Preparing for a Divorce
Going through a divorce can be both a financially and emotionally stressful process. Proper planning may help to minimize some of the stress involved and allow you to maintain some control during an uncertain and difficult life event.
Even if you anticipate an agreement with your spouse, these steps should be taken. They will help you prepare better for the negotiation. If only a partial agreement is made, you will be ready for the next steps.
These steps can save thousands of dollars. Everyone wants an amicable and fair divorce. Disagreements occur over what is fair. Do not be unprepared because you are confident you will have an agreement or an amiable spouse.
Before filing for divorce, it is best to inventory all assets, if possible. Gather statements and obtain login information for retirement and bank accounts, find out payoff information for mortgage and car notes and determine what debts exist, including credit card debts. All of this information will be necessary for creating an “Inventory and Appraisement” of the community estate and can save time and money in the long run if discovery is conducted. Everything either spouse owns or owes, whether individually or jointly, should be listed, including separate and community property. All property must be identified in a divorce, even separate property that will not be divided.
If you are planning to file and fear your spouse may liquidate joint bank accounts upon finding out about the divorce, you can secure liquid funds for safe keeping. You may move joint funds to an account in your name only but should notify your spouse that you have done so in an effort to keep the assets safe pending a court order. Removing funds from a joint account is likely to inflame an already emotional situation so the spouse should be notified as soon as it’s done. Finding out by checking the accounts is always worse.
It is not advisable to spend joint funds on anything but usual living expenses and required minimums for debt without your spouse’s agreement or permission from the Court. Do not incur new debt. Be aware that if you remove funds, a judge may order the funds returned, divided, or left alone during the pendency of the divorce. If the funds were spent inappropriately, they can be attributed to the spouse who spent them as if they still exist. Spending for usual living expenses and legal fees is permissible during a divorce.
Both parties may remain in the joint residence pending a court order. Neither has the right to exclude the other. If you believe the situation in the home will become very tense upon filing for divorce, you should find a safe place to stay until temporary orders are rendered. If you plan to move out permanently, make sure to budget for a residence that will accommodate any children.
Determining the best way to tell your children about the divorce is a personal decision for each family. We recommend you notify the children’s school counselors and teachers and find a highly recommended family therapist.
If you anticipate an agreement with your spouse regarding the children, you can discuss certain issues ahead of time. Once you decide which spouse will be the parent with the exclusive right to establish the child’s primary residence (the “primary” or “custodial” parent), the issues that remain are the amount of child support to be paid by the other parent, the times the other parent will have possession of the children, and the rights of the other parent to make educational and healthcare decisions for the child. Typical agreements between spouses include that both parents will be “Joint Managing Conservators”, the non-custodial parent will have a Standard Possession Order and all decisions regarding the children will be made jointly and by agreement of both parties. It is possible to vary from these guidelines but a discussion with your attorney regarding potential downfalls is recommended.
If you anticipate a custody dispute, be prepared for an extremely long and expensive legal battle. You should be prepared to obtain the child’s school and daycare records, and put together a list of any potential witnesses that may help your case. The Court may appoint an amicus attorney to assist in protecting the child’s best interests. Each party is usually expected to pay 50% of the amicus attorney’s fees. If a motion is filed by either party, you may be required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
The best way to prepare for the emotional aspects of a divorce is to find a good family therapist. A lawyer can advise you regarding the legal aspects of divorce but we are unqualified to help you cope with the feelings of anger, sadness and grief that often accompany the divorce process.
Friends or clergy can help, but be selective. Well-intentioned loved ones and friends can stoke your anger and, intentionally or not, make the divorce more contentious. Do not substitute a friend or minister for a therapist or lawyer. No divorce is the same as another. Simply because a person is divorced, even more than once, does not make them an expert. Your lawyer will advise on the law, and the therapist will help you move on. Friends are great for venting over coffee.
Unfortunately, courts are busy and judges have little patience for a witness too upset to respond cogently to questions. A therapist helps deal with the emotion so you can testify impressively, if necessary. Testifying is stressful and people go blank on obvious answers. Managing the emotion can reduce the effect of the stress.
Choosing a Lawyer
You should choose a family lawyer in the same way you would choose a doctor. It should be someone you are comfortable with, as well as someone who will take the time to answer all of your questions and thoroughly explain the process to you. You will be working very closely with the lawyer you choose and sharing financial details and personal information with him or her. Your lawyer should work with you and consider your goals when determining the best litigation plan for your unique situation. Your lawyer should also be willing to have frank and honest discussions with you regarding realistic goals, and should be experienced in divorce.