1. Investigate and Identify. Take pictures and video of everything inside the house. Photocopy all bank statements, IRA statements, 401K statements, pension statements etc... Once you leave you are not allowed back inside the martial residence- even if your name is on the deed. Run a free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com and make sure there are no joint debts you are not aware of or forgot about. Be prepared to immediately close joint credit cards upon moving out. The last thing you want to do is finance a lawsuit against yourself. Be prepared to close out joint bank accounts or take your share of money in joint accounts. Although an accounting of money or stuff is possible later the old adage that possession is 9/10 of the law still applies- If you want something take it the day you move out.
2. Think about how your life will change. Don’t just move out and realize you can’t afford to live on your own. If you have children consider who is going to pick the children up from daycare or take them to soccer practice. If you have not been working and are going to sue for alimony or child support realize that can take months to establish in Court.
3. Start saving. Two people can’t live separate the way they can together. Expect the standard of living for you and your spouse to both suffer as a result of having the expenses of two separate households. Two roofs, two cable bills, two electricity bills, two internet bills, two water bills, two natural gas bills, two of everything adds up quick. Moving is expensive- first month rent, security deposit, moving men and truck, utility deposits. Also realize you may have to hire a lawyer or accountant to help you sort things out.
4. Decide what you want. Do you want full custody of the children? Do you want alimony? Do you simply want a peaceful separation and orderly division of assets and debts? Realize what you want may be easy or hard depending on how your spouse reacts. Consider talking to a therapist- divorce is stressful. Many insurance plans offer a limited number of free hours. If you have children your relationship with them WILL change. You still need to co-parent and a therapist or parenting counselor can really help during the transition.
5. Talk to a lawyer. Never assume things will just work out for best. Educate yourself on family law. Think of all your questions, write them down, and go talk to at least one divorce attorney. Don’t simply ask your friend who is recently divorced- every case has the potential to be different. Hopefully you won’t need to do anything beyond have your bases covered. That being said there is no substitute for legal advice from a professional whose job is to protect your assets and interests.