We tell our clients that a little pre-divorce planning goes a long way. Here are some of the steps you can take to prepare for a divorce and possibly save yourself time, stress, money and attorneys fees.
1. Gather all of the relevant financial documentation that you can. Documents tend to disappear or become inaccessible after a divorce is filed. After all, your spouse will need these too. If you can obtain copies and keep them in a safe location or give them to your attorney right away, you will be steps ahead in your divorce. Supporting documentation for all of your and your spouse’s income, expenses, assets and debts are the most important. For example, recent paystubs, W-2’s, tax returns, credit card statements, retirement account statements and bank statements are most helpful. Copies of the titles to your real estate, mortgage statements and real estate tax bills are also necessary. Also collection statements, whether recent or not, regarding any other asset or debt.
2. If you do not have access to these documents or your spouse has not told you where they are, do a little digging. Anything you can find is helpful. You are entitled to all of this information whether your name is on the asset or debt or not. Do not feel like you are doing something wrong by accessing this information. If you have to attempt to “chase” your spouse for this information either directly or through his or her attorney, it is only going to cost you attorneys fees in the end.
3. Go see an attorney! Most attorneys will offer free initial consultations. You should also meet with more than one attorney. As with anything, it pays to shop around. You need to feel comfortable with that person and with taking their advice. Therefore, you need to hire the right attorney for you.
4. Change your passwords! All passwords, whether for email, bank accounts or Facebook, should be changed even if you do not think your spouse knows what it is. We have had many situations where damage has been done simply because the other spouse knows your password or it somehow is retained on your computer.
5. Get a copy of your credit report. Again, you are entitled to this information and you know all of the debts that need to be addressed. Many times you will find debts of which you were not aware. This is extremely important information to have.
6. Protect your assets! Discuss with your attorney whether you should close accounts or withdraw funds from an account. Contact your bank or financial institution to find out if you can freeze an account pending a divorce.
7. Close out joint credit cards, if possible, and/or obtain your own credit cards.
8. Open your own bank accounts. Change your direct payroll deposit to your own account.
9. Discuss with your attorney whether you should or need to change your withholdings from your paycheck and whether you should stop/reduce your 401(k) contributions. Your spouse will still receive one-half of your contributions that you make during your divorce and you may need the extra disposable income until the divorce becomes final.
10. Take pictures or make a videotape of all of your personal belongings, furniture, etc. Take an inventory, especially of items of value, and gather receipts or appraisals for those items if available. This way if items are disposed of or taken, you have proof of what existed prior to the divorce being filed.
11. Keep a log or journal of all important events, especially if related to children. It is difficult to remember details, especially in times of stress, and those details may be important to your case later on.
12. Consider counseling. You are seeking to end a troubled marriage and are making a major life change. Divorce is not an easy process and you may need assistance on a variety of different levels.