This was originally published on Divorce and Your Money here.
Deciding to end a marriage is not an easy decision—because it is such a huge life change, and there are so many layers to a divorce (such as emotional, financial, and legal). Having every base covered can be difficult. Many people make mistakes that can leave them in a terrible position, which they could never have foreseen.
If you have decided that your marriage cannot be saved, it is imperative that you act now to protect yourself from every kind of damage that other people have already suffered because they did not have foresight.
It will take some work, but you can avoid all of this damage. With the right preparation and help from professionals, you can take control and have confidence in moving forward with your divorce.
The very first thing you need to do is hire an attorney. However, there are things you can do on your own that will keep you ahead of the game if you cannot immediately afford a lawyer.
Keep a Record of Everything
During your interactions with your spouse, try to stay as even and unemotional as possible. If you let your emotions take over, it can lead you to act in a way that could come back to haunt you in court. The best way to handle things is to walk away, and try your best not to react to any button-pushing or argumentative behavior.
But remember, turnabout is fair play. Therefore, make a record of any and all negative behavior from your spouse. Record every phone call, save every text and email, and detail every argument they start, especially if it occurs in front of your children. It does not matter how minimal an argument seems. And of course any threat or form of abuse (whether emotional or physical) should undoubtedly be recorded; if severe enough, a police report should be filed.
Get notarized letters from friends/family/acquaintances/coworkers/colleagues who have observed you as a family and can back up your side of things. If the divorce goes to court, these letters will serve as character references and witness statements that you can file as affidavits. It is important to have them ready to go, because things can move very fast once the divorce goes full-throttle.
Organize all of your paperwork. Immediately cancel any joint credit cards and/or other lines of credit. If your spouse refuses to cancel them, then see about getting your name removed from the accounts. You want to avoid being responsible for any spending sprees. Also, make sure you have an individual bank account.
Be certain to get all copies of:
· Any joint financial and/or investment accounts.
If you can, divide and close the accounts. If dividing is an issue, put the money in a trust account until the divorce is concluded. Conversely, you can take out whatever you can prove you have a right to, and open up an individual account for that amount. Once you have taken this action, make sure you notify your spouse by sending them a notarized letter.
· Tax papers, both joint and individual.
· Health insurance.
· Important legal documents, such as wills, trusts, and/or prenuptial agreements
· Property documents
· Your credit report and credit rating.
· Proof of income
· Any receipts of luxury items or big purchases that were bought for the home or family.
Examples include cameras, computers, cars, boats, and vacation homes. Try to come to an agreement about selling them and splitting the money. This action takes the pressure off fighting for these items, or having them being considered community or family property. Once these declarations have been made, you will not be able to sell them.
· Paperwork for any shared safe deposit boxes.
· Your total income and your spouse’s total income
· Your individual assets
· Your debts, both joint and individual
Your retirement account might be on the chopping block. Stop any contribution to this account until everything has been settled. Your spouse will most likely have a right to a percentage of what is currently in it, but anything put in after the divorce settlement will be yours.
Any valuables that you can prove you own individually should be removed from the house. To avoid damage due to revenge or retaliation, it should then be stored in a safe place.
Decide whether or not you are able to stay in the house. It is important to note that the spouse who stays in the house has the advantage regarding custody. However, your emotional health is of the utmost importance. You have to be able to stay balanced and not break down in any way that can be used against you.
If you are not able to stay in the house alone, see if you can work out a shared living situation, including a schedule. That way, you are both able to live in the house but minimize chances of encountering each other.
Make sure the notarized letters mentioned earlier discuss positive aspects of you as a parent.
Make a formal agreement between the two of you for shared custody during the divorce. If you can work it out with your spouse before the divorce and custody hearings, things will go much more smoothly.
If you cannot agree, then go to a mediator. If you go to family court, it is important to show a willingness to compromise and work with your spouse. If your spouse is unwilling to compromise, record every detail of the situation. Show that you wanted to compromise, but your spouse refused.
Do not settle for less than joint custody. It is very difficult to get a better custody settlement later, so you need to immediately get the best settlement you can.
To help you stay balanced, look into a therapist who specializes in divorce. They can offer an objective view of things. Most of them will also teach healthy coping mechanisms, so that you will not fly off the handle when things get emotional.
To help you gain perspective during such an emotional time, research an experienced divorce professional. They can help you avoid bad decisions that you might not anticipate working against you.
Any sentimental items should be treated the same as valuables. Store them in a safe place outside the house. Examples include photos, keepsakes, and cards.
Divorce is an emotional time. You will encounter a lot of history, memories, and feelings of betrayal, which can make things very confusing. If you have all of your ducks in a row, it will go a long way in avoiding the mistakes that this kind of confusion can cause. Protect yourself now, and you can avoid a lot trauma that many people have suffered when they acted without foresight.
Most people do not realize that they have more control over their divorce than they realize. Now you can apply that knowledge.