Steps to Take Before Divorce

If you’re seriously thinking about a divorce, it’s time to begin planning for a divorce. But, where do you begin? There following are steps that you should take in planning for a divorce:

  1. Find a divorce attorney

One of the first things you should do is to find the best divorce lawyer that you can afford. You can ask friends for recommendations or you can do your own online research. You will want to find a lawyer who has years of experience handling divorce cases. Experience is not something that can be learned in a classroom or read in a book or online. If your divorce case proceeds to trial, you want the lawyer who has trial experience.

Meet with that lawyer. Prepare for the meeting by writing out questions that you would like answered. A knowledgeable  and experienced divorce lawyer will be able to answer your questions. The answers to your questions will depend on the information you provide to a lawyer. Make sure that you are knowledgeable about your marriage and your finances.

  1. Gather financial information

Obtain as much financial information as possible. Your attorney will want the financial information if not all of it is used in court. If you don’t feel comfortable taking all the documents from the house, then make a copy. It’s helpful if you can provide your attorney with the following documents:

  1. United States Income Tax Returns for the last three years (with all the schedules

and attachments). If you or your spouse has a business, provide a copy of the

business returns.

  1. W2s and 1099s for the last three years;
  2. Bank statements for the last 6 months;
  3. Credit card statements for the last 6 months;
  4. General Warranty Deed, Quit Claim Deed, or any other deed for any real estate

you own;

  1. Copies of the Certificates of Title for your vehicles;
  2. Retirement account information, including 401ks, IRAs, etc.
  3. Brokerage account information;
  4. Loan documents;
  5. Any documents showing any debt owed.

Your attorney can likely obtain this information if you don’t have it. But the lawyer won’t be able to obtain the information until after the divorce is filed.

  1. Prepare an after-divorce budget

Many people expect to have the same lifestyle after a divorce than they had before the divorce. That’s not realistic for everyone. Most people who go through a divorce are transitioning from a two-income household to a single-income household. How are you going to afford to live after the divorce? Or how are you going to afford to live while you are going through the divorce process? What do you plan to do with the house after the divorce? Can you afford to pay the mortgage, the utilities, and taxes? If not, where do you plan to live and what can you afford? You need to prepare a post-divorce budget. Calculate how much money you bring home each pay period. Create a listing of your monthly expenses. You will need to determine what you can afford and where you may need to make changes.

  1. Establish own credit

If you stayed home during the marriage and your spouse worked, it’s time to establish some credit of your own. It’s hard to borrow money after a divorce if you have no income and no credit. You can open credits cards while you are married. This does not mean you should charge every single purchase on your new credit card, but it’s easier to obtain credit while you are married than after a divorce.

  1. Close joint accounts

Many spouses have joint accounts. Any spouse on a joint account can withdraw money at any time and any amount. Some spouses may withdraw all the money from the joint account resulting in bank charges for having insufficient funds. You will also want to protect yourself by opening a bank account in your own name. Have your payroll checks deposited into the bank account in your name alone. If you are the sole wage earner because your spouse is a stay-at-home parent, or if your spouse is disabled, then make arrangements so that your spouse has money. Closing a bank account does not mean that you necessarily want to cut off your dependent spouse entirely. Leaving your dependent spouse without any money won’t sit well with a judge.

  1. Don’t move yet

Whether you choose to move out of the house or not depends on your particular circumstances. You may need to leave the house if it’s necessary to protect yourself from abuse. But you should consult your lawyer before you move out. There are pros and cons to moving out of the house. Don’t move out of the house if you plan to stay in the house after the divorce. Your attorney may not be able to persuade a judge to award you the house if you move out. Also, once you move out, it may be difficult to get back in. It might take a court order just for you to get the rest of your belongings.

You need to consider whether to move if you have children. It’s one thing to move if you are staying in the same school district where your children currently attend school. But if you are moving to an entirely different school district, your move may cause problems for you in attempting to spend time with your kids during the school year. Kids can only attend one school at a time.

  1. Be on your best behavior

Do not say or do anything that you would later be ashamed or embarrassed for a stranger to hear. That stranger will likely be the judge in your divorce. Absent a divorce agreement, the judge will decide the outcome of your divorce, not you and not your lawyer. The judge will decide if and when you see your children, what assets you receive, what debt you will pay, whether you will pay your spouse money, and whether you will pay for your spouse’s attorney fees. The last thing you want to do is engage in behavior or make statements that will later be used against you. Your lawyer cannot erase the things you say and the things you do.

You always want to document if your spouse is engaging in behavior or making statements that you believe are inappropriate or profane. Consult with your divorce lawyer. Your divorce lawyer will have suggestions about how to best preserve this type of evidence.

Scott Hamblin is an experienced trial lawyer practicing in the area of divorce and family law. His office is located in Jefferson City, Missouri. You may contact Scott for more information regarding your divorce situation.

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