Going through a separation or divorce is probably going to be one of the hardest events of your life, especially if you have children. The costs associated with separation or divorce only makes it harder, especially in these difficult economic times. That is why it is truly important to find a family law attorney whose objectives and ideals are in line with yours, who is up front with their fees, who will listen to you, and who will advocate for you and protect your interests rather than their own. Thus, the first step in preparing for separation or divorce is:
1. Find an attorney you can trust: During your initial meeting if something doesn’t feel quite right – it probably isn’t. Go with your gut. Find someone you are comfortable with and who you feel is in line with your objectives and principles. Family law matters can take a long time to resolve and possibly litigate. These matters can go from months to years to resolve. You want to know that the person you hire will be with you through the long haul and that your relationship will be positive. You are already coming out of a bad relationship, right now is not a good time to enter into another bad one.
2. Build your support network: Find family, friends, clergy and others who will provide material and emotional support to you while you go through this difficult time. You may find that this is a time you may have to ask for a helping hand from family or friends or join a support group in the community or church. Keeping yourself strong and healthy will enable you to actively participate in your own negotiations or lawsuit rather than caving in because you are so worn out, which will only lead to long-term regret.
3. Take financial protective measures:
- Protect your own credit rating by freezing or closing joint cards and by blocking your spouse’s access to other joint credit such as a home equity loan;
- Close joint bank accounts and open accounts in your own, individual name;
- Change the name of the responsible party on utility and other bills;
- Cancel joint cell phone policies; and
- Gather all your financial documents and keep them in a safe place (storing current documents as well as documents from the last two years is always a good idea).
4. Create a budget for your present and future living situation: The truth of the matter is - your economic life is about to change. You will be dividing a household in two by increasing expenses by two, but at the same time decreasing income in half. Most people have unrealistic expectations when they separate that they can maintain the same standard of living or that everything will be fine. You will quickly find that after several months of living separate and apart that the bank accounts start to run dry. It is a good idea to plan ahead and try to determine what sources of income and expenses you have now, so that you can make adjustments for the future. At the same time, knowing your budget for the future will allow you to begin making plans now.
5. Contact a CPA or the IRS to determine tax consequences: Generally, you are not taxed on transfers of property that occur prior to separation or divorce. There are tax consequences, however, to post-marital property transfers. There are also tax consequences for alimony. Remember, although child support is deductible to the payor it is not deductible to the party receiving it, but it is not taxable either. Visit www.irs.gov for a list of helpful publications or contact an experienced tax consultant such as a CPA.
6. If you are changing your name: Remember to visit the DMV, change the title of your car, update your social security card, change your name on bills, benefits programs, wills, insurance policies, utilities and other accounts. Human Resources at your employer will be very helpful in making many of these changes.
7. Take a Breathe. Sometimes the worst reaction when dealing with issues of the family is a “reaction.” Sometimes it may be better to hold off on a decision or taking action until you have had a chance to calm down or think about it. Marriage, relationships, and children bring out the best in us and also bring out the worst. Acting rash, in anger, or with vengeance only aggravates an already really bad situation and it will also cost you more in legal fees.
8. Create secure e-mails and telephone numbers to communicate with others. Your attorney should check with you to be sure that they are sending e-mails to a secure account. If you use a business/work e-mail you may lose rights to attorney-client privilege and confidentiality. What that means is that those e-mails may be subpoenaed, produced and used at trial against you. You need to create a free Google, msn, Lycos or similar online account to communicate with your friends, family, or attorney about your separation or divorce. Remember to create a password that your significant other would not be able to figure out!
9. Leave your children out of it! Your kids didn’t ask to be dragged into this mess so leave them out. Discuss with them the separation or divorce only when necessary, but don’t discuss any upcoming hearings, trials, attorney appointments, etc. Don’t talk badly about the other party in front of the children. Put yourself in their shoes: if it was your parents getting divorced – what would you want to know and what would you want to hear your parents say? Your children are going to need stability now more than ever and dragging them in the middle of your divorce will only create chaos and insecurity for them. Plus, it may be used against you during a custody trial. This may be a good time to speak with a counselor or therapist to find out what may be best for your individual child’s needs and how you can best approach the topic of divorce with them. There are also many good books on the market for children whose parents are divorcing.
10. Collect evidence. It is always best, especially if there are children involved to settle family matters with a Separation or Settlement Agreement before going to court to have a judge decide these matters for you. But just in case you are unable to settle it is much cheaper at the beginning to collect evidence than to have to go back later and hire a private investigator or a computer tech to retrieve files from your computer once they have been deleted. While you are still in the marriage or shortly after separation consider taking pictures that may be helpful in the future; print out your spouse’s social networking pages and comments (such as facebook); Google search your spouse to see what you can pull up and print that information out; collect copies of W-2’s, tax returns, retirement accounts – basically any documents that can prove how much the other party earns as well as documents that show liabilities, such as credit card statements, mortgages, etc. What is important is that you have documents that show what you both had at the time of the marriage compared to what you now have at the time of separation. And remember your spouse may be collecting the same information from you, so please take down your social networking accounts, changes passwords, and secure your important papers.
Please feel free to contact us regarding any of these topics. We am happy to promptly e-mail you in return.
Your confidentiality will be maintained.