We often encounter people who come to us for a consultation who are “thinking” about getting a divorce. They typically have been unhappy in their marriages for some time and want information about what a divorce might look like, how they would get started, and how they would come out of it financially. The hardest part though is really making that decision to move forward. It’s kind of like thinking about going on a diet but having another slice of pizza before you start. At some point, you have to just do it if you want your life to change.
For those who are still contemplating, there are some things you can do, and should do, to be prepared when you decide to move forward. Divorce is never easy, but being organized and prepared can help make the transition on your end a little smoother. Here are some things to think about:
- Income Information. You will need copies of documents relating to your finances. That means you should have at least your most recent tax returns (all pages and attachments). (Preferably, you should have the past 3 to 5 years). So if you don’t have those, find out how to get them. Does your accountant have a copy? Are they in a box in the attic? Is there a digital copy? Figure that out now. Also, start keeping copies of your paystubs handy. You will need them, especially the last paystub of the year. If you don’t work, or you’re not the breadwinner, try to get copies of your spouse’s financial information. Does he or she leave them around the house? Do they come in the mail? Try to find out if you’re not sure. You can make copies or take photos with your cell phone so at least you have something in your possession to show your attorney.
- Asset Information. You should also have a comprehensive list of all assets held in either spouse’s name or jointly. That includes any assets you or your spouse may hold jointly with a third party. Remember, just because you or your spouse may own an asset in your individual names, that does not mean the other spouse doesn’t have any claims to it. So if you have access this information, download the statements as far back as you can go. At the very least, try to get the most recent statements. This applies to bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, stock accounts, brokerage accounts, etc.
- Debt Information. Just like you should get information relating to your assets, you should get information relating to all debts and liabilities too. That includes your mortgage, home equity loans or lines of credit, car loans or other vehicle financing information, student loans, pension loans, credit cards, IRA withdrawals, medical debts, or any other outstanding payment obligations you may have.
- Journal. If you believe custody may be an issue, start keeping a journal of what parenting tasks you and your spouse do. Sometimes it’s hard to recall exactly who does what, and how often. For instance, how many times a week does your spouse pick up the kids from school or daycare, or drop them off. Who gets them up and ready for school, packs their lunch, brings them to dance class or soccer, etc. While it is true that our society and our legal system is moving towards shared parenting as a more common parenting arrangement, sometimes these kinds of facts become more important, particularly if custody becomes an issue while the divorce is pending. If you’re the parent who has less of the child-rearing responsibilities, you may want to consider becoming more involved i.e. pick the kids up and drop them off from school, daycare, activities, etc. Get to know better who their friends are, who their teachers are, go to the parent-teacher events, know their schedule, what fills their days, and who fills their days. You will need to be more involved anyway when you become a single parent. This will ease you into it. There are also other reasons to journal. If there is domestic violence, abuse or intimidation in the home, journal those instances when it happens with the date, time, any witnesses and a description of the events. There may come a time when you have to recall these events and memories can get a little fuzzy. You can keep this in a paper diary or in the notes on your smart phone. Keep it someplace where your spouse or children are not likely to find it.
- Think. Start thinking about what you want your life to look like. Where do you want to live? What kind of home do you want? Do you want to rent or own? What do you want your children’s transition to look like? Do you need to make changes to your work schedule? You don’t need to know all of the answers now. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Just start thinking about these things. You have time to figure it out. Don’t wait until it’s urgent.
- Meet with a lawyer. Find out from a professional who has done hundreds of divorces. Learn from their experience. Many of the hard questions you’re trying to figure out, an experienced attorney has encountered a million times. Don’t reinvent the wheel. You don’t have to get started just by meeting with a lawyer. Just get information and go from there.
If you want more tips like these, call us for a consultation! 732-384-1514
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