Pre-Divorce Planning

Pre-Divorce Planning

Run a copy of your credit report: Often-times when a person gets divorced, he/she discovers that his/her spouse has used that person’s name (and good credit) to secure loans, credit cards, etc. without that person’s knowledge. It is much better to find out about any unknown debts earlier rather than later. You can easily get a copy of your credit report for free off of the internet. Be sure you request that your report include addresses of all creditors. You may also consider signing up for a credit fraud protection service to alert you to activity on your credit report.

Open a PO Box: Control of information during divorce litigation is critical. If your spouse is able to intercept your mail, it will not only hinder your ability to gather information your lawyer needs, it may interfere with your lawyer’s ability to communicate with you. Setting up a separate P.O. Box and having your mail forwarded will save you a great deal of heartache.

Change all passwords: Ever increasingly we find ourselves conducting our personal business on the internet. E-mails are exchanged. Bills are paid. Accounts are managed. To properly protect yourself, as soon as you know you will be filing for divorce, change every one of your passwords to something that your spouse will not be able to guess. If you are one of those people that only uses 2-3 passwords for everything, think of something new; preferably ones that include random letters and numbers.

Start carrying a calendar: I have found that slender week-at-glance type calendars work well. These calendars generally give you ample room to write and keep track of visits you or your spouse have with your child(ren), incidents between you and your spouse, appointments with your lawyer, court dates, etc.

Change your beneficiaries: You may be limited in what you are allowed to do until the marriage is dissolved, but make sure that your soon-to-be ex-spouse is not listed as the beneficiary on your life insurance policies, employee benefit plans, etc. You should also review your will to ensure that your estate goes to your intended beneficiaries. If you don’t have a will, you should get at least a simple will because, if you die before the divorce is final, your spouse will probably inherit the lion’s share of your estate.

Take down all social networking sites, websites, etc.: 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, MySpace, Facebook, or any other such web page, take it down 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. 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: (financial declaration)