Planning ahead can mean a shorter, less painful divorce

Planning ahead can make your divorce less painful in the long run; speak with an attorney as early on in the process as possible to protect yourself.

While hard statistics are difficult to find, the national divorce rate for first-time marriages is estimated at between 40 and 50 percent. Californians - according to some sources, anyway - are even more likely to split, with as many as 75 percent of the state's marriages (including first, second and subsequent ones) said to end in divorce. With such sobering facts in mind, if your marriage is on the rocks, it might behoove you to start thinking about the possibility of divorce and to start planning for what you will do in the event that your marriage dissolves.

We all know that divorce can be a stressful, messy process even under the best of circumstances (that is, when the parties can agree upon many of the important issues like child custody, child support, spousal support/alimony and others). It still takes effort and time to equitably divide marital property, decide upon a custody and visitation arrangement that is in the best interests of the children, determine if alimony payments are appropriate and for the couple to establish two separate households all while the divorce proceedings are moving forward.

However, with some advance planning, a commitment to cooperation and the assistance of a skilled family law attorney, the process doesn't have to be contentious, painful and drawn-out.

Consider this ahead of time

If you are getting married, you should strongly consider a prenuptial agreement, even if you don't have many assets. After all, prenups aren't just for the very wealthy. They can be helpful for any couple because they allow for the impartial consideration of financial issues prior to a point in which the marriage is ending and emotional entanglements have clouded things. They can be used to delineate property (like family heirlooms or businesses) that are to remain separate in the event of a divorce, and can even set forth such things as future alimony payments if that is a concern for one or both spouses prior to the marriage.

Even after you are married, the same basic steps can be taken with what is known as a "postnuptial agreement" (sometimes called an "antenuptial agreement"). If you don't have a prenup, though, you can still take steps to protect your future.

Getting your proverbial ducks in a row

If you have any indication that a divorce might be on the horizon, you have your work ahead of you. You should start by gathering as much information as you can, particularly about your financial circumstances. You'll want bank statements, tax returns (preferably for the past few years), investment account records, insurance information, lists of household and/or business assets and salary details for yourself and your spouse. In addition, it will be very helpful if you have a detailed budget that accounts for where the bulk of your money ends up on a monthly basis (such as one that lists credit card bills, utilities, mortgage payments, childcare expenses, tuition, etc.).

Seeking help

Divorce isn't a good time to "do it yourself." Trying to navigate the court system, file legal documents, negotiate settlements and make custody determinations can all be very difficult for someone with no legal training. Plus, you run the risk of jeopardizing your legal rights or inadvertently agreeing to an unfair property settlement. With qualified, experienced legal counsel - like that found at the Redding-based Mike Darlington, Attorney at Law - at your side, however, you can successfully move forward after a divorce and get started on the next chapter of your life.

Keywords: divorce, divorce planning, custody, visitation, spousal support, alimony