Ending a marriage can be one of the most unsettling times of your life, so it’s understandable if you are hesitant to make the decision to file the paperwork and make it “official.” Maybe you resolved last year to try and make things work, but it’s clear now that the marriage is over. Maybe you wanted to spare the family upheaval during the holidays, or it never seemed “the right time.” Maybe you have children, and the thought of upsetting their whole existence is too much to handle.
In any case, whether you waiting until next month or next week, putting together an action plan now will make the process go more smoothly when the divorce or legal separation proceedings begin. Contact our office today to schedule your free consultation and review your plan and how to best prepare for the next steps. By choosing the Law Office of Channe G. Coles, you will have guidance throughout the process and all of your questions will be answered.
[The below list is not to be construed as the full extent of steps any one person can take in preparation for a divorce or separation. 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 case.]
Your Pre-Divorce Checklist:
1. Consult with an Attorney
As soon as you think you will be seeking a divorce or legal separation, 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. During a consultation, 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.
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. 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
It’s imperative you know the financial state of your assets and debts. Perhaps there’s a house (with a mortgage), a car, a pension or retirement plan, bank accounts, etc., all which seems fairly simple. For some, property ownership is more complicated when it involves multiple properties, properties with separate property components, and even businesses. Dividing a community business and properties with community and separate property components can become complicated very quickly. It’s best to educate yourself on your family’s financial holdings as much as possible.
4. Gather Financial Documents
Gather the most accurate statements from banks, brokerages, credit card companies, and the like, and make copies of them or store an electronic copy that your spouse doesn’t have access to. Having important documents on hand early in the divorce or separation 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 as your separate property and you fear your spouse might take it for spite or leverage, move it out of the house.
6. Curtail Your Spending
Divorce or separation may become costly, and no doubt living on one income instead of two is much harder on the Central Coast, so curtail your spending to lessen the financial impact and burden you may face. 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 or separation process.
7. 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, your utilities, internet, phone, insurance, transportation, clothing, groceries, etc. Getting a global picture of your anticipated overhead as a single person will help prepare you for the task ahead.
8. 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. Consider what it will cost to move and calculate start-up expenses.
9. 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. 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 spousal support payments, if applicable. This is where speaking to a lawyer early on is invaluable to future financial planning.
10. Be Watchful
As your focus turns from being married to separating, there are some important things to look for, such as hidden income or assets. If you have any reason to suspect there is something amiss financially, consult with an attorney to determine potential solutions or remedies.
11. Know Your Spouse’s Annual Income
Whether for spousal support or child support, you will need to know your spouse’s earnings to calculate a reasonable support figure to help plan for your future, whether you will be paying or receiving support. Ultimately, you might have to rely on your spouse to furnish this information, but you may be able to obtain a general sense from prior tax returns and bank deposits.
12. 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. The 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 separation.
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 of 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.