Unfortunately, divorce is a reality even for couples that “everyone thought would make it.” Sometimes, couples may try counseling, spiritual help, and even temporarily separate to try to find a way to stay together. Some couples are able to reconcile and work through their marital woes. Others, however, are not always so lucky.If your spouse tells you he or she wants a divorce, regardless of the reason, there are some common sense steps to take to protect yourself and your rights at the beginning of the process. Here are a few guidelines to help you:• Stay calm. Allowing your emotions to take over can lead you to say or do things you may later regret.• Determine if and/or when your spouse has or is planning to file for divorce.• If your spouse wants to end your marriage and you do not, determine if counseling may be an option before any formal legal steps are taken.• Do not agree to any custody, child or spousal support arrangement or property division with your spouse before consulting an experienced, qualified divorce and family law attorney; even if your relationship with your spouse is civil.• Do not allow your spouse to intimidate you with threats of denying you access to your children, financial ruin, or other ploys.• Think of your children. Try to keep your emotions in check to lessen the potential harm to your children. Try to remain calm when dealing with your spouse to encourage peace even if he or she is uncivil.• Do your homework. Seek referrals for competent legal representation to protect your parental rights and your assets.• Seek support at your church, synagogue, mosque, or from qualified, professional guidance.• For many couples a collaborative divorce or other “out of court” process offers a better option to adversarial divorce proceedings and may cost less.The Reality: Divorce is Painful, but Doesn’t Have to be MessyEach marriage is unique and there is no one right answer on how to deal with the harsh reality of a looming divorce. However, by consulting with an experienced and qualified family law attorney you will learn about the various processes available to resolve all the issues that are incident to the end of your marriage, and you will obtain information about the applicable legal principles and your rights as a spouse and a parent. Although it certainly may be painful, the process of ending a marriage does not have to be ugly.There is No Substitute for a Competent Family Law AttorneyWhen it comes to choosing legal representation, you will need to spend time getting referrals and evaluating which attorney will fit your budget, needs, and goals. It is best to select a lawyer with years of experience and success specifically with divorce and custodial issues. Picking someone out of the yellow pages with no information on his or her professional background, experience, or communication style is unwise. In addition, “cheap” is not typically the best choice to protect your rights and assets, either. Just as there are varying specialties in medicine, the same principle applies to the law. Your tax or real estate attorney is not going to be able to handle your divorce with the same knowledge and skill than an attorney who concentrates his practice in divorce, custody, and other family law matters.