Couples who have decided to divorce have a lot on their minds. While retaining an attorney to represent them will be their first step in the process, there are other important initial steps that should be considered in the early stages of divorce.
Make Copies of Everything
Once the decision is made to divorce, it is important to gather as much information as possible about your spouse. It is not uncommon for one spouse to know very little about what the other has in regard to income, expenses, investments and retirement assets. Sometimes when divorces are underway, the documents which provide this important information “disappear”. Considerable time and money can be saved by making copies of everything as early as possible, as formal discovery and subpoenaing bank records can be very costly.
Retirement assets can be partially or entirely marital assets, and will be divided accordingly between spouses. When collecting information, it is important to obtain documents detailing the value of these plans and the rules governing their liquidation or division.
Most counties have a Comprehensive Financial Statement (CFS) or Income/Expense Affidavit form which is required to be completed and submitted to opposing counsel at the beginning of a divorce case. Filling out one of these forms provides a good feel of what information is known about the finances, along with financial needs.
Sometimes due to feelings of uncertainly when a divorce starts, spouses may rush to withdraw marital funds from joint accounts. In order to prepare for this possibility, when a divorce becomes a consideration, spouses may choose to accumulate cash in a secure location or account. Taking this step can guarantee financial security for the duration of the divorce.
Another critical financial consideration is that of insurance. Often couples will cancel insurance policies too soon, which can prove costly if a claim is filed prior to the final divorce decree being entered. Insurance policies are handled within the settlement agreement between parties, and should remain in effect until the parties have consulted with their respective attorneys.
Finally, do consider the tax refund, if applicable, as an asset. It is important to establish where these funds will go before they are direct deposited into an account to which only one spouse has access.
Marital and Non-Marital Property
Most married couples consider their home among their most valuable assets. However, real estate values fluctuate, and hiring a professional to establish the value of the marital residence is the most dependable way to insure an accurate value on this critical asset. Over-valuing the home can potentially skew a settlement drastically in one party’s favor.
Also of considerable cumulative value are the household goods. Typical household goods are valued at “garage sale pricing”, while more valuable goods such as art or jewelry may need to be appraised. Automobiles can be easily valued according to the Kelley Blue Book. It saves considerable time and expense when parties are able to come to reasonable agreements about the fair division of this property.
A Word About Electronic and Social Media
These days, electronic communications and social media activity are commonplace. However, in a divorce situation, it is important to be conscious of their use. Text messages, emails, voice mails, and posts to popular sites such as Facebook and Twitter should not contain comments or photographs that when read by a spouse, their attorney, or a Judge could be ultimately used against the sender.
Hire an Attorney to Represent Your Interests
Even if you feel that you know your rights and are getting a good settlement, nothing can replace having a knowledgeable attorney on your side. If you do choose to represent yourself (known as Pro-Se) and you trust your spouse’s attorney, be aware that they are legally bound to act in the best interests of their client even if it is at your expense.
When a marriage is going well and couples feel secure, they may not focus on staying on top of their exact financial situation, value of property, or monitoring communications. However, when a marriage breaks down, it is critical to consider all of these areas early in the process and provide all information to your chosen attorney.