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Facing divorce? Do these 4 key things first

Divorce is always difficult. If you are a stay-at-home parent who is financially dependent on your spouse, however, divorce can be more than difficult: It can feel like your whole world is crumbling under your feet.

The good news is that this feeling doesn't have to be your reality. You can take steps to protect yourself, your children and your future. Here are four of the most important things to do as soon as you are served with divorce papers:

1. Take a deep breath.

It's easy to panic. You're worried about where you're going to live, whether you'll get custody of your children, how you'll pay the bills when you don't even have a job...but take a step back from the turmoil in your mind. Take a moment to breathe and relax. You don't want to make any hasty decisions right now that could jeopardize your future.

2. Talk to someone who's seen it all before.

Although your friends and family may be a comfort to you during this time, the best person to talk to is a skilled divorce attorney. He or she can explain your options, walk you through the legal process, answer your questions and fight for your best interests. Plus, you will need to respond to the divorce petition, and your lawyer will make sure you don't miss the deadline.

Having a lawyer carry the legal burden for you can be one of the wisest - and most stress-relieving - actions you can take.

3. Gather your financial information.

You will need copies of all the financial records, and it's best to get those copies as soon as possible. You don't want to give your spouse a chance to take them or hide them. Here are just a few of the documents you may need:

  • State and federal tax returns for the past several years
  • Recent pay stubs
  • Bank statements
  • Retirement account statements
  • Mortgage information
  • Utility bills
  • Property tax statements
  • Insurance policies
  • Credit card statements
  • Any prenuptial agreement

4. Decide how to tell your children.

Many child experts recommend telling your children about the upcoming divorce as soon as possible. It's likely that they feel the tension, and they may already suspect far more than you've said. It's better to let them know what to expect than to let them live in uncertainty.

At the same time, of course, you'll want to choose an appropriate time and place for this discussion. Sharing the news with them on Christmas morning is probably not the best choice. Pick a time when you and your spouse can sit down together with the kids and explain the situation in a straightforward manner. Above all, you want to remind your children that the divorce is not their fault, and that you both still love them.

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