Preparing for a Divorce
By: Dana L. White
The prospect of divorce is emotionally daunting and spiritually disheartening for many couples to even contemplate. Yet, when is enough truly enough? How much can you take of this chaos and discontentment? Should you stay together for the kids? Will you ever find anyone else? Still, if you no longer communicate civilly and calmly, and every discussion develops into shouting contests, mutual contempt, or regurgitations of all the problems that have arisen over the years, you may begin to conclude that divorce might be inevitable.
If divorce is potentially on the horizon for you, below are tips on preparing NOW, prior to separation:
- Gather financial records/information before the divorce begins. Even if you are uncertain about divorcing, ascertaining your financial situation can either make you a better financial partner if you stay together; or, will facilitate your obtaining the best settlement possible if you divorce.
- Make clear, legible copies of the following: tax returns, loan applications, wills, trusts, financial statements, banking information, loan documents, credit card statements, deeds, car registration, insurance inventories/policies. Also, copy records facilitating your ability to trace separate’ property you may own, such as an inheritance or a gift from your family, as you may have to prove those assets are not ‘community’ property. And, if your spouse owns a business, find and copy all business tax returns for the corporation/ partnership as the IRS cannot legally provide copies to you if you did not sign them.
- Document your income and expenses, minimizing the possibility that your spouse will question your transactions. Frequent unexplained deposits and expenditures may cause your finances to be scrutinized by the Court.
- Make a detailed list of assets, including retirement plans. Specify the names of financial institutions, addresses, account numbers, account names, and balances. Remember to record money that people owe to you or your spouse, such as personal loans, security deposits, and utility deposits.
- Similarly, make a detailed list of all of your debts as they can later be used during negotiations with your spouse. Caveat: Prior to evaluating any offers from your spouse, enlist the help of an accountant/financial planner trained in divorce issues to help you determine what is in your best interests.
- Inventory and videotape household contents as items sometimes ‘disappear’ in divorce.
- Open a post office box that you can use for your mail before you separate, eliminating the possibility of your spouse opening confidential mail.
- Remove sentimental items (e.g., keepsakes, mementos, jewelry, letters) to a safe place outside your home, such as a friend or relative’s house, to prevent damage or loss.
- If, during the course of your gathering and copying your documents, you discover that your spouse has misappropriated assets/cash in preparation for divorce, the meticulousness of your record-gathering may determine if you can successfully substantiate such underhanded tactics, perhaps resulting in an increase in your settlement.
- Begin accumulating cash savings for use during the first few months of separation. Be mindful that in divorce, everything always costs more and takes longer than you expect. Costs include court filing fees, legal expenses, duplicate living expenses, and countless other strains on your resources. Deposit the savings into a bank account/money market account in your name, from which you can draw at any time. Diligently save as much as you can from each paycheck and other sources of income, such as bonuses, tax refunds, or income from a second job. Obviously, when it is time to divide assets, you must reveal these cash reserves to your spouse.
Divorce is never pleasurable or fun, and your new life can feel strangely unfamiliar. A relational loss forever changes the dynamics of family celebrations. Yet, as life resumes and time continues, you will learn to move forward, and perhaps truly relish the immeasurable quality of new 'firsts' in your life.If you are considering divorce, the Law Office of Dana L. White is happy to assist you in “protecting what matters most.”