December 3, 2007

10 things to do if you are going to get divorced.

There is no substitute for planning, and planning for your divorce can make the process go smother, lower your lawyers fees, and help ensure you emerge on the other end of the case ready to move forward, and with the least amount of emotional and financial damage. We put together the following “Top 10 list” for those considering divorce.

  1. Consider your other options: While not appropriate in every case, consider if you really want to be divorced. If not, talk to a marriage counselor or other professional who can explore saving your marriage. If the process works, great! If the process does not work, you can at least get help discovering what went wrong, how to cope, and how best to move on.
  2. Consult with and retain a family law attorney: Clients often make strategic mistakes prior to filing. For example, moving out of the family home, even briefly, can impact a custody and parenting time case. We blogged about the difference between consulting a lawyer and retaining a lawyer before. Make sure you at least consult so you know your rights, and how to avoid shooting yourself in the foot.
  3. Copy documents: Your case will be smoother and your fees lower if you have a copy of all essential documents to provide to your lawyer. Obtain copies of pay stubs, tax returns, retirement account statements, bank statements, car and boat titles, real estate documents, insurance polices, etc. If you or your spouse uses financial software to track expenses, save a copy of the file.
  4. Inventory your personal property: Go room to room and make a list of major items of value. You do not need to inventory every muffin tin, but you may end up out of the house for a period of months while the case progresses, and you may forget what is there.
  5. Get a copy of your credit reports: Getting a credit report is very useful in identifying debt, accounts, and what accounts are open and closed. Pull a copy of your report from each of the three credit bureaus or a tri-merge report and your lawyer will thank you.
  6. Establish your own credit and source of funds: If you do not have credit in your own name, apply for them and get several. You will need to establish your own separate credit history, and do not want to be in the position of having your access to funds cut off. If there is a joint cash account, consider splitting it and transferring ½ to a separate account in your sole name.
  7. Keep the kids out of it: Getting ready for a divorce can take lots of time and energy. Make sure the kids don’t suffer any more than necessary by making them the first priority. Do not put them in the middle. Do not argue in front of them. Do not badmouth your spouse in front of the kids. Keep their routines as normal as you can. Stay connected (or get connected) to their activities at school and after school. Courts take a dim view parents that put kids in the middle of the conflict. Just don’t do it.
  8. Know your finances: Make sure you know what you make and are capable of making, what your spouse makes and is capable of making, and where the money goes each month. What are the credit cards? How much is owed? Where are the retirement accounts? Can you earn enough in your current job or will you need your spouse to support you for a period of time? If your job involves travel, will you need a different job without travel if you don’t have a spouse to watch the kids while you are gone? The more you know about the finances the easier it will be to communicate with your lawyer. Knowing the finances and having a plan helps put you in the best position after the divorce is over.
  9. Manage debt: This could be the worst time to increase your debt level. Unless your lawyer tells you otherwise, don’t make major purchases. Don’t go on shopping sprees. Some lawyers advise their clients to contact joint creditors and have accounts closed, or limits reduced to prevent the accumulation of new debt during the divorce.
  10. Take care of yourself: Divorce can be a very stressful experience. Take care of yourself, even before anyone files. Work out. Find a support group, either through your friends or a formal divorce support group. Consider getting counseling. Many clients choose to get into counseling to help with the process, and report back that it was helpful.