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The decision to divorce is never easy. The process doesn't have to be devastating. It will be painful enough, but with the right plan and some professional assistance, a divorce needn't be irretrievably traumatic. What follows is not legal advice and should not be relied on to act or not act in any specific situation. I urge everyone seeking divorce to find a competent, experienced attorney they trust before moving forward.

1. Safety: Are you safe living with the other person? If you or your kids are in danger, you must get out and contact the police. If you are with someone who's threatening to hurt you and you think that's "okay" you need to stop making excuses for what's inexcusable. Now.

UPDATE TO POST: I've realized that paragraph makes me sound like an insensitive jerk. If you are in a dangerous situation, please search for a safe place for you and your children. The police or your local courthouse or place of worship may be good resources. I read my words again and found my tone very condescending. I apologize.

2. Gather all the financial information you can safely access, without alerting or putting yourself in danger: You can minimize conflict by making copies of all bank statements, savings accounts, bills, etc. and keep the copies (Jot Not Pro is an app that let's you use your phone as a scanner) somewhere the other party won't find them. Yes, your lawyer can ask for this information later, but it's much easier (and lessens fees) to get it early. If you are the "out" spouse, a term used when one spouse controls the finances and doesn't share much or any information with the other, try to get locations and account numbers.

3. Seek help from a competent lawyer at once. Don't expect a "free consultation" to answer your needs. I always cringe when hardworking people who have otherwise taken mature, necessary steps to protect their assets and prepare for retirement call me and want my input on how to DIY their divorce with custody issues and large 401(K) plans in the mix. My one word answer: DON'T.

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