What You Should Do Before You File for Divorce
For many people, the high emotions and hurt feelings associated with getting divorced often get in the way of making rational decisions. It is these same emotions and feelings that lead people to rush into the divorce process instead of wading into it slowly. While getting it over and done with may seem like a great idea, it is important to remember the negative consequences that are associated with making rash decisions too quickly. So often, people give up valuable rights to custody or visitation schedules, marital property that the parties should probably split equally, and the right to split retirement or pension accounts which may cost a spouse tens of thousands of dollars over the years. Here is what you should do to prepare for a divorce before running out to file one.
Hire a Divorce Attorney
This is no joke – the number one thing people who divorce without legal help say they wish they could change would have been hiring a family law professional for their divorce case. Having an experienced attorney on your side can make a huge difference when going through a divorce, granted you choose the right one. Always research and interview a few different attorneys to find the right fit and choose an individual who has at least five years of experience. Choosing an attorney who specializes in divorce and family law is always the most important decision to make. Even an attorney with 6-months of experience will be able to run circles around the spouse with no representation.
An Attorney Can Help You File an Agreed Divorce
It is always less expensive up front for you and your spouse to settle the divorce outside of court and having a good divorce attorney can help to make that happen. Many attorneys help people file and complete divorce by simply drafting documents for what is an agreed divorce / uncontested divorce. In many instances, this can save thousands of dollars. Another important decision when it comes to hiring a divorce attorney may mean going to see a divorce mediator who specializes in collaborative divorce. This means that an independent divorce mediator, who does not represent either spouse, will explain what the potential is for each party to prevail on specific issues should they spend years and thousands of dollars going to trial. A divorce mediator is an attorney who will oftentimes help draft uncontested divorce paperwork that finalizes all of the issues involved on an amicable basis.
Decide Whether or Not to Move from the Marital Home
This is a common question individuals have when considering or beginning the divorce process. In most cases, a good attorney will encourage you to stay in the marital home unless there is abuse or other dangers present in the situation. The main reasons that an individual should stay in their marital home is that leaving the home could affect the individual’s ability to retain the property should a judge have to split the assets and it can help to normalize a stressful situation for any children in the marriage. The most important reasons for a person to continue living in the marital home are:
- Once you leave, you have given the other parent de facto custody over the children and it is difficult to win custody back;
- Leaving the marital home allows your spouse to control the property inside the home – this may mean selling or disposing of property without your knowledge or consent; and
- Moving out of the marital home shows the judge that you are able to support yourself outside of the home.
When children are involved, it is always advisable to never leave the home. If there is violence or abuse taking place, the proper procedure is to call the police, hire an attorney and get an order of protection where you are granted sole possession of the marital home. Doing anything other than this, such as leaving on your own, changing the locks, or taking the kids and moving somewhere else, can jeopardize your case.
All Joint Credit Accounts Should be Closed
Whenever possible, all joint credit accounts with your spouse should be paid off and closed before the divorce process begins. This will help prevent one angry spouse from running up a credit card bill that the other spouse for which the other spouse will be responsible. Should you not be able to pay the accounts off before the process begins, make sure to have the accounts frozen to prevent any spending or increase of debt until everything has been separated and the debt has been transferred to the responsible party.
Protecting yourself and your money is also important. If you have paychecks deposited into a joint account, stop immediately. Open a new account at a different bank and have your money deposited there instead. Keep in mind that emptying out your joint account will make you look terrible in front of the judge, but allowing your spouse to do so and leaving you with no money needs to be protected as well.
Create a Post-Divorce Budget
Since there will no longer be two incomes coming into the home, it is important to make sure you prepare a post-divorce budget. This is even more important for a stay at home parent to prepare for as he or she does not have steady income and relies on the other spouse. Since you already know how much it takes to maintain a home, figuring out monthly expenses should be easy. The harder part is considering downsizing those expenses so you can afford to live on a smaller budget. This is also an important part of a divorce settlement – if you are the primary breadwinner in the relationship, you may need to factor in spousal and/or child support.
Getting Legal Help to Prepare for Divorce
It is important to get educated on your states particular laws and the procedure that your local courts take in a divorce case. This can be accomplished in many different ways. We have compiled a primer for each state in the U.S. on our site here so that you can apply the law to the particular facts of your case. Then, the decision is yours whether to obtain divorce help from an expert family law professional.