Making the decision that your marriage is over and that divorce is your best option is difficult for everyone. Generally, people don’t think to plan for divorce as they would for any number of other major life events. Planning for divorce could make the divorce process much easier for you, cut down on how much time the divorce takes, decrease the amount of money you spend on the divorce, and even increase the likelihood of a better outcome. If you know in advance that you will be filing for divorce, it is important to plan for it, in advance. Here are a few things to do:
- Think. Think about your children, if you have them. Will you and your spouse both make decisions for them? When will they be with you and when will they be with your spouse? How will you talk to them about what is happening? Think about where you want to live. If you own a house, will you stay there? If not, where will you live? Think about money. Do you and your spouse each earn enough to be self-sufficient? Will each parent’s income enable support of the children? Who will pay which bills, while the divorce is pending? Think about whether and how you can address these topics with your spouse. Would it be possible to decide some of these things together? Is there a way to minimize the conflict? Thinking about these issues and options ahead of time will enable you to make better-reasoned decisions and may streamline the process by removing uncontested issues from the table.
- If your spouse is abusive, extricating yourself from the marriage can be very dangerous. Before you discuss the divorce with your spouse and before you leave the marital home, talk to someone at a domestic abuse support organization, to explore your options and to make sure that when you leave, you and your children will be safe.
- Organize and locate your important financial documents. Make copies of tax filings, the deed to your house, titles for automobiles, retirement and investment statements, and so forth, in case you or your attorney need to refer to them, later. It’s also a good idea to print out copies of your current bank and credit card statements, a mortgage statement, auto loan statements, and any other bill or document showing the balances of your accounts. Your attorney will likely use those to assess the overall financial picture, in the marriage.
- By law, all marital assets and debts are presumptively equally divided, at the time of the divorce, with two exceptions: gifts and inheritances. If you were given a gift by someone other than your spouse, or if you inherited an asset, these will go back to you and are not subject to the equal division of the martial estate, during the divorce process. However, you will need this documentation to prove your claim to the asset and to exempt it from division. Gather any documentation you have to prove that you were given a gift or that you inherited an asset.
- If you brought property or any other asset to the marriage, seek out documentation to show that you had it at the time you married. This includes money you may have had in retirement accounts, money you may have put down on a house or a vehicle, and any investments you owned, at the time of the marriage. You will need to prove that you had these pre-marital assets, for your attorney to argue that the pre-marital value of the property (or the asset itself) should be returned to you. This argument is less successful in longer marriages, but in shorter marriages, it is likely that you will be able to keep at least a portion of a pre-marital asset, without having to share its value with your spouse.
- If you have been financially dependent on a spouse, try to put some money away in a separate account of your own, to pay for attorney fees and living expenses. If possible, open a credit card account in your name, to make sure you have access to money and to start building your credit, if necessary. If you and your spouse have joint bank accounts, you are entitled to withdraw exactly one half of the balance of those accounts (the amount you take will be credited to you, when it comes time to divide all of the other assets and debts of the marriage).
- Take pictures of personal property that is important to you, or that you believe is valuable. Although the value of most personal property is considered resale or “garage sale” value, many times, people have attachments to objects and strong opinions as to who should keep what. Taking photos of everything will create an inventory to which you and your attorney may refer, and it’s also a good way to keep track of items, should something go missing. If you do own something that is objectively valuable (eg. antiques, jewelry, fine art, etc), have it appraised by someone who specializes in that kind of thing, so that its value may be demonstrated with more specificity.
- Get in to see a counselor. Your kids, too. Divorce is almost always stressful and full of emotional ups and downs. You and your children will need a support system, to stay healthy and grounded, through the process. Even if you do everything possible to protect your children from the effects of the split, even if you and your spouse are proceeding as amicably as possible, your children will still experience a significant life change. It is best to address their emotional needs by allowing them to talk to someone who isn’t their parent, in a safe and supportive environment.
- Find an attorney to guide you through the divorce process. Most family attorneys offer free initial consultations. Talk to more than one of us, before you decide who to work with. Choose someone with experience, whom you trust and believe would work well with you. Ask your attorney questions when you don’t understand something and raise concerns with your attorney when you have them.
Divorce is never easy, but with some planning, it can be easier. Feel free to contact our offices, to set up a free consultation to discuss your divorce.