02/16/2011 12:46 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Ready Set Go; Getting Through the Early Stages of the Divorce Process

In my last post, I wrote about how to get through the first few days after deciding to file for divorce or finding out your spouse intends to file. The paramount point of the piece: prepare for what may well become the biggest fight of your life. Once the filing occurs, things will move quickly, and you must also be prepared to move quickly in protecting yourself and your children. As anyone who is going through divorce, has been through a divorce, or has witnessed a friends divorce, no matter how amicable intentions may be in the beginning, there is, almost without exception, a period of acrimony. There will be, to put it mildly, disagreements over how things should shake out. In many cases, there will be an outright divorce-war. You must do everything possible to protect yourself legally and financially. If children are involved, their well being must be protected at all cost.

As soon as possible, retain the right lawyer to ensure your legal protection. There are countless lawyers, choosing the right one can be overwhelming. Use the principle of 3. Consult with a minimum of three divorce lawyers to determine who the right fit. Weigh fees, experience and most importantly your comfort level. The lawyer is going to be intensely involved in your life for months and perhaps years. You must feel comfortable enough to open up and be one hundred percent honest. In order to properly represent you, the lawyer must know all of the facts and circumstances, not just select information. If you have done wrong the lawyer must be told, no matter how embarrassing or unflattering. It is impossible to present a winning case without knowing all of the facts.

Hopefully, some immediate financial protections have been put into place; flagging accounts against large or unusual charges, securing financial accounts from being cleaned out by an angry or vindictive spouse. If you have not done so do so immediately. Once money has disappeared, it is unlikely that it will reappear during the divorce process. Similarly, once credit card charges are made, they are not reversible. Pull your credit report; to be sure you are aware of the extent of liabilities in your name. As a reader commented to the last post, it is possible for one spouse to have obtained and run- up joint debt without the knowledge of the other. Gather and copy all financial documents; 3 years of tax returns, bank statements, retirement statements, investment statements, if it mentions money make a copy. The divorce lawyer is going to need these documents to understand you financial situation. You need to know exactly where you stand financially.

If there are children involved, protecting their emotional and financial well being must be paramount. Parental divorce is difficult for children at any age. You know your children, better than anyone else; and are best suited to know what is in their best interest. What emotional support will they need? What money will be needed to ensure their financial support? Figure out how they will be financially provided for during the divorce process. remember there is likely to be a gap between filing and receipt of temporary alimony or child support.

Finally, and perhaps the most important point to be made, do not agree to anything until you are fully aware of your legal rights and financial situation. Even if your soon to be ex offers you a deal that seems great, do not agree until you have had time to understand your rights and weigh all of your options. Decisions you make now will affect you for a very long time to come. Make sure every decision is made with care and consideration. As the old saying goes, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.