Should You File For Divorce First?

In the world of sports, there are demonstrated advantages and drawbacks to serving first, receiving first, batting first and the like. The pros and cons are analyzed against the strengths and weaknesses of each player or team, and after the coin toss, coaches either make the most of having the upper hand, or compensate for being at a disadvantage. It’s all about being in the best position to win. 

In some ways, things are similar in divorce. Even though you may not see the dissolution of your marriage as something to “win” or “lose,” as a Divorce Financial Strategist™, I can tell you that there are ways to position yourself for the best possible financial advantage . . . and ways that can lead to financial disaster. 

For example, if you’re preparing to divorce, you may be wondering if you’d be better off filing before your husband does. Let’s consider some of the potential advantages. When you file first:

1. Your divorce team can be lined up in advance, and without interference.

Achieving the best possible outcome from a divorce requires a team of qualified experts on your side. Filing first means you can take the time to interview and retain the right people. You know you’ll need an excellent divorce attorney, and in financially complex divorces, it’s also essential to have an experienced divorce financial planner on your team. In addition, I recommend a compassionate therapist to help you cope. 

Being able to interview/consult attorneys first can also protect you from the possibility that your husband could “conflict out” the best lawyers in your area. All he’d have to do is meet with each one just long enough to establish an attorney-client relationship, after which they would be prohibited from representing you. It’s a dirty trick you may have seen on The Sopranos, but it happens often in real life as well. 

2. You can gather and organize important documents before divorce proceedings get underway.

Many divorcing women spend time and money chasing down financial and legal documents from a husband unwilling to provide them. Save yourself the grief and legal fees by locating and copying all the documents on my Divorce Financial Checklist before you file. It’s a long list, and you may even have things to add to it. Before divorce papers are served, store the documents in a secure location your husband can’t access.

3. You can secure access to funds and credit.

Hiring your divorce team is an essential investment in your financial future, so you’ll need money to see the process through. I’ve long advocated for women to take an active role in family finances, and ideally, you’ll have some fairly significant funds in an account that’s yours alone. If you don’t, you need to open that kind of account as soon as you begin to think you may be divorcing. Remember: Divorce professionals don’t come cheap with most charging hundreds of dollars per hour and requiring retainer fees of thousands of dollars upfront.

Likewise, if you don’t have a credit card in your own name, you should obtain one as soon as possible. It may not be easy to do later, and you will need credit to manage your expenses both during the divorce and as a single woman afterward.  

4. You may have a choice as to where your divorce will be decided. 

Divorces are generally filed and decided in the jurisdiction in which one or both spouses reside. If you have more than one venue available to you (equal time spent at homes in New York and Florida, for example), you might be amazed to discover the differences in laws regarding spousal support, child custody, division of marital assets and other critical considerations. Jurisdiction could have a tremendous impact on the outcome of your divorce. Do your research, and consult with attorneys wherever you might file.

5. You may limit your vulnerability to your husband’s financial dirty tricks.

It’s unethical, illegal, and just plain rotten, but many husbands hide assets during the divorce process. If you file first, you might narrow his window of opportunity to engage in these underhanded tactics. This is especially true if your state requires an Automatic Temporary Restraining Order (ATRO), which prevents either spouse from taking certain financial actions once a divorce is filed.

6. You may gain strength emotionally. 

In my observation, there are significant emotional advantages to filing first. Taking steps to get yourself out of an unhealthy situation is tremendously empowering. To be sure, big changes sometimes require scary leaps –but acting, rather than reacting, puts you in a mindset open to possibility and opportunity. 

In every divorce, there is much that will be out of your direct control. However, as you can see from what I’ve outlined here, filing first can put you in the driver’s seat for some of it. Still, I also need to say that there can be terrible reasons to file first. Be honest with yourself. If you’re racing your husband to court out of spite, or if you want him served with papers at a particularly embarrassing time, or if your thoughts are akin to “you can’t fire me, I quit!” . . . then, it’s time to reevaluate your strategy. 

Just as in sports, the team losing the coin toss isn’t fated to lose the game, and you need not suffer financially if you don’t file first. In fact, there are certain circumstances where filing first can actually put you at a disadvantage. For instance, if your husband files first and your case goes to trial, it’s likely that he (the plaintiff) will have to present his case first. That could give you the opportunity and extra time to refute his case. If you file first, that opportunity becomes his!

As you can see, the benefits of filing first are worth considering, but you need to carefully weigh the pros and cons with your divorce attorney.

Jeffrey Landers is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.

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2 Responses to “Should You File For Divorce First?”

  1. AndThisIsWhyUsGoodMenAreSingle

    Well most of the women these days are the real cause why the divorce rate is so high now unfortunately since most of the time they’re the ones that really do file for divorce since so many of the women now have their careers making a very high salary as well. Most of the women today are very high maintenance, independent, selfish, spoiled, greedy, picky, narcissists, and very power money hungry as well which really speaks for itself right there since they will only want the very best of all and will never settle for less since many of us good men had this happened to us already unfortunately. Most of these women are the biggest cheaters as well since they will go with other men that have a lot of money or are rich altogether which they will also take advantage of men that have money so that they can get what they want from them as well which is very sad. When you compare these women today to the good old fashioned women of years ago when most of the women in those days really did put these women today to real shame altogether since they were really the very complete opposite of what these women are today. And most of the women back then were very faithful to their men at that time as well as many men were which made most of the marriages work out most of the time. Today it really does take two to tango since many women are failing on that nowadays which certainly explains that. Unfortunately the great majority of the women today don’t even have respect for many of us good innocent men anymore especially when many of us will try to start a conversation with the one that will attract us and then to have her curse at us as well since i had this happen to me already since a friend that i know had it happen to him as well. Quite a change in the women of today since many of them now are so very pathetic too which is why many of us men are single again and will most likely stay that way as well.

    • OneWhoHasBeenThroughIt

      Sounds like you have quite the chip on your shoulder. I have my own gripes but in the reverse. Mine is against a “man,” but you won’t see me man bashing. Men are very different today than they were many years ago as well. The fault does not lie with one party versus another. Each situation is different entirely.