One of the most frequently asked question during a divorce consultation is, how do I begin preparing for divorce?
A divorce lawyer will often respond by saying, "it depends." Each client faces a different set of circumstances, and there is no catch-all response to that question. How you can begin preparing for divorce depends on your family economic and structural dynamics. Do you own a business, do you have a lot of debt, do you have substantial assets and investments you want to protect? Alternatively, do you care more about timesharing with your minor children, do you believe the other party will try to gain majority timesharing or do you want to have majority timesharing with the children? Are you worried that your spouse may claim entitlement to alimony or do you want a divorce, but you are too financially dependent on your spouse to file? Preparing to file a divorce depends on what is at stake for you and your family. Here are three simple steps you can take to get ready for the divorce process:
Pull your credit report- Review a copy of your credit report, make sure you are aware of all your existing debts as of the date of filing, identify their balances and determine what credit cards your spouse will still have access to after the divorce is filed.
Gather financial documents-Make copies of the last four years of tax returns and identify all retirement accounts, savings accounts and other interest-bearing accounts that were disclosed during the preparation of those tax returns.
Identity all financial institution used by either party during the marriage and list all possible accounts held by both parties, jointly and individually. Try to obtain the balances of each of these accounts before the petition is filed and another copy shortly after the date of filing.
Itemize, inventory, and appraise your household content. Take photos of the contents of your home and describe what large valuable items are and the fair market value for each item. Most times, personal property is given a "garage sale value" depending on the item and how long you have owned it. Over time, personal effects devalue, unless of course, you have a unique coin collection, high-end artwork, or sports memorabilia. If you believe you have antique, vintage or other luxury personal items -GET IT APPRAISED! The value of these items will be an issue once it's time to discuss the distribution of them.
Get a copy of your spouse most recent pay stub. Take it one step further make sure that the net pay disclosed on your spouse paycheck matches their direct deposit. Identify whether your spouse is contributing to a 401k, IRA or paying back any loan from their 401K. Look to see how much your spouse is paying for health insurance, life insurance and any other recurring medial plan. While all is information will be disclosed after the divorce is filed, knowing all these details upfront will give you a better understanding of how to prepare your financial affidavit once the divorce process begins.
Get involved with kids day to day lives. If you are not the parent to attend PTA, take the kids to their doctors' appointment or extracurricular activities-start finding the time to do this. Modify your work schedule to allow you quality time with your children. Divorce can be devastating for some children, and the more present, involved and available a parent is, the better it is for the children. Also, the court looks at the extent of involvement one parent demonstrate before filing vs. during the litigation. If one parent becomes "parent of the year" once the divorce is filed and have no track record of significant involvement before the pending divorce, then it's harder to get 50/50 when there has been no established track record of considerable day to day involvement in their children's lives.
These are just six basic steps you can take in the pre-divorce planning. You will need to speak with a family law attorney to develop a more comprehensive plan before filing a petition for dissolution of marriage. If you are contemplating filing for a divorce or you were served with divorce papers, please feel free to call us at 407-413-9913, we would love to assist you in this process.