Often, divorce is a mutual decision or at least one you see coming. If you know or suspect that your spouse wants a divorce, you should prepare before you receive any divorce papers.
What if the divorce comes as a complete surprise? Some people are good at hiding their discontent and plans to exit the marriage, catching you off guard and leaving you clueless about what to do next. The good news is that it is not too late to protect yourself if you take the following steps right away.
Call an attorney
You must respond to the divorce papers, called the Petition and Summons, within 30 days. Otherwise, the court will view your lack of response as an uncontested divorce and likely grant the terms your spouse asked for. Call an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options under California law, protect your rights and avoid making a legal mistake.
Stay in your home
No matter how much you may not want to, stay in your home for now. The court can misinterpret leaving as abandonment. If your spouse is abusive, have your attorney help you file the right paperwork to gain custody of your kids, leave or maintain your residence and keep your spouse away from you. If your safety is severely at risk, call law enforcement or a domestic violence hotline for immediate help.
Gather or make copies of as much financial documentation as possible, such as bank records, vehicle titles, deeds, investments and estate plans. Make an inventory of all your property and belongings. Keep a record of your interactions with your kids, your communication with your spouse and the interactions between your spouse and the children.
Talk to your children
If the divorce is a surprise to you, it likely is for your children, too. Prepare them for the imminent changes. If you can, have your spouse present when you tell them. Reassure your children of your love for them and their blamelessness in the decision. Be open to questions and consider family counseling to help with the adjustment.