Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What to do if Your Spouse Files for Divorce

Sometimes you are happy, and sometimes you are mad or sad or in shock or in denial.  People react differently when they find out that a divorce is about to start up.  No matter what your initial reaction is, you need to start preparing right away.  Here are some quick tips you can follow to get ready.

1.  Gather basic information.  You will probably need statements for all your bank accounts and credit cards for at least the past 12 months.  If you can get up to 3 years easily, without a great cost, go ahead and get them.  You should also get copies of your income tax returns for the last 3 years.  Be sure you get all the attachments.  Computer records, such as emails, can be helpful, but only look at and copy ones that you have authorized access to.  Don't hack into your spouse's private or business accounts if you have not been given access to them.  Collect whatever documents you can and put them in a safe location, probably not at home.

1. (Tie)  Contact an attorney immediately.  Find someone who is qualified and experienced for the issues of your case.  If you want to use Collaborative Law, make sure the lawyer is trained and experienced in Collaborative Law.  You need to have a way to pay for the attorney.  That usually can be by cash, credit card or money borrowed from family or friends.  Make an appointment right away and hire a lawyer.  Don't try to represent yourself.  A good lawyer will probably charge for a consultation because the initial consultation is usually a substantial amount of time and the lawyer will discuss strategy and analyze the facts of the case -- it's not a social visit.  Be prepared when you meet with your prospective lawyer.  Bring a list of questions and concerns.

3.  If possible, make sure you have control of some cash.  That's to pay your living expenses, attorney's fees and other costs that may come up right away.  Don't clean out the accounts, but take half or whatever you reasonably need to get by. Make sure your spouse still has some resources to pay bills.  If your spouse has already cleaned out most of the assets, then take control of what's left. However you start, make sure you can account for how you have spent money and where the remaining funds are located. Don't give money away or hide it.  Judges often get mad when someone takes all the money or hides it.  You don't want to start off with the Judge mad at you.

4.  Stay on good terms with your spouse, if possible.  It's usually a good idea to try to cooperate and be amicable, but take steps to get out if it's dangerous to stay.  If you can keep a cordial working relationship, it will help your divorce be less stressful and less costly.

5.  Figure out your needs and what's important to you, so you can discuss those things with your attorney.  You will probably need a budget, so it would be helpful to start on that right away.  Do you need to pay certain bills, or will you need to purchase some furniture or other things for starting over? Think both interim, while the divorce is pending, and long-term.  Don't worry about getting all needs listed perfectly.  You will probably change priorities and needs as the divorce progresses, but you need the basics to start out.

Whenever you find out that a divorce is in the works, don't sit still.  Get active and take steps to protect yourself.  Delay can lead to problems and missed opportunities.  Moving quickly can give you some advantages as you get started.  Good luck!