Media Type: Alert
Often a spouse gets the feeling that divorce may be in the future long before anyone has uttered the “D” word. Taking the first step to end a marriage is the beginning of a difficult process and requires a well-thought-out plan. Rather than wait and question what will happen, take affirmative steps to arm yourself with information that empowers you to be prepared and make educated decisions moving forward.
Making decisions about the division of property requires identifying and valuing all assets. Collect copies of up-to-date records including: appraisals of real property, statements of monetary accounts, tax returns, income statements, monthly bills and obligations, copies of titles to real and personal property, any pre-nuptial agreement and records which identify the value of pre-marital assets.
Pay attention to strange or new behaviors. Is your spouse spending a lot of time on the phone? Have there been unusual changes in a work schedule? Is your spouse withdrawing larger-than-usual amounts of cash? It is also important to pay attention to the mail. If there are accounts and assets that are owned by only one spouse, the other may not have access to the information. The outside envelope may reveal the name of the institution in which an account is held or liability has been incurred. It is important to note that one spouse cannot open the other’s mail, but the identifying features on the envelope can be readily apparent.
A division of assets also requires an accounting of what debt was accumulated during the marriage, for what purpose and in whose name. It is a good idea to get a current copy of your credit report to make sure that all debts that will affect your credit are properly considered. This also may reveal whether or not your spouse has incurred debt in your name without your knowledge.
Divorce can be an expensive process and oftentimes one spouse will use money as a power tactic. It is important to plan well before the process begins, whether or not you will have access to sufficient funds. For example, if there is a jointly titled account with $100,000 in cash, either party, as a joint owner, can generally remove all or most of the money without the other party’s express consent. You do not want to be the spouse who is left with no access to funds. Conversely, a court will not look kindly on a spouse who wipes out a joint account leaving the other spouse without funds on which to live. The safest plan of action is usually to take one-half of the jointly titled account and safeguard it in a solely titled separate account or to ensure that the institution holding the funds will freeze the account or allow withdrawal only with dual signatures.
Having a credit card in your sole name for divorce-related expenses (such as experts, moving expenses, attorney’s fees) or other items that you do not want to be visible in a joint account ensures that you will have additional access to needed funds.
You should assume that anything that you leave on a voicemail, write in a text or put into an email may be heard or read by a third party including a judge. Don’t communicate in an angry or disparaging way that may compromise how you wish to be viewed by others. Your own words could be the most damaging evidence against you.
If you need to vent about your domestic situation or your spouse, do not do it on social media. Posts broadcast to hundreds of family and friends can be used against the author in court. Do not delete items that you’ve already posted (they are recoverable), but do stop posting on the subject immediately. Instead, use the ear of a good friend or therapist to air your frustrations.
Most likely, you own some things that have sentimental value that cannot be compensated for with a monetary award. Give your grandmother’s wedding ring, or the army trunk that your father left you in his Will, to a friend for safekeeping, particularly if the item was inherited, gifted to you by a third party, or acquired prior to the marriage. Once an item is gone, the monetary value could well be meaningless.
Divorce and separation can be a difficult time for your children and being extra engaged in their care and emotional wellbeing is of heightened importance. Furthermore, if you and your spouse do not agree on a custody schedule, you may be in a position of having to defend your fitness as a parent. It is not the time to take a vacation from your children or work extra late to “escape” a difficult home life. It is the time to make sure that your role as an important caregiver in your children’s lives is underscored.
Do not wait – go meet with a family lawyer to understand your rights. You need to know what a divorce will mean for you, your children and your finances. Meeting with a lawyer can ensure that the decisions you make moving forward are well-informed and geared toward meeting your long-term goals.
To learn more about taking the first steps in a divorce, contact a member of Stein Sperling’s family law department at 301-340-2020.
Monica Garcia Harms is a family law principal of Stein Sperling Bennett De Jong Driscoll PC. She represents clients in a broad range of complex family law matters, including divorce, separation, contested custody and access, child support, domestic violence, separation agreements, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, alimony, property distribution, grandparent visitation, contempt/enforcement actions, modification actions, adoptions and guardianships. Bethesda Magazine named Monica a Top Divorce Lawyer in its November/December 2013 issue, describing her as “among those in the elite tier of private attorneys who are known for their skills in handling thorny custody issues.” Click here to save Monica’s contact information.
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