Getting your divorce case to completion will be time consuming, but there are things you can do to make sure that it is over as quickly as possible. While gathering information and making multiple lists can seem to be one more stressful step in a divorce, it will make things easier for both you and your attorney in the long run.
You will need to provide your attorney with enough information for him or her know what the situation was that led to your divorce, fill out various legal forms, help him or her get your pleadings in order and be able to truthfully disclose both your assets and liabilities. You will need to outline what you want and why as well as estimate anticipated expenses associated with requests such and temporary custody, child support or payment of debts. These requests for temporary orders should be given careful attention because they will stand throughout the divorce process.
Here are questions you’ll want to ask yourself to help you gather the needed information:
- What is your story? What happened to put you in front of a divorce attorney?
- When were you married and for how long?
- What happened--or didn’t happen--during the marriage
- Your current income and employment situation
- What assets and liabilities do you have?
- What are your plans for the future?
- Do you want to leave the home or relocate?
- What is your financial situation?
- Do you know what accounts you do or don’t have?
- Do you have a list of your assets and liabilities?
START MAKING LISTS
People usually love or hate to make lists, but either way, now is the time to start. There is too much to remember and too many things can get forgotten during this stressful time. It’s recommended to download or purchase computer software or apps that are able to track appointments and tasks or you can purchase an inexpensive appointment book or diary that you carry with you and refer to on a daily basis. Set deadlines for everything on your to-do list so you don’t keep your attorney waiting for a document that your forgot about.
Personal Information List
The first list you need to make is a personal information sheet for both you and your spouse as well as any children. The list should contain:
- Both spouse's name, birthdate, and social security numbers
- Date and place of the marriage
- Names and birthdates of any children
- Information about any prior marriages and/or children from other relationships
- Date—or estimated date—of separation
- Education level and degrees of each spouse
- Current occupation of spouses and name/address of employers
- Other states you have lived in during your marriage
Some other lists you might want to consider making:
- A list of personal property such as jewelry, clothing and furniture (take photos of these items as well, in case they “disappear.”)
- Property owned by each spouse before the marriage
- Assets and liabilities
- List of property acquired by each spouse individually by gift or inheritance during the marriage;
- List of contents of safety deposit boxes, safes, etc
CREATE A DIVORCE FILE
Divorce equals a lot of paperwork. Organize your important documents and place them in a designated file folder. Things will be a lot easier if you can keep all of your paperwork where you can find it quickly. The folder could become very filled up over time depending on the length and issues of your legal proceedings. Keeping these items together in one folder will make it easy to find documents for legal or financial professionals.
Remember that you will also need to make multiple copies of everything. You need at least one for your personal file as well as copies for lawyers, financial planners and institutions, employers, etc.
CONSIDER YOUR APPROACH
If you haven’t talked with your spouse about divorce yet, go over what you say and how you will bring up the subject. Be calm and discuss your decision in a way that does the least amount of emotional damage to all parties involved. Be prepared to have a place to stay if the discussion becomes heated and you must leave. If you are in an abusive situation, it is best to seek professional help to give you advice on how to proceed.
One of the most important things you need is liquid funds and savings for legal costs and possibly for separate living arrangements as well as money for daily expenses. Your goal is to have at least enough money for three months expenses as well as several thousand more for attorney and legal fees. Make a plan that includes that information and a budget to make it happen.
Keep this money in separately titled checking accounts, money-market savings or short-term CDs so it can be accessed easily and without penalties. Things often take much longer and cost much more than anticipated, so plan accordingly.
PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR INFORMATION.
Consider changing passwords on computers, internet and email accounts, tablets and mobile phones. You may also want to copy information from computer hard drives and jump drives. Don’t forget that your spouse may do the same to you….or thought of it before you did.
If you don’t already, get a cell phone in your name only and sign up for a new email account.
You may also want to open a postal box so you don’t lose any important paperwork in the mail. This is also a place for your legal documents to be sent, especially if you have an abusive or uncooperative spouse.
Keep a record of events that occur while you are going through the divorce that seem pertinent. This way you will have evidence of any altercations, visits or arguments. You should definitely record any drug or alcohol-related incidents. Make sure all your entries are dated and/or time stamped. Whether you are using or electronic journal to record these events, make sure you keep it password protected and in a location where your spouse won’t find it.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR JOB?
Whether you earn a salary or not, you need to put together an estimated working budget of your weekly, monthly and yearly expenses to make sure that you can afford your living arrangements. Don’t automatically depend on the other spouse for financial support. Discuss with your attorney whether or not you should consider getting a job—or additional employment—or if it is best for not to be employed at this time.
Consider where you, your spouse—and any children if you have them—will live. Estimate the amount of money you’ll need to meet living expenses and establish a budget. Don’t automatically assume that it is a good idea to have one spouse keep the house they shared together. Although this is something to take into consideration, especially when kids are involved, a house can be an expensive asset to maintain. Can you afford the home post-divorce? Mortgage and home equity loan payments, homeowner’s association fees, taxes and home maintenance add up quickly, so all expenses need to be considered. Be realistic and imagine if you would be able to keep your home in the worst-case scenarios—the ex loses their job, becomes disabled or dies, or has some other reason that they are unable to make alimony and/or child support payments.
WHERE TO FILE
If you’ve already moved to another state or are planning to, you’ll need to decide where you will file for divorce. Some states have residency requirements, so it may be easier in the short term to file in the state in which you were married. However, your new state may have more advantageous laws. You may want to research all of these options before you hire an attorney.
Get a Credit Report
One of the first things you should do pertaining to your finances is get a copy of your credit report. People can obtain a free copy from all three credit-reporting agencies—Equifax, Transunion and Experian—at least once a year. Divorce proceedings can distract you and slow or no payment can ruin your credit and end up literally costing you in the long run due to a low credit score or large amounts of debt. Be proactive and remember to keep up with bills to maintain your creditworthiness. You can also contact the agencies directly and get a copy of your report for a small fee. You may also want to invest in a provider who monitors your credit cards and report. You can find agencies by doing an online search using keywords such as credit check , credit reports, etc. They can send you notifications of any suspicious activity through a text or email.
Who Controls the Money?
When only one person controls or has access to the money, this can create a lopsisded balance of power. Oftentimes one spouse cannot access funds to move ahead with their divorce because the other partner controls access to the funds. This puts them at a disadvantage because it makes hiring professionals to help with the divorce and having money for day-to-day living expenses almost impossible. This is especially true in cases of spousal abuse. Choking off the money supply is sometimes used as a manipulative technique to get the non-finance controlling spouse to sign a divorce settlement that is totally lopsided in the other’s favor.
Your Financial Paperwork
Collect all your financial documents into one location. These documents should consist of statements, bills, retirement plans, insurance policies, titles, financial agreements, etc. (see the end of this document for a more comprehensive list)
Create a list of all your financial assets and assess all of your outstanding financial obligations. for yourself as well as your attorney and any financial advisors. Find out exactly where you are on any payments—credit cards, car payments, mortgages. Knowing this information will help keep you from having credit and financial problems down the road.
Many couples have joint bank, credit or investment accounts, but for a divorcing couple this can make things even more complicated. It’s important to note that Accounts that were opened jointly are the responsibility of both parties.
Create a list of jointly opened accounts and individual accounts. Be sure to include:
- Account number
- Name of the account
- Who is listed on the account
- Current balances
- Who is listed as the financially responsible party on the account
- Contact information such as the address, e-mail, and phone numbers
This list should include both equity accounts and debt accounts. Get the latest statements you can that show recent account activity. Close joint credit card and other unsecured accounts if possible.
Other Financial Steps to Take
Call each of your banks, insurance companies, investment firms, employee benefits manager and brokerage companies and ask what actions, if any, you can take to protect your interests
Stop direct deposits from employers and all contributions to any type of retirement fund. If your spouse is currently unaware of your divorce plans, you should contact your INVESTMENT company to make sure they will not send a notification that this has happened before you are able to talk with your spouse. Keep in mind that Many 401K plans won’t remove a spouse as beneficiary without their written consent.
Obtain a health insurance quote if your current health insurance is under spouse’s plan.
Meet with an attorney that specializes in estate planning to revise your will, change medical directive and powers of attorney, update beneficiary designations and to consider the rules of trusts.
If you are leaving your home or are not able to be there for long periods, take personal items like photographs, antiques, jewelry or anything else that has special meaning. During a divorce, it’s easy for personal items to either disappear or worse, become something else to fight about.
It’s easy to delay getting your personal items from your ex because you simply don’t want to deal with him or her. if you wait months—or years—to get your stuff, there may not be much left for you to get. If your relationship break-up becomes heated you may not be able to get these items for a while—or ever.
Put your sentimental and personal somewhere outside of your house before or as soon as you start your divorce. Depending on the amount of stuff, you can rent a short-term storage space or temporarily store the items at a friend’s or relative’s house. If anything your personal items can provide a sense of comfort as you move onto your new life.
Now is not the time to start a new relationship. If you’ve already done so, consider putting it on hold for a while. Depending on the laws of your state or county, a relationship outside of marriage can become a legal issue during the divorce process, even if the spouses are no longer living together. Besides, with all of the stressful changes going on in your life right now, avoiding any type of committed relationship may be the best thing for you to do emotionally.
MAKE A PLAN FOR THE CHILDREN.
How do you plan on telling any children in the relationship? Will one parent or both tell him/her about the divorce? How do you plan on explaining the situation and what can you do to help them cope with it? And remember, even if your children are over the age of 18, you still need to consider
If you and your partner are able, you should try to rationally discuss who will have custody of any minor children and if they will have to change schools or move. If one of you plans to move to a different state or city, talk about visitation options. Find out what your local child support laws are. Talk about who will pay for what and for how long.
DON’T DO ANYTHING YOU’LL REGRET LATER
Even amicable divorces can get emotional once in awhile. While it is normal for you to feel a variety of emotions--confusion, anger, sadness--making the end of your relationship into a bad reality show is the wrong thing to do. Remind yourself to act like everything you post, say, do, tweet or text will be posted on YouTube the next day. Don’t take your feelings out on your children, pets, or personal property or attempt to make things better by using drugs and alcohol. At best, these things could be used against you during the divorce proceedings, at worst you could land on the wrong side of the law or lose any visitation rights for you children.
GET SOME SUPPORT
One of the things that we tend to overlook is our own needs. Ending a relationship is stressful and can involve a lot of life changes. Make sure you have a group of family and friends who can help you out, whether lending a hand or just listening. A counselor or therapist can help you handle your emotions during the breakup. If you feel you can’t afford one, there are many who charge a sliding scale fee. There are also many support groups for those getting newly divorced. both in person and on the internet. Your library can also be a good source for books including those related to law, finances or how to better cope with your ending relationship.
Your children also need emotional support as well. Teachers and school counselors can be notified of the situation and used as a resource for recommending help or noting any major changes in your child’s behavior.
To assist you further we have a downloadable PDF on what documents you should gather for your Divorce Folder. While no means exhaustive, this list should help you and your attorney prepare for your divorce.
Considering a divorce or separation? Speak to an experienced family law and divorce attorney to discuss your case as and options. A divorce lawyer can act as both a counselor and sounding board for you during this stressful life event. To schedule an appointment or for more information, call Jack’s Law at (740) 369-7567.
Jack W. Carney-DeBord is licensed and admitted to the practice law in the State of Ohio-ONLY. Jack has no intention of soliciting clients in any state other than Ohio and nothing posted on this website should be viewed as any attempt to solicit or do business in ANY state other than the State of Ohio.
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