Are You Prepared for a Divorce?
If you’re thinking about filing for divorce, don’t jump into this complex process without preparation. Divorce involves not only the dissolution of a marriage, but also the division of assets and debts. It involves questions of support, for both parties and for children.
Planning ahead puts you in a better position for making these decisions. It protects you from the actions of a vengeful spouse who might respond to your request for a divorce by hiding assets, destroying property or running up debts.
In most states, you or your spouse will need to meet a residency requirement of six months or one year before you can file for divorce. In some states, you will need to live apart from your spouse for a period of time before you can file for divorce. A divorce lawyer will know the rules in your state.
Prepare a Detailed Assets and Debts List
Assets include physical property like homes, vacation homes and vehicles. Make copies of titles and appraisals. Assets also include financial items like income and bonuses, checking and savings accounts, investment accounts, pension and retirement plans. Collect income and property tax statements for the past three years.
As the time for filing for divorce draws near, cancel all joint credit cards and accounts. Stop all direct deposits into marital bank accounts, and joint retirement accounts. You must notify your spouse of these actions.
Keep Good Records
Keep track of all mail that arrives at your home over the course of a few months. Note the names and numbers on all accounts, who is listed as financially responsible, the balances, and the addresses and contact information for the financial institutions or creditors.
Businesses created during the marriage are also assets to be valued. Make copies of any business tax records, assets and debts.
Create and Fund Your Own Accounts
Open a checking account and apply for a credit card in your name only. Once the divorce is initiated, temporary orders can prevent you from opening new accounts and transferring money. Fund these accounts, but understand that this money is not “hidden” and will be part of the marital estate – unless it is an inheritance, a gift or property you owned before your marriage.
Obtain a copy of your credit report and monitor it closely with alerts. You want to make sure an unhappy spouse does not run up debt in retaliation once you file for divorce.
Obtain your own cell phone and email accounts so that you can communicate without fear of your spouse gaining access to records or your communications. Obtain a post office box where bills for these accounts can be delivered. Obtain a safe deposit box in your own name.
Other Steps to Take
Inventory and document any valuables or items of sentimental value. Put these records into your safe deposit box. Take photos. Investigate how your divorce will affect your medical insurance. Take care of any pressing medical needs before filing and determine post-divorce alternatives. Make any needed repairs to your car. Go back to school to acquire job skills.
Think Child Care
If you plan to seek primary custody of your children, try to remain in the primary residence and document your activities as primary caregiver. But if you fear for your physical or emotional safety make plans for an alternative “safe house” before you actually file for divorce from a volatile spouse.
File an Original Petition of Divorce in Your County Court
This is a legal document requesting permission from the court to divorce. There may be several versions of the form depending on whether you have minor children and whether you expect the divorce to be contested. Serve the divorce petition on your spouse, who generally has 30 days to respond.
Call a Divorce Lawyer
The laws surrounding divorce can be complicated and fraught with emotion, and the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a local divorce lawyer.