Planning for Divorce Part 1: 5 Things to do Before Divorce

September 19, 2017

Planning a wedding is a major event that requires time, energy and organization. Planning for divorce is no different. Here are five steps that will help you prepare to become unmarried.

1. Inventory Assets and Debts

Compile a list of all assets, debts and accounts owned by you and your spouse, including things that are titled individually and jointly. Conduct a walk-through of your residence and itemize all major household furniture and furnishings. Keep track of any items that your spouse may have taken to a new residence. In many divorces, one spouse is asked (or even required) to temporarily move out of the marital residence, with restrictions that prevent them from returning home without permission. If you are the spouse who is asked to leave, it may be difficult to re-create this inventory from memory later on. Take photographs of items if you are concerned that your spouse may attempt to dispose or remove items without your knowledge. Don’t forget to inventory the contents of a safe deposit box or storage unit.

2. Gather Documentation

Make copies of important financial and legal documents. You will be required early in the divorce process to provide a detailed accounting of all your financial information. Although both spouses are required to cooperate in sharing financial materials and information, it could save time and money to retrieve this information while you still have access to it, rather than relying on your spouse to provide copies after the divorce is underway. At a minimum, try to locate and copy:

  • Tax returns and supporting materials (W-2s, 1099s, k-1s, etc.);
  • Year-to-date and year-end paystubs;
  • Pension and retirement account statements;
  • Banking and credit card statements;
  • Mortgage and loan documents;
  • Deeds and vehicle titles;
  • Insurance policies;
  • Wills, trust and other estate planning documents;
  • Organizational documents and financial statements for any businesses owned;
  • Stock certificates and bonds;
  • Valuations and appraisals; and
  • Credit reports and loan applications

3. Create a Household Budget

Prepare a detailed budget of your monthly income and expenses. This will help you and your spouse determine how much disposable income is available for setting up a second residence. Additionally, the monthly budget often plays a role in determining spousal or child support payments. The budget should include expenses that may only occur once or twice a year, such as property taxes, vehicle registration, insurance premiums, and tuition. Keep a separate list of any anticipated major expenses that are coming up in the near future, like new tires or household repairs, since those may also need to be incorporated into the divorce budget.

4. Preserve Communications With Spouse

Although the divorce court is not going to spend time reading every text or email communication between spouses, there may be specific conversations that are very relevant to divorce proceedings. Conversations regarding disputed issues with the children, mismanagement of marital assets, and abuse or threats are more likely to be scrutinized. If these communications occur verbally, make detailed notes in a journal or log afterwards about the conversation. Some cell phones delete text messages or voicemails after a certain period of time. Contacting your cell phone company will not help, because companies usually only keep track of the date/time/phone number of the communication, and not the message or content itself. To retrieve deleted text messages or voicemails, you may need to download a special app or enlist the help of an IT specialist.

5. Meet With an Attorney

Meeting with an experienced family law attorney early in the process is the best protection and planning you can do. An attorney can explain the divorce process from start to finish, the costs, and the issues that will need to be addressed. An attorney can help you in your pre-divorce planning and can also discuss whether there are any alternatives to divorce you may want to consider instead. Expect to pay an attorney at their hourly rate for an initial consultation, especially if you are seeking advice about your situation. When selecting a family law attorney, pay attention not only to the attorney’s fees and experience, but also the attorney’s personality and demeanor. Your family law attorney will learn a lot of personal and sensitive information about you and your family and will help to set the tone for the divorce. Finding an attorney who is the right fit is one of the most important decisions you can make in the divorce process.

See Part 2 of this series to find out what NOT to do before getting a divorce.