Cancel all joint credit cards.
It is important to understand the difference between a community debt and an enforceable contract. Since California is a community property state, virtually all debts incurred during the marriage are community. Each spouse is obligated to pay half of the debt. However, a creditor can only enforce a debt against the person who originally signed the contract guaranteeing payment.
Cancel all lines of credit, and any other open joint credit accounts between you and your spouse.
Close all joint bank accounts.
Close all joint bank accounts. Do not take the chance that your spouse will bounce checks after you separate which will then affect your credit rating. Divide all monies in the accounts evenly and open up a new bank account in your name only. Make sure your paycheck is not being deposited into a joint account.
Try to pay off all jointly-owed loans.
If you have the ability to do so, use any savings you might have to pay off all outstanding debts held in both your names. If possible, you do not want your spouse to be driving a car with your name on the automobile loan. Try to assume the car with the loan in your name. Otherwise, you will need to verify each month that the payments are being made on time.
Notify your Insurance Carriers.
If you have a joint automobile insurance policy, ask the insurer to divide the account into two separate bills.
Obtain separate cell phone bills. If you are not going to remain in the house, make sure all phone and utility services remove your name from the account.
Decide What to do with the Family Residence.
It is critical that you decide who will be moving out of the house before you separate. If finances are an issue, or you do not have an agreement regarding custody of the children, it may be best to remain in the house until these issues are resolved. If domestic violence is an issue, then consult an attorney and separate immediately. Otherwise, if you own the house, you need to make some immediate financial decisions, like who will make the house payments, and should the house be sold?
Gather Important Financial Documents.
Obtain all financial documents before you separate. These should include, but not be limited to, any evidence of how much you and your spouse own, how much you each spend, how much you each owe, and what your assets are. Normally, key documents will include bank account statements, credit card statements, paycheck stubs, tax returns, retirement statements, investment statements, mortgage statements, promissory notes, and loan agreements. All information should go back at least three years. If you or your spouse has an ownership interest in a corporation, consult an attorney for additional instructions.
Work out a Custody Plan in Advance.
If possible, it is best to have a child custody and visitation agreement worked out with your spouse beforehand as to the living arrangements of the children. Who will they be living with? Who will care for them when both of you are at work? How often will they visit the other parent? The state provides free counselors to help you work out these questions without having to go to court.
Plan on paying Child Support.
If you have children and they will not be living with you after the separation, expect to pay a significant amount of your income to child support. In fact, child support may be as high as one-half your gross income. You may be expected to pay half of all child care costs, and uncovered medical bills in addition to that. If you make more than your spouse, there is the possibility you will be paying spousal support, as well.
Find an experienced family law attorney who can help you plan ahead and help you prepare for the future. A competent divorce lawyer will be able to advise you about your rights and responsibilities, as well as help you have reasonable expectations about the divorce process.
Prepare Your Children for the Separation.
Unless there is domestic violence involved in the relationship, you and your spouse should sit down with your children and tell them that a divorce is going to be filed. Do not place blame on anyone for the situation. Simply explain to them that it is nobody's fault, that you and your spouse both love them, and you will both continue to be an important part of their lives. Children want to be assured that everything will be okay, and that you will continue to love them and take care of them in the future.