The Divorce Process has been made more civil and informal with numerous recent rule and law changes to require or strongly encourage mediation or other alternative dispute resolution and to limit time-consuming and expensive formal discovery. Often times it still will be stressful and emotionally difficult and it still can turn into prolonged litigation if your spouse is angry or determined to go down that path.
There are some steps you can take to make the process easier, less expensive and to protect yourself. A few recommendations were recently summarized in an article published in Huffpost Divorce by Lisa Helfend Meyer on February 2, 2016 titled “6 Things to Do Before Filing for Divorce.” These are the recommendations:
1. KNOW YOUR FINANCES. Make sure you try to copy or obtain access to financial records, account statements, tax returns, financial statements and any lists of assets, debts or purchase documents for real estate. At a minimum you should try to locate the last 3 years of tax returns and if necessary contact your accountant or investment advisor or investment account representative and obtain several years of records or statements. If homes or real estate has been refinanced or recently purchased you should obtain from the mortgage broker a copy of financial statements or loan applications completed and any appraisals completed in the process. This can provide a general overview of your income, debts, and assets to assist your divorce attorney to plan a strategy for the best way to proceed. If a spouse is angry it is important to obtain these records early to avoid expense to duplicate them or in some cases avoiding a spouse from losing them or worse destroying them.
2. GET YOUR AFFAIRS IN ORDER. Take care of financial transactions before the divorce starts. If you have joint credit lines or home equity lines you may want to contact the bank or mortgage company and freeze the credit line or have your named removed from joint credit cards for future charges or contact the credit card company and advise them you do agree to be liable for future charges and ask your name be removed if you are concerned about spouse going on a spending spree and damaging your credit or charging attorney fees on a joint credit card. You cannot change life insurance beneficiaries after divorce starts and generally you are restrained from liquidating assets except for necessary living expenses or for attorney fees. You may also wish to video tape or take pictures or inventory valuable personal property such as jewelry, guns, tools or equipment or consider having items informally appraised.
3. SET MONEY ASIDE. It often times is wise to have an emergency fund set aside to hire a lawyer or if possible to pay necessary living and debt expenses for 60 to 90 days or longer because a spouse can close down accounts or close out credit quickly and leave you vulnerable until mediation or court action is taken, which now can take 60 days or longer before you can schedule a temporary hearing if mediation is unsuccessful.
4. KEEP A JOURNAL. When custody or parenting time is in dispute it is important to document your involvement with the children. It often is helpful to keep a daily journal of all your involvement with the children, their activities and schooling and all communications and conversely your spouse’s lack of involvement. You want to make sure you are active at school events and conferences as well as day care selection and pick up and drop off as well as doctor or counselor appointments. Do not allow your spouse to control or limit your involvement. Do not work voluntary overtime and minimize weekend work or travel commitments.
5. AVOID SOCIAL MEDIA. Pictures, posts and internet activity is commonly being used as evidence in custody and parenting time disputes. Things you to do through social media is often discoverable and venting about your spouse on social media will be met with restraining orders, sanctions or worse. Stay away from social media for your own protection.
6. SEE A THERAPIST. A divorce can be very stressful and situational anxiety or depression can often happen. It is important to protect your emotional health and obtain help or support through a therapist , pastor or strong family network. Family support is helpful, but they may not always give you the best advice or be able to appropriately address the feelings or problems you are experiencing. If you feel stressed, overwhelmed or depressed it is important to seek professional help.
These are important first steps, but it remains critical to promptly seek advice from a divorce lawyer or experienced divorce attorney before you take any rash action such as moving out, changing jobs or work schedules or refinancing properties, purchasing new residences or taking out joint credit lines or loans, when divorce is on the horizon. Do not agree to temporary parenting schedules, custody or temporary financial arrangements until you consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney. Temporary agreements can limit your future options or turn into permanent binding terms that may not be in your best interests.