Filing for divorce is a big decision, with long-term consequences, both financially and socially. But, unless your life or safety (emotional or physical) are at risk, you should take time to prepare for the inevitable, so that you’re better prepared to survive in the best way possible. Despite the fact you think you and your spouse will be reasonable and act as adults during the process, many times the initial cooperation gives way to animosity, contempt and anger, causing more issues than you expect. Therefore, its best hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Since its’ estimated that 40 – 50% of all marriages end in divorce, no matter how harmonious the marriage, all spouses should be vigilant and follow the steps below during the course of the marriage.
DO NOT LEAVE THE MARITAL HOME, unless your life, health or safety are at risk. Having a new boyfriend or girlfriend is not a good reason and may affect your divorce. Leaving when it’s not necessary could be considered abandonment -a ground for divorce - or worse, affect custody, if you don’t take your children with you. You can stay in the marital home and still file for divorce, under various grounds
DON’T TELL YOUR SPOUSE OF YOUR INTENTIONS, OR GIVE THEM ANY INDICATION YOU’RE THAT UNHAPPY. If your spouse becomes aware of your unhappiness and the possibility of divorce, suddenly important documents and assets disappear. This is also true if you suspect your spouse may be considering divorce. Don’t be blindsided. Be prepared.
SAVE ANY EVIDENCE OF INFIDELITY, ALCOHOLISM, DRUG ABUSE, DEVIANT SEXUAL CONDUCT, EMOTIONAL OR PHYSICAL ABUSE – These include journals, photographs, names and addresses of witnesses, etc… Some grounds for divorce require you to specify dates, and specifics about the acts alleged.
FIND, HIDE AND AND PUT ASIDE THE FOLLOWING:
MONEY - AS MUCH MONEY AS YOU CAN TO HELP WITH ATTORNEYS FEES AND OTHER UNANTICIPATED EXPENSES WILE YOU GO THROUGH THE DIVORCE AND TRANSITION TO SINGLE LIFE, INCLUDING RENT, SECURITY DEPOSIT, UTILITY SET UP, MONEY WHILE YOU FIND EMPLOYMENT ETC… Its always easier to reveal and give back some money, or have it take out of Equitable distribution, than to have to beg or ask a court to award it.
RECORDS - TAKE A FEW MONTHS AND MAKE COPIES OF ALL INFORMATION REGARDING: Tax Returns, social security, life Insurance, Pay Stubs, W-2 AND 1099 FORMS, bank accounts, name as and addresses of accountants and financial advisers, stocks, bonds, pensions, 401K, I.R.A.S, CDs, real estate investments, mortgages, car/boat/motorcycle titles and registrations, inheritances, personal injury settlements, all debts whether joint or individual. DON’T BE OBVIOUS, but snoop, and go through their drawers, desks, clothing and other areas they may be hiding information about cash or other assets, as well as any other evidence against them. You may need to try and learn their passwords for accounts and online information.**HOWEVER, SPEAK TO AN ATTORNEY FIRST, AS THIS COULD BE CRIME, DEPENDING ON THE CIRCUMSTANCES.
MAKE A LIST OF ALL PROPERTY – and videotape all property, indicate whether it was acquired during the course of the marriage, or brought into the marriage. If you have sentimental items you want to keep, gradually remove them from the home, so they aren’t used as hostage in negotiations, make a list of all assets/property that has been sold, or you realize is missing.
BUSINESS RECORDS - if you and/or your spouse has a business, its, important to get as much Information about that business, including tax returns, credit card statements, names and addresses of partners/shareholders and accountants.
GET A COPY OF YOUR CREDIT REPORT – SELF EXPLANATORY
CANCEL JOINT CREDIT CARDS AND LOANS – you don’t want your spouse taking out money or charging items for which you’ll be partially responsible
APPLY FOR INDIVIDUAL CREDIT CARDS – you want to establish credit in only your name
OPEN SEPARATE BANK/CHECK ACCOUNTS - you’ll want to use these for your new personal expenses, but don’t put a lot of money in them, for obvious reasons
GET A P.O. BOX – Should be self explanatory, but have your new credit card statements and bank account information sent there
CHANGE YOUR WILL, LIVING WILL AND P.O.A. - you don’t want your future ex deciding when to pull the pull, or entitled to any of your assets
CHANGE BENEFICIARIES ON LIFE INSURANCE - Usually to your children in-trust, if they’re minors.
DO A LIFESTYLE ANALYSIS – calculate what it will cost monthly to live in your current lifestyle, and what your income will be.
DON’T BUY ANY ASSETS DURING THE SEPARATION/DIVORCE – these could potentially become marital assets and subject to equitable distribution, or used to show you have more assets or income than you claim. Now is not the time to be extravagant.
DON’T WAIVE ALIMONY! - Alimony laws are changing. Permanent alimony isn’t what it used to be in New Jersey, and now there’s a move to eliminate the alimony, if the person receiving it resides with someone else. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve advised someone against waiving alimony, only to have them go against my advice and later regret it. If you’re entitled to alimony, take it. I’ve seen people who were entitled to it, waive it, because they didn’t want to make the other spouse mad, or hurt them etc…, and then a few years later the person develops a disabling disease, and guess what? They have to rely on social security.
PREPARE EMOTIONALLY FOR DIVORCE – Your social life will change, some friends will side with your spouse and not speak to you, you’ll be living alone, and the holiday will be different. If you think you may need professional counseling, get it, but keep the fact private and don’ discuss it with anyone who could inform your spouse.
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A BATTLE - contrary to what most people think, a reasonable divorce can be worked out between the parties and their attorneys, assuming the parties and their counsel can be reasonable. You should realize that the Family Court is a court of equity, designed to be fair to both sides and not make either side feel as though they’ve crushed the other or been crushed, which may be why many people aren’t happy when a court has to decide the issues: one or both sides feel cheated, because the other party isn’t left bleeding in the floor – although some claim to feel that way. Like anything else, there are good judges and bad judges, so it’s best to try and work the issues out before hand and not leave it to a judge. If you prepare for the divorce, have your documents and proof in order, it will be that much easier to resolve the issues with a reasonable spouse who has a reasonable attorney. You always benefit when negotiating from a position of power, which is why I’ve listed the tips above. If your spouse, or their attorney isn’t reasonable, there’s not a lot you can do. Some attorneys like to create or continue the animosity between the parties, since it leads to more attorneys fees. If that’s the case, your attorney can handle that by making reasonable offers and then requesting attorneys fees from your spouse, should they reject them and require unnecessary fees.
DON'T GET THE KIDS INVOLVED – although I’ve left this section to last, it’s the most important. Don’t have them pick sides, do your dirty work, or be your investigator; don’t talk bad about the other parent; don’t try to make them your ally against the other parent; don’t talk bad about your spouses new love interest. If there’s something going on that you feel is inappropriate for your children to witness, contact your spouse to discuss it, if they’re the reasonable type, or your attorney. You should be aware that most courts don’t care that your ex has a new love interest, or that your children spend time with them, providing there isn’t anything inappropriate or harmful going on. The courts don’t care that your feelings have been hurt, as long as no harm is being done to your children. They recognize that people move one and that the children will be exposed to their parents new interests. New Jersey has Children’s Bill of Rights that you can view online, which outlines how parents should behave.
All the Best
Randy C. Redden