Divorce can be one of the most emotionally devastating life experiences you ever go through. In fact, experts routinely place divorce in the top 5 most stressful life events. With all of that emotional turmoil, it can be difficult to remain calm and logical when facing an impending divorce. For the sake of your financial and emotional security, however, it's important to make sure you have certain things in order before you file the actual paperwork with your divorce attorney. Here are five steps to take before you file divorce:

Have a Free Consultation with a Divorce Attorney (or Three)

Even if you're not ready to file the actual paperwork just yet, it's a good idea to sit down with a divorce attorney to get a clear idea of what the process will be like and how much the divorce will likely cost. They can also give you advice about protecting yourself legally and financially while you prepare for divorce.

If you aren't happy with the first divorce attorney you meet with (because of a personality clash, because they seem inexperienced, etc.), it's fine to meet with other attorneys until you find the right match. Once you are ready to hire one, you may need to pay a retainer fee.

Make a Detailed List of Assets and Debts

One of the most important aspects of a divorce is determining who is responsible for which debts and who gets to keep which assets. In order to make this process easier, start by making a detailed list of all debts (including mortgage, credit cards, student loans, old medical bills, etc.) and assets (including your home, cars, savings and investment accounts, valuable artwork, and jewelry). Include dates the debts and assets were acquired.

In most states, debts you got into and assets you acquired before you were married remain yours after a divorce, while everything else gets divvied up. It can be a good idea to aggressively pay down debts before the divorce, if at all possible.

Gather Important Documents

Your divorce attorney will need copies of many important financial and legal documents. By gathering these ahead of time, you can help the process move along more quickly once you are ready to file. This checklist of documents to bring to your divorce attorney is a great place to start.

Get Your Divorce Goals in Writing

Are you hoping to have primary custody of the children? Are you okay with your soon-to-be ex keeping the dog? Do you hope to sell the house and split the profit? Your divorce attorney won't necessarily be able to make all of your wishes come true, but by thinking about how you want things to go and getting it all down in writing, your chances of a successful outcome are increased. If you just passively go along with whatever your spouse wants, you may find yourself disappointed with the post-divorce arrangements.

Protect Your Individual Finances

When you know a divorce is looming in the near future, it's time to begin thinking of your own financial security, separate from that of your spouse's. If you only have joint accounts, you may want to start your own savings account now and begin transferring money to it when you can.

If you have been out of the workforce for a while because you were home taking care of the children, this might be a good time to put together a new resume and look into jobs you may be interested in. Take a look at your expenses and how much money you need to earn each month when you don't have a spouse to share the financial burden.

By following these steps, you can gain some control over your upcoming divorce and protect yourself at the same time.