If you are thinking about filing for divorce, or you believe that your spouse is contemplating a divorce, you’ll want to be prepared. There are some important steps that you can take today, without ever leaving your home, that will give you an edge if you wind up in a divorce action.
1. Prepare a budget: Preparing a budget will assist your attorney in the preparation of your Statement of Net Worth, a document which is typically required of both parties during the divorce process. The document, in part, sets forth all of your monthly household expenses. A budget will not only assist your attorney in preparing your Statement of Net Worth, but it will guide the Court in determining the standard of living for your family, which may in turn impact child support or spousal maintenance. It will also be useful in planning for your future living arrangements, once you and your spouse physically separate, if you have not already done so.
2. Gather important financial documents: This is probably the most useful thing you can do, not only to avoid feeling overwhelmed but also to assist your attorney in moving your matter forward as efficiently as possible. You can begin collecting the following documents today:
- Tax returns, including all W-2’s, 1099’s, and schedules, for the last three years.
- Paystubs and other records of income for the current year to date.
- Statements for bank accounts, credit cards, retirement accounts, and investments, for the last three years, for all joint and individual accounts. If you do not have access to all of those statements online, you may need to call the financial institutions directly and have them mail you the documents.
- Your most recent mortgage, home equity loan, and utility statements, which will also be useful in preparing your budget.
- Business records, including profit/loss statements, balance sheets, invoices, and business tax returns, for the last three years, if you or your spouse has an interest in a business.
- Closing documents for real estate you or your spouse own, jointly or individually.
- Documents which show your “separate property.” You may be entitled to keep (and not share with your spouse) a certain type of asset if you can prove it is your separate property, such as (1) what you owned prior to the marriage; (2) a personal injury award; or (3) an inheritance and third party gifts. If possible, collect any documents showing how you received the separate property, as well as any statements from that time to the present. For example, if you had a 401k account when you got married, you will want a statement showing the value at that time, as well as statements going forward which show the gains and losses on the account. For more information about separate vs. marital property, please see our Video Library and Articles.
3. Open a P.O. Box: You should consider opening a Post Office Box to which you can direct your financial documents be sent. A P.O. Box is also useful to receive correspondence from your attorney that you may not want your spouse to intercept, especially if you are still living together.
4. Keep a log of any important events: If there are any instances of violence or verbal abuse between you and your spouse, or between your spouse and the children, you will want to maintain a detailed log which should outline dates, times, locations, parties involved and exactly what happened and, to the extent possible, what exactly was said. You will also want to document any notable arguments between you and your spouse, or any other information that you may believe will be relevant to a child custody proceeding. Be sure to save important texts messages and emails between yourself and your spouse. These can be used in motion practice (if necessary), to dispute your spouse’s timeline of events, and to time stamp important events/disputes.
5. Be mindful of your digital life: Set your social media privacy settings so only friends can see your posts, and change your passwords so your spouse cannot access your private messages with third parties. Avoid unsavory posts or texts that may include, for example, disparaging remarks to or about your spouse. Make a conscious effort to be amicable in the tone and content of texts and e-mails to your spouse. Always operate under the assumption that a judge will one day be reading what you wrote or posted.
6. Create a secure email address: Make sure that nobody has access to your personal emails. The best way to achieve this is to create a new email address that can be utilized for the exchange of communications and documents between you and your attorney. Ensure that the password to your email is not automatically saved to any household devices and always sign out on all platforms when finished using your email. For more information, see The Legal Consequences of Reading your Ex’s Email.
7. Seek a therapist that you can confide in: Depending on your situation, the process of divorce has the potential to be emotionally draining. Having a trained professional as an emotional resource can only serve to help you (and/or your children) along the way.
Even if you are not exactly ready to file for divorce, these are some of the initial steps you will want to take to plan. That being said, every marriage and situation is unique, and there may be other actions you will want to take in anticipation of a divorce, which are tailored to your specific needs. To learn more about how best you can prepare, call Petroske Riezenman & Meyers at 631-337-1977 or contact us to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.