Pre-Divorce Planning – Part II

Pre-Divorce Planning – Part II

I was told by an older attorney years ago that “failing to plan, is planning to fail.”  As trite as that sentiment may be, it is also very accurate.  I am certain that over the years, I have won cases I probably should have lost simply because the other side did not properly plan and prepare their case.  Previously we began our discussion of pre-divorce planning.  Let’s continue with more tips on how you can plan to protect you, your family and your resources before a divorce case gets started.

  • Take down all social networking sites, websites, etc.: First, let me be clear.  The deletion of pictures, posts, etc. from a social media account, especially during litigation, could be deemed to be destruction of evidence for which you could be sanctioned by the court.  However, there is nothing improper or illegal about deactivating your account.  Be aware that the account will still remain on the social media site’s server and could possibly still be accessed.  The interconnected world we live in makes it very easy to learn all sorts of information about a person. One of the first things I do whenever I get a new divorce case is immediately run Google search of the opposing party. You would be amazed what I have found. There is no reason to make it easy for your spouse’s attorney to mine such data about you. If you have a blog, Facebook, Twitter or any other such web page, deactivate it immediately. Even if there is nothing particularly damning on it, your spouse may have your password and be able to log into the page and make changes to besmirch your reputation.
  • Open a separate checking account: Most married couples have joint bank accounts, which means that both parties have equal access to the accounts. Nevertheless, people regularly come into my office and are surprised to find that their spouse has raided the account and absconded with all of the contents. Protect yourself by opening a separate account and withdrawing one-half of the proceeds of the joint accounts to give you something to live on for a while. Keep in mind that if you withdraw the entire account, you will most likely have to repay your spouse for his/her share. Additionally, it is usually a good idea to open the account at a different bank than the one at which you and your spouse have historically done business. Smalltown banks have a tendency to get to know the parties as a couple and, in spite of laws to the contrary, routinely give out information to opposing parties because they are not aware of the pending divorce.
  • Get a complete physical: There are several reasons to do this. One, divorce is one of the top five stressors you will ever go through and it is more important than ever to make sure you stay healthy. Two, a person’s physical health is an element considered by the court for numerous issues such as child custody and maintenance. Three, it is vital that you get yourself checked if you have any reason to suspect that your spouse has been unfaithful. If he/she has infected you with a sexually transmitted disease, you need to find out before the divorce is over so your lawyer can ensure that the philanderer pays the expenses of treatment.
  • Immediately start gathering information: The unfortunate truth is that the only truth in the courtroom is what you can prove. As soon as your spouse finds out you are planning to divorce him/her, you may find that various documents and files start disappearing. As a general rule, if a document has a dollar sign on it anywhere, your lawyer needs a copy of it. This includes, but is not limited to:
  • Real estate closing documents – deeds, mortgages, notes, tax records, etc
  • Credit card statements
  • Bank statements
  • Loan documents
  • Income tax returns (last 3-4 years)
  • Paycheck stubs for both parties
  • Title statements
  • Investment account statements (Mutual funds, IRAs, stock certificates, etc)
  • Retirement & pension account statements
  • Statements of insurance benefits (health, life, and disability)
  • Keep in mind that if there is a particular asset you believe to be a non-marital asset, the burden is on you to prove that it is non-marital.
  • If there is a certain document you cannot locate and you believe your spouse has in his/her possession, tell your lawyer about it and he may be able to get it through the discovery process.
  • Plan your custody case: If you have determined that you will seek primary custody of your child(ren), you need to start planning your custody case immediately. One useful exercise is to pretend you are sitting down with the judge and you have an opportunity to explain to the judge why you should have custody of your child. Ignoring all of the rules of evidence or what is proper in court, just write down everything you would say; get it all down on paper. After you have brainstormed your argument, read back through and think about how you and your lawyer can prove each point, remember truth is not important in the courtroom if it cannot be proven. What facts will need to be established with eyewitness testimony? Are there any facts that need documentary proof? Where can you find those documents? Plan ahead or plan to fail.
  • Complete a financial disclosure/data packet: This will assist your attorney and is a required pleading in several jurisdictions. It helps act as a quick reference for you, your attorney, and, most importantly, the judge. You can download one here.

These are just some of the steps you can take to improve the chances of success of your divorce case. As always it is vital that you talk with a skilled family law attorney to formulate a plan specific to your circumstances.

Photo courtesy of Andy Rogers

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