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Create a Divorce Plan For Your Santa Barbara Divorce

Ending a marriage can be one of the most unsettling, unhappy, and anxious times of your life, so it’s understandable if you are procrastinating a little. Maybe you resolved last year to try and make things work, but it’s clear now that the marriage is over. So what are you waiting for? Maybe you wanted to spare the family upheaval during the holidays, or it never seemed “the right time.” Practically speaking, maybe you’ve been waiting to file your tax returns, or for your husband’s end-of-year bonus so that it can be counted as marital property when it comes time to work out a settlement. Maybe you have children, and the thought of upsetting their whole existence is to much to handle or you believe they are too young to see “Mommy” and “Daddy” separate. In any case, whether your waiting until next month or next week to divorce, putting together an action plan now, will make the process go more smoothly once divorce proceedings formally begin:

As always, the content below is NOT to be regarded as legal advice but only as a general guide. Each person’s situation is unique and would require careful review by a retained attorney to determine the right legal strategy and steps appropriate for your unique circumstances.

Your Pre-Divorce Checklist:

1. Consult With an Attorney

As soon as you think you will be seeking a divorce, you should speak with an attorney. Even if you have been married for only a short time, even if you have no property or children, and even if you plan to mediate your divorce or handle it all yourself, you still need to take this step. An initial consultation with the Law Office of Channe G. Coles is free and provides a no-strings attached opportunity to speak to a competent family law attorney about your particular case. We can offer practical guidance and tips for avoiding traps you could never know about on your own. During the meeting, you will be asked questions that will allow the attorney to evaluate your case, answer your questions and offer appropriate strategies and alternatives to in-court litigation. Whether you end up retaining our services or not, you will gain a better strategic sense of what’s ahead.

2. Inventory All Assets of Significant Value

Inventory your safety deposit box or family safe, and take photographs of the contents. Do the same with jewelry or any furniture, paintings, or other items of value. You needn’t list every worn-out piece of furniture, but anything with a value of more than $300 should be included. What stocks, checking accounts, and savings accounts do you have? Do you have a stockbroker? What about life insurance and health insurance? Get detailed information on every policy you own, jointly or individually. Get the name and phone number of your insurance broker now.

3. Learn About Your Family’s Financial Holdings

Remember, you will only be able to share in assets you know about, so you must find out exactly what the two of you have. There’s a house (with a mortgage), a car (maybe leased or encumbered by a loan), a pension or retirement plan (not yet vested) and a little bit of savings. But for some, property ownership is more complicated. For instance, businesses created during the marriage are assets to be valued, and a judge can distribute their value upon divorce. Dividing a community business can get complicated very fast, especially when valuing “good will.” The same may go for an academic degree or even part of the value of a summer house. Canceled checks, bank statements, tax returns, life insurance policies—if it’s there, copy it. 

4. Gather Financial Documents

Gather the most accurate ‘to-date’ statements from banks, brokerages, credit card companies and the like. Make copies of these. Secure the copies with a trusted friend or family member, or use a safe deposit box that your spouse can’t access. As stated elsewhere on my site, having important documents on hand early in the divorce process means you avoid unnecessary time and expense trying to get copies of them later. 

5. Safeguard Property That Belongs to You

High school yearbooks, jewelry, computer disks, your collection of CDs, your grandmother’s family heirlooms—if it indisputably belongs to you and you fear your spouse might take it for spite or leverage, move it out of the house. I can’t tell you how many times that prized family heirloom went mysteriously missing, while getting it back from the guilty and vidicative spouse cost the client thousands in fees. 

6. Consider Canceling Credit Cards

If you pay the credit card bills, consider canceling your accounts—or at least reducing the spending limit. If you cancel or reduce lines of credit, of course, you must inform your spouse to save embarrassment and, later, anger. You can say the family needs to cut back, which is probably going to be true. Prior to separating you might consider paying off all community credit cards and lines of credit if necessary. The more that is done before separating to divide assets AND debts, the higher chance you have for a streamlined and efficient divorce process.

7. Assess and Build Your Credit

Request a copy of your credit report, and correct any misinformation it contains. Good credit is the foundation of your financial future, so watch it carefully! Without credit it can be near impossible to obtain loans for any purpose, or even to manage the expenses of running your household. And keep an especially close eye on credit card statements. If your spouse is misusing your joint credit cards you’ll want to document that. 

8. Open Accounts in Your Own Name

As a single person again, you will need your own bank accounts and credit cards. It is not too soon to set these up. Use a different bank than where you currently have joint accounts, and open savings, checking and credit card accounts in your name alone.

9. Learn How Much It Costs to Run Your Household 

Whether you plan to stay in the house or leave, you won’t know how much money you need unless you know the monthly costs of running your own household. If you pay the monthly bills, your job is easy. If you don’t, see how much you pay in monthly rent or on your mortgage; check utilities, including electricity, heat, and phone, and other incidentals, such as DSL, cable, or wifi for your iPad, insurance, transportation, clothing, entertainment, etc. Getting a global picture of your anticipated overhead as a single person will help prepare you for the task ahead.

10. Determine Where You Will Live After Separation

Consistent with the above, if you’re the spouse who plans to move out, decide where you’re going to live and figure out how much it will cost, month by month, beforehand. Look through the real estate advertisements to learn about rents. Consider what it will cost to move, and calculate start-up expenses, including telephone installation and turning on electricity and cable.

11. Assess Your Cash Flow After a Divorce.

You’ll be a single person and maybe a single parent. Financially, things will be a lot different from the way they’ve been. So it’s important to get an idea of what your cash flow will be like after the divorce so you can plan for your new financial reality. Also, you need to forecast your future cash flow to enable the court to determine child custody and alimony payments. This is where speaking to a lawyer early on is invaluable to future financial planning. Whether you will be the party paying spousal/child support or receiving it, finding out an ‘approximate amount’ now will help you plan appropriately for the future. 

12. Be Watchful

As your focus turns from being married to getting divorced, there are some important things to watch out for. It is still very common for spouses to hide assets and/or income during divorce –even though that’s underhanded, unethical and illegal. If you have any reason to suspect there is something amiss financially, you may want to seriously rethink filing a divorce tax return. In most cases, the IRS is likely to find you are equally liable for any misdeeds, no matter how innocent or ignorant of them you are. (There is a very limited and hard-to-get I.R.S. and state exception called “Innocent Spouse Relief,” but it is rarely accepted.) 

13. Know Your Spouse’s Annual Income

Whether for spousal support or child support, you will have to know your spouse’s earnings and assets to calculate a reasonable figure. If it doesn’t make sense to ask your spouse, you might have to do some digging before that information becomes available. Ultimately, you might have to rely on your spouse to furnish this information, but it’s prudent to know as much financial information as possible before taking it up with him or her. That being said, after filing, information regarding income must be disclosed and is subject to being discovered through subpoena if necessary.

14. Curb Any Unnecessary Major Purchases

When there are suddenly two households to maintain, you might find your financial freedom drastically curtailed. The pre-divorce period is crucial to establishing your financial worth post-divorce. Making any unnecessary purchases, such as a brand new cars while starting divorce proceedings could not only financially devastate you, but your spouse can use the existence of your new car as proof of your ability to pay for all sorts of other expenses. Point in fact, a male client purchased a new mercedes during the divorce process. This fact alone came to haunt him later when it was used to mischaracterize him as a wealthy trust fund kid in comparison to his ‘struggling’ ex-wife’s espouses ‘poverty.’ 

15. Stay Involved with Your Children

First of all, this is important for your children—especially because they will need all the support and reassurance they can get during the turbulent times ahead. In addition, because courts consider the depth and quality of the parent-child relationship when making custody and parenting time decisions, such involvement now could translate to more time with your children and the likelihood of shared joint custody after the divorce.

16. Stay in the Marital Residence If Possible - Especially if You Have Kids!

When you have kids, you could potentially weaken your position on custody and possibly your personal or marital property if you move out before a custody order. Any plan to move out from the marital residence should first be discussed as part of the lawyer-client relationship and strategy. As always, take immediate action if abuse is at issue.

The above list is not to be construed as the full extent of steps any one person can take in preparation for a divorce. Every person’s case is unique, and there will certainly be additional steps to adequately prepare for and protect against both anticipated and unforeseen factors and events in your divorce.

Getting divorced is one of the great stressors in life, but you can get through this. It may seem impossible right now, but time will heal this wound, and being prepared now will make the divorce go that much easier both now and in the future.

Talk to an experienced family law attorney today about steps you can take to plan for your divorce and new life as a single person again. Call the Law Office of Channe G. Coles for a free confidential consultation.

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