Among legal pros, January has earned a reputation as Divorce Month. If you're contemplating calling it quits on the heels of the holidays, take a moment to slow down and ask yourself these key questions—provided by divorce attorneys, therapists and life coaches—before filing the paperwork.
1. Am I Sure?
While this seems like an obvious question, Jacqueline Newman, a partner at a boutique law firm in Manhattan that specializes in divorce, says it's an essential one. "Unless there is a solid YES, you should try marriage counseling first," she says. "Divorce is not an easy or fun process—not to mention that it's expensive. You need to be really sure you want to go down that path because it is very hard to turn back."
2. Is it just a phase?
There's a big difference between being in a bad marriage and being in a bad period of your marriage, says divorce and family law attorney Susan Saper Galamba. To determine where you're at, she recommends considering these questions: Is your spouse a good person? Do you enjoy spending time together? Do you respect your spouse? Does your spouse make you feel good about yourself? If the answers to these questions are yes, then you are more than likely in a rough phase, she says.
3. Have I really tried everything?
If you're not 100 percent certain that you want to split, you might consider separation, suggests Kailen Rosenberg, founder of The Love Architects, a matchmaking and counseling service. "With some space, each person can focus on why you fell in love, why you got married in the first place and what you can each do differently to save the marriage," she says. Even if you still decide to divorce, knowing you've pursued every route will help you feel less guilty in the long run.
4. Have I been fair?
Psychotherapist Stephanie Knarr, Ph.D., stresses the importance of telling your spouse that you're contemplating divorce before filing, which may seem obvious but oftentimes isn't done. "It is important to sound the alarm bell," she says. "Explain what your concerns are, voice suggestions for resolution, and then give him time to fairly address your concerns." If you still decide to divorce, the fact that you did this can help you heal emotionally later—and feel less guilty about the decision to ultimately end your marriage.
5. Is this about someone new?
Rosenberg adds that if you are considering a divorce because you met someone new, then you need to own up to that and realize that being in love (or lust) with another person is not always the best reason to divorce. Nor, she says, is it a good idea to get into a new relationship right after your split. Before taking any action, determine what led you to your feelings for someone else and see if what's lacking in your marriage can be changed before running off with this new partner. The novelty is sure to wear off.
6. How will this affect the kids?
Divorce affects each child differently, but most kids are very resilient and bounce back rather quickly, says Sheila Blagg, founder of Divorce2Dating. In fact, she notes that growing up with divorced parents is often less detrimental to a child's development than being exposed to parents who are constantly fighting. Still, for your own peace of mind, she suggests asking yourself this: "Looking forward, do you honestly feel that your children will be happier, and more at peace once the move is made?"
7. How are my finances?
While divorce is obviously emotional, one major aspect is all business: how you'll divide your joint assets. As Galamba explains, because one spouse typically handles the finances in a marriage, it's essential that you have all the information you need before you consider filing. "Familiarize yourself with your and your spouse's incomes based on the last three to five years of tax returns, as well as the family's monthly expenses and gather information regarding your assets and debts," she says.
8. What are my expectations?
Setting realistic expectations about your post-divorce life is essential. "If your expectation is to continue to live in the style to which you have become accustomed, you need to confirm that not only your marital estate and your spouse’s income is enough to continue your lifestyle, but also that laws of the state in which you live will apportion the assets and income to meet your expectations," says Galamba.
9. Do I have enough emotional support?
While it's not realistic to plan every detail of your post-divorce life, you should do some strategizing regarding an emotional support system, says Knarr. "After you file for divorce, tension will rise in your household," she says. "If you can, seek out a professional counselor, a close friend who you can confide in prior to initiating the divorce."