Divorce is not as simple as any other break-up. Not only do you have to make the emotional decision to leave the person you married, but you also have to think about all of the logistics that come along with it. Although it may seem overwhelming to think about finding a lawyer, examining your finances, and potentially looking for a new place to live, these steps need to be taken in order to move on.
Once you know exactly what's ahead of you, it's so much easier to start working toward what you want. If you're not sure where to begin, keep reading to find out exactly what to do before filing for a divorce.
Hire a Good Divorce Attorney
While it's easier and less expensive if you and your spouse are able to settle your issues without litigation, if that's not possible, make sure you have an attorney who's capable and willing to litigate your case before a judge. You're basically looking for two things: an attorney who knows the value of settling quickly but who's also willing to fight for you should the need arise.
A good rule of thumb is to interview at least three divorce attorneys before you decide on one. Go with an attorney who has at least five to 10 years of experience practicing family and divorce law.
Organize Your Finances
You'll want to get a clear picture of where you and your spouse stand financially. One of the primary goals of the divorce process is to make an equitable distribution of marital assets and debts. In order to get your fair share during divorce settlement negotiations, it's important to understand all of your finances beforehand.
First, determine what you own. Some marital assets are obvious. It's clear that your home, any financial accounts, and vehicles are assets that should be split equitably. Other not-so-obvious assets may include artwork, pension plans, inheritances, or belongings brought into the marriage.
Next, determine what you owe. It doesn't matter whose name any debts are in, any money owed will be split based on who is more financially able to pay the debt. The easiest way to determine marital debt is to get a copy of your credit report. Any debt you have will be listed there.
Establish Credit In Your Own Name
After a divorce, it can be difficult to purchase a home or a car because you may have shared credit with your spouse for many years. That's why it's important to establish your own and build up a good credit score.
If you don’t have any credit in your name, you may want to establish some before you file for divorce. A simple way to do this is to obtain a credit card that's in your name only.
Gather Proof of Income
Before filing for divorce, you'll need documentation showing you and your spouse's income. If you and your spouse are salaried employees, you will need a copy of your most recent pay stubs and your most recent income tax return.
Determining income is a bit more difficult if you or your spouse are self-employed. In such a case, copies of bank account statements and financial business statements will give a clear picture of income. It's a good idea to make copies of these statements before filing for divorce. Even if you're only able to get an estimate of what your spouse's true income is, gather as much information as you can and your attorney can help get the rest.
Evaluate Joint Financial Accounts
It isn’t uncommon after learning there is an impending divorce for a spouse to raid financial accounts. Sometimes it's done out of anger and sometimes it's done on the advice of an adversarial divorce attorney.
Whatever the case may be, you'll want to protect yourself and keep your spouse from being able to clean out any joint accounts you have together. If you fear your spouse doing this, you can protect yourself by opening accounts in your name alone, remove half the funds from the joint accounts, and deposit them into your new accounts.
You don't have to hide the fact that you've done this, but you'll want to be sure not to spend the money foolishly. Document every penny you spend so that it can be accounted for it during settlement negotiations or in court.
If you have savings accounts, money market accounts, or any type of investment accounts, and you fear your spouse will tamper with those, you should consider having the accounts frozen. Of course, you'll want to discuss any action you plan to take regarding joint financial accounts with your attorney.
Close All Joint Credit Accounts
Before you separate, if possible, it's best to pay off and close all joint credit accounts. Closing them before divorce proceedings will keep both you and your spouse from using the account and running up charges that you may later be held responsible for.
If you can’t pay accounts in full you can negotiate with a creditor to pay less than what is owed on an account. If you're able to do this, be sure to get a letter from the creditor that the account has been paid in full and a written promise that they will not file anything derogatory about the account to the credit reporting agencies.
If you are not able to pay off the balances owed or come to a settlement agreement, you should have the accounts frozen. This will keep you from being able to use the account but it will protect you in the long run. Once the divorce is final, the balance owed on the account can be transferred to the party the court holds responsible for the debt. If the responsible party does not pay the debt then you don’t have to worry about it affecting your credit score.
You'll also want to contact and alert creditors to the fact that you are going through a divorce. If there is a change of address, make sure they know it so that you will continue to receive bills from all joint accounts.
Lastly, make sure all credit card bills are being paid. Divorce proceedings can take months and all it takes is one late payment to hurt your credit. Even if you have to pay the minimum on accounts that you know will ultimately be your spouse’s responsibility it will be worth it.
Set Your Post-Divorce Budget
Figuring out your post-divorce budget is the fun part. You get to determine what you will have to live on once you are divorced. It's time to figure out what your costs of living will be after the divorce, keeping in mind that your income might drop drastically after such a major life change. Because of this, it's best to be prepared by building a budget now instead of being hit over the head with bills you can’t pay later on.
Like any budget, you can start by estimating your expenses so that you can get an idea of how much income you will need to support yourself. This is also important because knowing this information can help you negotiate your divorce settlement. It's helpful to know what you will need financially in order to evaluate your settlement options or what you may ask for should your case go to court.
Make The Decision To Stay or Move out
Unless you're dealing with an abusive situation, it's normally in your best interest to wait to move out of your home until after the divorce proceedings are finalized. Although you might feel ready to live separately from your spouse, there are a few reasons to stay.
Firstly, moving out could affect the interest you have in the property. If you move out and your spouse pays the mortgage the entire time your divorce case is pending a judge may factor that into any decision they make about property distribution. If the situation becomes too stressful and you feel you have to move, you can try to continue to pay a portion of the mortgage payment. Just be sure to document any payments you make toward the mortgage.
Additionally, if you have school-aged children and you hope to be able to remain in your family home until they finish school the last thing you want to do is leave the property. If your spouse's income is greater than yours and you want to negotiate them paying the mortgage or part of the mortgage, you may lose your ability to negotiate to keep the home once you leave.
Essentially, moving out of your home can have a negative impact on your case. Don't do it without first discussing the issue with your attorney, especially because in some states, a judge will consider a motion from your attorney for temporary possession of the marital home pending divorce court. You can discuss this option with your attorney.
If there is domestic abuse and you are unable to get an order of temporary possession then it's important to take whatever steps you need to protect yourself. Leave the home if you feel you are in danger. If there is a history of domestic violence discuss it with your attorney because they may be able to legally have your spouse removed from your home.
Take The High Road
Before and during divorce proceedings, you may want to be hypervigilant regarding your behavior. Anything that could be construed as inappropriate behavior could be used against you in court so it's important to be aware of your actions. This is especially important if child custody is an issue in your case.
Instead of pursuing a new relationship, consider spending time with friends and family instead until the divorce is final. Think about staying close to home and taking care of yourself physically and emotionally. Divorce is never going to be an easy situation, but being prepared can help the tough process go more smoothly for everyone involved.