Part 2 of “Pre-Divorce Planning” focuses on additional steps a spouse who anticipates being separated should take.
1. Prepare a list of all expenses associated with the household over a 12 month period, no matter who currently pays the bills. This will include mortgages, utilities, telephone, credit cards, car loans, groceries, clothing, insurance, doctor, dentist, prescription drugs and more. Add up the bills for each category for a 12 month period and arrive at a monthly average. Keep copies of the bills, canceled checks and credit card statements that you use to prepare the itemization. Your lawyer will want this supporting documentation and the opposing side will ask for it if your case is in the courts.
2. If you do not have the documents that identifies the property owned by you and your spouse start looking around the house. Look for all the documents you can find that identifies any asset owned by you and/or your spouse. Start with tax returns which reveal investment and bank accounts, real property and more. Search for investment and bank account statements, deeds, business records and insurance appraisals. Copy the documents that you find and keep them in a place where your spouse cannot locate them. A word of caution here: do not break into a locked desk used only by your spouse or search for documents on a computer that belongs to your spouse without consent, especially if the computer or files are password protected. You could make yourself vulnerable to a charge of invasion of privacy. Using the documents you have located prepare a balance sheet of your and your spouse’s assets and debts. Write down all the property you and your spouse own including real estate and personal property. Personal property will include bank account balances, investment accounts, retirement accounts such as IRA’s, SEP’s and pensions, businesses, art, jewelry, collections and more. Identify each item specifically whether by address or account number. If you know the balance or value of the particular asset write that down. If you do not know the value make your best estimate; a later appraisal can set the true value. In the debt or liability section write down the amount of each debt. Liabilities may include mortgages, credit lines, installment loans or credit card balances. The difference between the value of your assets and the amount of debt is your net worth. Be aware that the laws of each state with regard to dividing marital property vary and you will ultimately need a lawyer to tell you whether a particular piece of property on your balance sheet is marital or community property.
3. If you have children, and custody or visitation may become an issue, keep a journal of your involvement with the children. This ranges from getting the children up in the morning, feeding them breakfast and getting them to school to attending after school sports activities, parent-teacher conferences and taking them to the doctor or dentist. Also write the details of your spouse’s involvement, or lack thereof. You will not recall the details six months to a year from now if you find yourself in a custody fight.
4. If there is verbal abuse, hyper-critical or demeaning behavior by your spouse towards you, keep a journal and write down the specifics of what occurs. Describe the event with specificity; include the date and time, who was present, the location and other particulars. Details are much more convincing than a generalized statement that your spouse criticized you “all the time.” Keep the journal in a safe location. If you are the victim of domestic violence, for your own safety and that of your children, you should immediately contact an abused women’s shelter or service for specific advice.
5. Don’t say or do anything to your spouse that you would not want to hear again in court or read about in the newspaper. This includes (but is not a complete list): any act of domestic violence or harm, verbal abuse (cursing, unwarranted criticism, meanness), excessive or inappropriate discipline of your children, sexual abuse of your spouse or children, publicly demeaning, humiliating or criticizing your spouse in front of friends, relatives or others or dominating or controlling behavior.
6. If you are seeing a therapist, be very clear with the therapist about what he or she will write in your records. There is a probability that if the divorce becomes litigated the opposing side will request copies of your medical and/or psychological records. While some states protect psychological records from discovery, some do not, particularly if your mental or emotional distress is an issue or custody of children is in play.
- Pre-Divorce Planning: Part 1 – Should I Leave or Should I Stay? (ncdivorcelawyer.wordpress.com)