If you’ve chosen to divorce in California, should you file first? The short answer is: maybe, especially if your spouse lives in another state or can do potential harm.

It’s more important to plan properly for your divorce. This way, you set yourself up for success during and after divorce. Let’s touch on this first.

Are You Ready to File for Divorce?

Before you file, it’s vital to prepare for the legal, financial, and health implications of divorce.

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What do you need to know BEFORE getting a divorce?

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Understanding Legal & Financial Factors

First, get to know your state’s specific divorce laws. If you’re in California, you can use this 9-step guide to prepare yourself. Plus, some states, like California, are no-fault states meaning you can get a divorce without a specific reason. So don’t expect the judge to rule in your favor because your spouse was unfaithful.

Also, establish the date of separation since anything acquired or earned after the date of separation would be considered your separate property. Establishing this cut-off point will distinguish what is your separate property versus what is community property (belonging to both of you) to be divided.

Finances are a major issue in divorce cases. So make a list of all your assets and debts, joint bank accounts, and investments. Then, work with a divorce consultant to help you clearly define and achieve your financial goals.

Ultimately, you’ll need to decide if it’s best to divorce amicably with mediation or battle it out in litigation. Keep in mind that litigation is taxing your wallet and peace of mind, whereas mediation is generally more efficient and peaceful.

Considering the Impact on Your Health

Understandably, divorce can be a highly emotional undertaking. When possible, stick to a healthy regimen. Here are a few tips for nurturing your mind, body, and spirit:

  • Exercise
  • Eat healthy and nutritious foods
  • Practice yoga and meditation
  • Learn from self-help books and podcasts
  • Work with a therapist or divorce coach
  • Avoid bad-mouthing your spouse
  • Avoid using social media as an outlet

Divorce can also be hard on your children, especially if they’re still young. Prioritize their well-being and help them understand the reality of the situation with the assistance of a professional child psychologist. Don’t blindside them with the news, and definitely don’t use them as pawns in your divorce case or child custody matters.

So, Should You File for Divorce First?

Again, legally you are not getting much of an advantage if you both live in California. This is because California is a no-fault state, so the courts aren’t favoring you as the original petitioner.

However, you can potentially help yourself in two scenarios:

  1. You live in California, and your spouse lives in another state
  2. Your spouse is destructive

Filing First When Your Spouse Lives in Another State

You could gain a tactical advantage by filing first if your future-ex lives in another state and your children don’t live there. By filing for divorce in California, you essentially force your ex to come to you — giving you “home court advantage.” They’re the one forking out money for travel and lodging while you’re commuting locally.

Protecting Yourself with ATROs

Suppose you’re worried about your spouse spending your joint savings in a fit of rage. You can protect your finances by filing first. Here’s how:

During the divorce process, some states, like California, require that you and your spouse temporarily agree to certain terms called Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders (ATROs). These orders are put in place to prevent either spouse from doing anything that could jeopardize the divorce case.

ATROs do even more; they typically prohibit both spouses from:

  • Taking children out of state
  • Selling, destroying, or transferring property
  • Incurring new debt
  • Changing beneficiaries on insurance policies
  • Canceling health insurance
  • Passport applications

Generally, ATROs are put in place to protect both parties and prevent either party from hiding assets or engaging in other misconduct. It is important to note that the ATROs are only enforceable upon serving your spouse. If you don’t serve your spouse with the divorce papers, the ATROs will not go into effect. On the other hand, the ATROs are enforceable upon you once you file.

Next Steps

Ultimately, it’s not about who files first. Rather, it’s about who plans first. With this mindset, you can come away from divorce feeling empowered instead of drained. Focus your efforts on achieving your financial and personal goals. Please don’t get hung up on defeating your ex or making them look bad.

Take the high road by doing the hard work, amicably divorce, and confidently enter the next chapter of your life.

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