One of the most commonly asked questions I get in my practice is, “How do I prepare for a divorce?” If divorce is likely or certain, you need to be ready. Here is the advice that I offer to people who are still in the contemplation phase or at the beginning of their case.
1)Save money: Child support, spousal support, and other orders for money take time and can be unreliable. Have some funds set aside to pay expenses if the need arises.
2) Take pictures: Take pictures of everything you own. All of the things in your house, all of the things in any outbuildings, safety deposit boxes, things stored at another location or loaned to someone else, including vehicles, ATV’s, trailers, boats, and the like. Take pictures in such a way that the items are identifiable, i.e., including make/model, serial number, etc. in photos.
If you go home one day and he/she has removed every item from the home, you will want to be able to identify each piece and place a value on it. This is the time to be meticulous, so go through your house and photograph everything! Even if you do not want the guns or do not want the crystal, those items have value, and an accounting value of real/personal property is often necessary in a divorce, even if/when you can settle the matter amicably.
3) Keep good records: If you are paying bills, taking the kids to doctor or sporting events, or going to the doctor yourself, write it down on the day that it happened. Especially as it relates to custody, the court is significantly concerned with who is providing the day-to-day care for the children and any involvement you have in that regard should be tracked and noted with the corresponding date and time.
4) Separate the finances: If you and your spouse deposit all of your money in joint accounts on a monthly basis, it is time to think about separating those funds. Get your own account and change direct deposit information. You can often still transfer money into a joint account to pay expenses, but do not have to put all your funds into the joint account. Let me repeat that: married persons are allowed to keep their funds separate if they so choose. If you are not employed and do not have a direct deposit, get your own account anyway and keep a bit set aside (See #1. Save Money).
5) Don’t wait too long to file: Many people separate and then wait to file. That, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, as it can provide space, a cooling off period, and an opportunity to reflect on the situation. However, actions during this separation period can significantly impact your case, especially as it relates to custody. For instance, if you move out and start seeing the kids every other weekend and several months goes by before you file, you have seriously damaged your case if you want joint legal and physical custody and/or equal parenting time.
Additionally, child support cannot be retroactive to a date prior to the filing of the request for support. This is usually made in your initial complaint when you file for divorce, so if you have been separated for several months before you file and have not been receiving any support, the court cannot offer you any relief.
If you separate for an extended time and one party sells or disposes of assets, there may be nothing that the court will do, as it was done during the marriage and not during the divorce proceedings. In short, the practices you follow while you are separated can set you up for what the court will do at a trial.
6) Be Involved: Know what assets/debts you and your spouse own. Do you have retirement accounts, pensions, life insurance? How many credit cards, loans or other financial obligations do you have, individually or as a couple? One good way to find out what is out there associated with your name is to run a credit report. Everyone is entitled to one free credit report annually from each credit reporting bureau, so go to annualcreditreport.com to request one.
7) Consult with a Family Law Attorney: Family Law cases are very case specific. Family situations are unique, each case has their own specific set of facts and details, and every county judicial system operates a little differently. Attorneys often do a consultation for a very reasonable rate. You will have the opportunity to sit down and provide an overview of the specific details of your case with the attorney and get feedback based on their experience and the court system in your county. Don’t rely on advice from other people who have a “case that’s just like yours” or what you read online, as there are many myths out there and you deserve accurate information when facing a divorce.
NOTE: This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal advice. If you have further questions or want to consult with someone who can discuss your specific divorce case, please call the Law Office of Stacy Flanery at (231) 629-8130 for an appointment.