made the decision, it's time to make some serious choices that will affect how things go. Divorce without a lawyer is most people's goal when they start the process, and with any luck, the immense resource drain of dueling legal teams can be avoided. To decide whether or not a simple divorce is going to work for your family, ask yourself — and then answer as honestly as you can — these seven questions. Click here for more Relationship advice
1. Are You Serious?
Marriages may not last, but divorce is forever. Before you let yourself start planning a final break with your spouse, you have to be very sure that there is no future in the relationship. Even a simple divorce takes a lot of time and effort, and it's so likely to put you both through the emotional wringer that it's always in your interest to ask whether or not a reconciliation is doable. One way to help yourself find the answer to this question is to wait for a few months before filing and consciously try to see the best in your spouse. It may be that the seriousness of the D-word shocks you both into making changes and saving the marriage. If not, the family court will still be there in six months when you are ready to file.
2. Would Some Other Arrangement Work Out Better?
Not every difficult marriage needs to end with divorce. Many married couples, especially those who have significant assets or entangled business interests, find it's to their advantage to separate instead of dissolving their union. Legal separation also works well as a trial divorce, which lets you both get a taste of the process without fully committing to a do-it-yourself divorce.
You may also find that annulment is the more appropriate choice. If you have cause to believe that your marriage was agreed to under false pretenses, such as one of you having a concealed medical condition or children from another relationship, then it might be better to ask the court to void the marriage contract in a way that effectively makes it as if it never happened. This way out usually leaves you with little to no financial or other entanglements, and in special circumstances, it can be the cleanest, most hassle-free way out.
3. Are You in Danger?
One reason people leave marriages is physical or emotional abuse. Fortunately, the law in every state has mechanisms to protect abuse victims if necessary. If your relationship involves force, physical violence or the threat of either, you can ask the court to issue a protective order at the time you file, or at any time, for that matter. The idea is to protect you from harm. Thankfully, a protective order is needed only in a minority of break-ups, but it is one of the things to think about, even if just to rule it out when you're considering how to get a divorce.
4. Will Either of You Have to Move Out?
As a rule, once the divorce papers have been filed, one or both parties move out of their shared home. Like most rules, however, this one has its exceptions. Some divorcing couples are on good enough terms to remain in the same home together, although they may no longer share a bedroom or mealtimes. This not only cuts down the burden of an extra rent payment on your still-shared finances, but it is also a good way to preserve your claim to the residence if the court assigns it to one of you. Generally, the party who moves out has forfeited the right to live in the house, if not the equity, and you have to decide if that's the way you're willing to go.
Read more on the idea of nesting here
5. What About the Children?
Even an amicable divorce imposes costs on the children, and if you and your spouse have kids, that has to be a factor in your deliberations. Before you settle on divorce, it's in your and your kids' best interest that you work out where the children will live, whether they will have to move, and get a reasonable picture of your ideal visitation schedule. Much of the talking you and your soon-to-be ex have to do during this difficult time will revolve around the kids, and there's almost never a downside to keeping things as stable and normal for them as you can.
6. Who Gets How Much of What?
Property division is the heart of any divorce, even a DIY divorce with no significant assets. No matter what, somebody is leaving this marriage with the car, and maybe somebody else is getting the frequent flier miles. However much or little you own together, some equitable division has to be worked out, and you'll do best if you give this some thought before the split. If there is anything in particular that you simply cannot do without, such as your grandfather's desk chair or the wedding china, think about what other things you're prepared to give up to keep it. You won't get everything in the split, so prioritize the important stuff before you file.
Consider reading a related topic on splitting your finances and investments during a divorce.
7. What Kind of Support System Can You Count On?
Many people overlook the role outside support plays in helping them through the divorce process. A strong support network of friends and family can lift you up emotionally when you need it, while a lack of those important people can do the reverse. Laura Wasser has seen this firsthand, and she is committed to becoming part of people's support network with online tools, advice, articles, and words of encouragement to help you make divorce without a lawyer work for you.