The first and most vital decision that divorcing couples need to make is what process they’re going to use to accomplish their divorce. That’s right – it’s not about who will keep the house, what will happen with the retirement accounts or even how you’re going to share time with your children. Those issues will all be decided over the course of the divorce process in one way or another. The very basic question is “How are we going to do this?” It’s a question that many couples never ask and never discuss, usually to their detriment.

This should be an informed decision, meaning you educate yourself about the alternatives, consider your circumstances and decide which process best fits your needs. Ending a marriage or other serious relationship is a life-altering decision and should not be undertaken hastily. You owe it to yourself and your family to learn about and carefully consider the different divorce processes.

Do some research. Look online, talk with friends and family members, read a few books about divorce. Most of all, share that information with your spouse. Sit down and talk about it. If you can’t do that effectively, put it in writing. Make copies of articles or book chapters for him or her. The time and energy spent researching and deciding how to handle your divorce will pay dividends when you actually start the process.

This may mean you or your spouse feel like you’re the person primarily gathering the information, but that’s OK. It’s not a contest to see who can do the best research. The point is to get the information out there. Put aside the attitude that “I am always the one figuring things out” or “I don’t want this to happen and you’re forcing this information on me.” You will have unpleasant thoughts about the divorce process. It’s not fun. Or happy. That’s even more reason to thoroughly research your process options. Think it through, talk with people and make an informed decision about what will work best for you.

If you and your spouse don’t have this conversation, you are limiting your options. Many people don’t know anything about the possible divorce processes until they consult with an attorney. If that attorney doesn’t explain the available options, they may never know that they even have a choice! Before you meet with an attorney, find out the basics about the different processes so you know what questions to ask. It will help you to understand the attorney’s perspective on handling family law cases and you’ll have a better sense of whether he or she is the right person to represent you.

If you and your spouse can jointly decide how to go through the divorce process, you’ve made a pivotal joint decision. You’ve not only set the course for how things will proceed, but you’ve proven that even if you’re getting divorced, you can still make decisions together.

If you’re facing a divorce, ask your spouse that question – “How are we going to do this?”