The most frequently asked question that I receive from people contemplating divorce is "what should I be doing to get ready for my divorce?" Generally speaking, this is probably the most important question they could ask. Although my answer varies somewhat based on the individual situation, there are some general principles that apply to almost every situation. This is why I felt the need to include this topic as a blog post.
Step 1: Find An Experienced Divorce Lawyer to Consult
I know, I know, this sounds like a commercial. I'm not saying that you have to come to me, I would certainly appreciate the opportunity to help you, but what I am saying is find someone. Don't be afraid to ask potential lawyers about their experience. You can certainly find forms online to fill out and do your own divorce. However, if you do eventually plan to go that route, I still recommend speaking to an experienced divorce lawyer at first so that you can find out if there are any issues that need to be handled by a professional.
Step 2: Get a Clear Picture of Family Finances
This is extremely important while you still have access to records. Make sure that you know exactly what you own (both you and your spouse), how much debt there is, and how much income comes from each spouse. Additionally, be sure to make copies of any and all important records and account numbers. Pay close attention to any assets or debts that the other spouse is likely to attempt to hide from you at a later date.
Step 3: Don't Accumulate New Debt
Now is not the time to purchase a new house or car. The worst thing that you can do with respect to property is to acquire new debt against property that has no equity. Many divorces drag on much longer than they should simply because the couple has debt that they cannot pay and assets that would not cover that debt if sold.
Step 4: Keep Detailed Records
Keep records of important events that occur which might have an affect on your divorce. Make notes of important conversations with your spouse, any offers or suggestions made by either of you with respect to property division, child custody, etc. Write out a list of reasons that you believe divorce is necessary. Finally, keep records of any and all financial transactions that take place and details such as who made the purchase and the reason for it. Keep track of household bills and who is responsible for making sure that they are paid.
Step 5: Consider Hiring a Private Investigator
If you suspect that your spouse is having an affair or engaging in other behavior that would be the basis of your divorce, consider how you will need to be able to prove it. This is certainly a step that an experienced divorce lawyer can help with. An experienced lawyer can tell you if you have enough proof without the PI or if you need some additional evidence. An experienced divorce lawyer can also help you find a competent professional private investigator who will do a good job for you.
Step 6: Don't Move Out of the Marital Home
I know that remaining in the home will likely cause additional stress on you and your spouse, but there are several reasons why it is usually a good idea to stay put:
- You could put yourself in a bad position to be considered for child custody. If you leave the house and your spouse remains there along with the children, you almost guarantee that you will not be the primary custodian when all is said and done.
- You could put yourself in a bad position with respect to property claims. By leaving the residence, you have shown the Court that you do not need to live there...you have demonstrated that you have somewhere else to go and your spouse does not. Additionally, anything that you left at the home is likely to be awarded to your spouse since, again, you have shown that you don't need it.
- You appear to be the one who wants the divorce. By leaving the home, you can easily appear to be the one who either did something wrong (thus you were "kicked out") or that you were the one who wanted the divorce but your spouse didn't. This takes away your power to negotiate a better settlement and it makes you look bad to the Court.
Step 7: Do Not Begin Dating!!
You are not divorced until there is an Order from the Court stating that you are divorced. Don't act like you are single. Don't go out on dates, don't start a relationship with someone who isn't your spouse, don't spend the night at someone's house, just don't do it. In fact, you need to avoid all appearances of these things. What you don't want the Court to hear is that you were out partying with your friends while your spouse was at home taking care of your kids. Nothing derails a case like that kind of report. By the time you are in court, it is too late to fix that type of problem.
Step 8: Stay Out of Trouble
Don't give your spouse anything to use against you. It should go without saying, but don't get arrested! Don't drive after having a drink or two...you could get a DUI. Those types of things often happen at the worst possible times, don't they? Whatever you do, don't get in trouble for domestic violence. If you and your spouse can't be in the same room without yelling or hitting each other, go to another room. If you simply can't safely stay in the same home and you are afraid that they are going to physically hurt you, apply for a Protection From Abuse Order. An experienced attorney can help you.
These are certainly not the only things that you need to do in preparation for a divorce, these are really just a good start. Even if you think that you and your spouse are going to be able to agree to all of the terms of the divorce, you still need to approach it with the idea that you are not going to do anything to endanger your position if things become contested. If you need an experienced divorce lawyer to help you through this process, call me or contact me through this page today. I'll be happy to set up an appointment for a free consultation with you very soon.