Article by Daniel A. Levy, Esq.
When I consult with potential clients about divorce cases, a fair percentage of folks have not yet decided whether they want to get divorced. Rather, they want to know a bit about the process and what they can do to prepare for filing for divorce. Below, I have some tips on what steps to take if you are thinking of filing for divorce.
- Investigate your finances: Some folks have very simple finances, but others may have a number of accounts, lines of credit, loans, investments, etc. And some folks simply don’t know what their finances are. It’s important to do a little investigating and find out exactly what is going on with the finances for both parties. Get copies of bank and investment statements. Gather tax returns and W2’s. Get a copy of your credit card statements. Etc. Etc. A lot of the work that goes into a divorce case concerns the family finances and the better prepared you are, the less stressful a divorce will be. Also, remember that your spouse may have assets and debts that are in their names alone; don’t forget to gather information about those accounts, too.
- Make sure you have access to finances: It’s sad, but in some situations one spouse may completely lock the other spouse out of the family finances once a divorce is filed. Don’t let this happen to you. If you do decide to get divorced, it will be extremely uncomfortable to learn that you don’t have access to money for a lawyer or to pay rent on a new residence should you decide to move out. Make sure that you have a bank account that is only in your name and that you have enough money set aside. However, don’t over-correct and take all of the family money for yourself. If you do that, a judge will likely order you to return money to your spouse and pay their legal bills.
- Think about the kids: This is another big item in most divorce cases. Sometimes it’s obvious where the kids will live, but most of the time it’s not so simple. Think about different scenarios for where the kids will reside most of the time. Think about what visitation arrangements make sense for everyone. And remember, changes of residence are disruptive to kids’ lives and are generally disfavored by the court, especially if it requires a change in school and the new residence isn’t large enough to comfortably house the children. Also, don’t forget to think about things like vacation time, college plans, etc.
- Decide where you are going to live: If you are still living together, remember that at some point in the near future you will no longer live together. And that day can come faster than you think. You should not only prepare for that situation psychologically and practically, but also financially. Also, where the parents reside is going to affect issues of custody and visitation, so don’t forget to consider those things, too.
- Photograph and document valuable property: This is something that many people forget about until it is too late. Perhaps one spouse has a bunch of expensive jewelry, or a valuable sports memorabilia collection,
or a classic car, or expensive hobby equipment. In some cases, things like this somehow wind up missing after a divorce is filed. It’s a good idea to get things appraised and photographed so that you have proof, rather than trying to explain to a judge that you’re certain that your spouse owns these assets but you have no idea where they are or what they are worth.
- Educate yourself: If you want to know what is in store for you if you do file for divorce, you should check out two of my earlier blog posts, How long does it take to get divorced, and How much does it cost to get divorced. You should also consult with an attorney for specific advice about your situation.