Moving forward with a divorce is often one of the most emotionally trying times a person can face, and it is hard to know just what to do. A divorce is a major life altering process and it helps to enter the process with a clear head.
Knowing how to be best prepared for the divorce process can reduce stress, help you make effective decisions, and help you limit potentially negative consequences. Individuals who work with us are often much more at ease when they know what to expect, so we prepared the top 10 recommendations when you are considering filing for divorce.
These ten steps are a useful guide when preparing for divorce:
1. Hire an Experienced Divorce Attorney
Except in very rare circumstances, this is actually the most important step.
An experienced divorce attorney in your area will save time, aggravation, and money while ensuring your family’s priorities stay front and center throughout the process.
Find the right attorney. Finding the right divorce attorney will make overall process easier, but it is most important to be sure your attorney is focused on your goals and the goals that you have set for your family.
When searching for an attorney you are basically looking for two things: an attorney who knows the value of settling quickly but is also willing to fight for what is important to you and your family.
We also strongly recommend you find an attorney who has at least 5-10 years of experience specializing in family and divorce law. Generally you want your attorney to focus on securing a settling in line with your goals however your attorney must be capable and willing to litigate your case in the event that your concerns cannot be resolved prior to trial.
Why do you need to find an attorney specializing in family law? The easiest and most understandable comparison would be when you have a specific medical concern that needs attention. Obviously you would look for a medical professional specializing in your area of concern. The law is the very similar.
You need to consult with an attorney who specializes in family law when considering going through a divorce. In a divorce, you must find an attorney who is a specialist in family law. Attorneys who specialize in family law will be familiar with the law, the cases, the judges, and the procedural requirements. It is important that your attorney is familiar with substantive and procedural aspects of family law and has the experience to guide you.
2. Making The Decision to Stay or Move Out
A very common question from clients considering divorce is whether or not they must continue to reside with their soon to be “ex” during the divorce process. Unless there domestic abuse or the potential for domestic abuse or there is potential harm to the children, we normally advise to stay where you are. There are several legal advantages to remaining in the marital home which you should discuss with your attorney to make the decision that is right for you and your family. Of course, you should only remain in the home if you feel safe. If there are issues or concerns regarding your safety or the well being of your family, you should immediately advise your attorney of same.
3. Stay focused on what is important
If child custody is an issue in your case you need to keep your children as your number one priority. This often goes without saying, but we feel it’s worth a reminder. This is an especially stressful time for your children and they need you to stay focused on meeting your child’s needs. Do your best to continue to be a good parent during this most difficult time.
This can be a very tumultuous time and you’ll want to stay as healthy as possible. Spend time with friends, family, and your children. Be sure to take care of yourself. The divorce process is not a simple one. It can be long and often emotionally draining.
Also, don’t bad-mouth your spouse to mutual friends, or most of all to your kids, even if you have heard they are speaking poorly of you. This unfairly puts your children in friends in a defensive position, and introduces more confusion than the situation is already creating for them.
4. Determine Living Expenses Budget
Try to determine your current and anticipated budget for living expenses, i.e. what does it cost to run your household?
You will likely have to estimate some expenses but it’s a critical step in developing a plan for what you will need to survive in the next stage of your life. It is also important because this knowledge of your expenses will influence how you negotiate your divorce settlement and prepare for trial if necessary.
You need to know what you will need financially in order to take the next step.
5. Gather Financial Information on Debts & Assets
Gather as much financial information as you can regarding assets and debts.
These financial documents will help you and your attorney develop a clear picture of where you and your family stand financially. One of the goals of the divorce process is the divide the assets in a fair and equitable fashion, known as equitable distribution of marital assets and debts. In order to get a fair share during divorce settlement negotiations it is important that you ascertain what is owned and what is owed.
A good plan is to also watch your mail. Make a note of each statement you receive and the financial institute it is from. You can also check the internet history to see what websites your spouse is visiting to figure out what institutions your accounts may be located.
6. Gather Proof of Income
Gathering as much proof of income as you can will help you and your attorney determine, amongst other things, an appropriate level of child support and alimony to the extent applicable.
Accordingly, you will want to collect as much documentation as you can showing marital income. Gather the last 3-5 years of tax returns and supporting w2’s. If you or your spouse are salaried employees, get copies of the last 3 pay stubs. Your accountant can be a good source to obtain this documentation.
Determining income is more difficult if you or your spouse is self-employed. In such a case, obtain copies of bank account statements and financial business statements and provide them to your attorney, as these will help provide a clearer picture of income. It is a good idea to make yourself copies of such statements and provide them to your attorney.
Gather this basic information, and any other information you can now. You should also make notes of what other information you may need. If you are unable to collect all the information, your attorney can help gather those financial details through the discovery process.
7. Obtain a Copy of Your Current Credit Report
You can contact a major credit reporting agency and obtain a copy of your credit report free of charge. This will help determine if there is anything negatively impacting your credit which will help determine what options are available to you in the next phase of your life and will often help in the negotiation process.
8. Close or Limit Credit Accounts
If you fear your spouse may unnecessarily run up credit card debt, you should pay off and close, or at least limit, all joint credit accounts when possible. Closing them before you separate and before divorce proceedings will keep an angry spouse from using the account and running up charges for which you may later be held responsible.
Often times if you can’t pay accounts in full, you can negotiate with a creditor to pay less than is owed on an account which they may accept as payment of the outstanding balance. If you do this, 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 credit reporting agencies or pursue this debt further.
If you are not able to either pay off or come to a settlement regarding the balance owed you may want to have the accounts frozen to keep a spouse from being able to use the account. In addition, you may want your attorney can file a motion during the divorce to freeze assets.
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 you continue to receive bills from all joint accounts. Make sure all credit card bills are being paid. Divorce proceedings can take time and all it takes is one late payment to hurt your credit score.
Protecting your credit may be essential to smoothly transitioning to the next phase of your life.
9. Protect Against Liquidation of Joint Financial Accounts
After gathering the appropriate and important financial information it is advisable to protect yourself. If you fear your spouse may clean out any joint accounts you have together, you should open accounts in your name alone, remove 1/2 the funds from the joint account(s), and deposit that ½ into your new account(s). Make sure to keep records of same.
If you have savings accounts, money market accounts or any type investment accounts and you fear your spouse will tamper with those you should consider having the accounts frozen.
If you decide to take any of these actions you should, of course, discuss your plans regarding joint financial accounts with your attorney so they can advise you as to what courts consider reasonable, and fully protect your funds and your actions.
10. Protect Your Privacy
Always assume that someone is watching.
Assume someone is reading your emails and texts.
Assume audio and/or video recordings, tracking devices, etc. are being used to capture information that will be submitted to the judge.
Stay off of social media. Information found on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and other new forms of social media is becoming more prevalent in the divorce process. Assume someone is tracking your internet browsing.
In a contentious divorce, your spouse will use anything and everything they can against you.
Do what is right for you
Above all, when considering filing for divorce you need to do what is right for you.
When it comes to a decision to proceed with a divorce, no one can make up your mind for you. Many professionals familiar with the divorce process see individuals every day who are considering divorce, but who have great difficulty making up their minds. Before you even begin the process you may want to consider the benefits of consulting a professional therapist or psychologist to help sort out the many complex emotions of divorce. If you come to a decision that filing for divorce is the right course for you, following the recommendations above will help you best prepare for divorce.
Jersey Shore Family Law, The Law Offices of O’Toole & Gunteski, LLC is a top Family Law firm working primarily with clients in Monmouth and Ocean County. We are located in Manasquan, NJ (Wall Township) and have been serving the area with collectively over 50 years of family law experience.
Our attorneys are some of the most experienced in handling divorce in Monmouth and Ocean County, and we value your trust. We are dedicated to providing legal services with the attention, compassion, and direction that you and your family deserve.