6 Steps for Stay-at-Home Moms and Dads to Prepare for Divorce

From figuring out which legal route to take to planning for your future, here's some key guidance for stay-at-home parents looking at divorce.

Divorce is rarely a breeze for anyone. But if you're a stay-at-home parent, you could be facing a very particular set of challenges. Preparing for possible outcomes—both financial and personal—will help you navigate the future. Here are six steps you'll want to consider.

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1. Evaluate the Legal Options for Your Divorce

Some stay-at-home parents accept bad divorce settlements because they can't (or think they can't) afford to hire a lawyer. Working with a lawyer is one way to protect your rights. But, if the circumstances allow, there are more affordable and cooperative ways to get your divorce done.

A couple alternatives to expensive litigated divorce are do-it-yourself divorce and mediation.

Some exes have success working with attorneys through collaborative divorce. And, in some instances, a spouse can go to litigation where the other spouse funds their representation.

2. Take Stock of Household Financial Information

It's really important to get a picture of what your post-divorce financial situation will look like (especially if you haven't been involved in family finances up until now). You'll need to take stock of:

  • bank accounts
  • credit cards
  • loans and debt
  • sources of income
  • retirement accounts
  • recurring bills (for example, mortgage payments, utility bills, subscriptions), and
  • any other financial assets and debts.

3. Collect Important Documents

Now you're ready to gather (and make copies of) documents about your finances, marriage, children, and household in general. These documents include:

  • the marriage license
  • identifying documentation for your spouse and children (such as drivers' licenses and social security cards)
  • retirement account statements
  • bank account statements
  • mortgage and other loan statements
  • credit card statements
  • tax records for the last 5-10 years
  • statements for major ongoing expenses such as car and tuition payments
  • health insurance cards and records
  • life insurance records
  • paystubs, and
  • any other documents that could explain your family finances to a court (or help you reach a fair outcome without going to court).

Even if you're still on good terms with your spouse, it's important to make paper or digital copies of these documents as soon as you can and keep them in a safe location. If you share email, document storage, or social media accounts with your spouse, consider creating new, individual, password-protected accounts.

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4. Make a List of Personal and Family Possessions

You'll want to make a list of items that are valuable to you such as:

  • jewelry
  • hobby-related items
  • cars
  • appliances
  • furniture
  • artwork, and
  • items beyond your home (such as in sheds and safe deposit boxes)

Making an inventory of valuable and sentimental items will help you remember them in any settlement or court proceeding (and help you in the future if your spouse attempts to hide assets).

5. Plan Your Financial Future

You should:

  • create a budget based on expected income after the divorce
  • prepare information about your job history, education, and career prospects
  • review your credit report and score
  • open a new credit card in your name only (both for building credit and for emergencies), and
  • look into sources of post-divorce income and employment prospects if necessary.

A big factor in post-divorce finances is alimony or spousal support, which is a court-ordered payment from one spouse to the other during the divorce and for a period after. It can be temporary or long-term. (For information on how alimony is awarded, read here.)

One more note: Hiring a certified divorce financial analyst can be an easy and effective way to protect your finances and understand the impact of your decisions during the divorce.

6. Plan Your Personal Future

As a stay-at-home mom or dad, your future parenting rights are obviously a huge consideration. Here's some info on that topic and on a couple more that also have to do with your happiness.

Child Custody

Typically, there are two types of custody: legal and physical. If you can agree to an arrangement with your spouse, the court will typically approve it (assuming it's in the best interests of the child). If you can't come to a custody agreement, the judge will issue an order.

When thinking about custody and visitation, consider what sort of arrangement would suit you and your kids, and what sort of resolution process (see #1 above) could work best. One legal route that's worth calling out here is mediation, specifically child custody mediation. A judge might order you to participate in custody mediation, but even if they don't, it's a popular option to help spouses reach agreement.

You'll also want to consider how you'll share parenting time during the divorce itself. A temporary custody arrangement will mean stability for the kids in the short-term. After the divorce is finalized, the court will decide whether to keep that agreement in place or create a new order.

One more consideration: If you have physical custody of the children after the divorce, a court might award you child support. Most courts use state child support guidelines to calculate the amount of support. If you have custody during the divorce, requesting temporary child support is also an option.

Living Situation

Most people prefer to physically separate during a pending divorce (depending where you live, state law might actually require you to live separate and apart). If you're a stay-at-home parent, you'll want to think about the possibility of staying in the family home during and after the divorce. Courts often allow the parent with physical custody of the kids to do that, to ensure as little disruption as possible. But if you think remaining in the home isn't your best option, it's a good idea to write down why you might want to move. That'll help you prepare to present your reasons to a judge or discuss them in mediation.

A note if you plan to continue living with your spouse during the divorce: You might want to seek out another way to receive your own mail, such as opening a post office box or getting a virtual mailbox (tied to an email address only you have access to). Alternatively, you could arrange to have personal mail sent to a neighbor or family member.

Overall Well-Being

Divorce can feel overwhelming, especially as a stay-at-home parent. But it's easier to ensure the needs of the kids are met if you don't lose sight of your own. Reach out to family and friends; let them know what's going on. You'll probably find many will offer to help you.

Finally, why not consider a list of things you've always wanted to do or accomplish in life? Whether it's an experience you've always wanted to have or a long-term goal that might have fallen by the wayside at some point, having aspirations written down can provide some inspiration as you power through the hard times.

For tips from a family therapist on coping with divorce and moving forward, read here. And, for our complete divorce guide for stay-at-home parents, read here.