Most seasoned divorce attorneys will tell you that divorce, like the rest of our society, is a complex legal and psychological transaction. When the mere thought of a divorce arises, you should consult with a skilled therapist to try to determine if the marriage can be put back on track. Marriages today are a lot more than those based on love and are sometimes financial partnerships. So you owe it to yourself to explore the option of “saving” the marriage.
Assuming the decision or analysis to get a divorce is likely, planning is the key to make the process less expensive and emotionally draining. They may take several weeks or months. This is the focus of this blog post. However, the key take away is to maintain the element of surprise and time the filing in a way that makes the best sense for the children, finances, and the parties. Here are the top 10 keys in a solid divorce planning checklist.
- Romantic Involvement. In a word, “Don’t”. Divorcees ordinarily go through the stages of grief like most other types of significant loss. Adding a new significant other—particularly where there are children—sometimes turns the divorce battle from a legal one of deciding custody and division of assets to the spouse who is aggrieved by the new relationship making it an emotional battle being fought through the courts. Every attorney has had this case. They are hard to settle or try because the “hurt” spouse is fighting an emotional battle that has an objective of hurting the other financially and otherwise and do not track any logical legal course for resolution. That is, the divorce itself is the tool the aggrieved spouse uses to fight the central battle of “getting even”.
- Support Network. In a divorce, friends, and family often pick sides. For some people who live a distance from their extended family or friends, it is key to build a support network. No one can answer who this should be or the composition. It depends on likely “what ifs” that are logical to occur in your post-filing and divorce? If you need a friend to lean on or vent to in times of stress, is this someone you have now that will be with you after filing? Do you have a school mom or dad who can help with transportation or doctor’s appointment when the children are sick? Do you have a financial support access to a friend or line of credit post-divorce? If you ask the “what if” and think of the worst case scenario, like a hospitalization and have a general plan, ironically, preparing for the worst seems almost always never to occur.
- PO Boxes. At some point, getting in control of your mail is key. Bills, insurance policies, and other important documents may be intercepted if you do not change your mail address. However, this may become known to your spouse by misdelivered mail to the old address with a forwarding sticker. Thus, this is probably better done just before a divorce. The USPS has a good system whereby mail is held and forwarded weekly by overnight mail. In addition, most “mail” has the option to be sent electronically. Remember, the email must be secure. Minimally, change the password so your spouse does not have access.
- Selecting Counsel. Early in the pre-divorce process, it is key to determine and retain an attorney. A significant reason for this is to avoid preparing for divorce based on the misunderstanding of Indiana law. Notions such as alimony are somewhat urban legend from news stories, but not Indiana. It is key you pre-plan your divorce knowing the realistic relief you can obtain under Indiana law. A skilled divorce attorney can help you add to and refine this list and add the specifics of your particular custody and financial situation so they are clearly addressed by the time of filing or a preliminary hearing. With counsel, go through their “dos” and “donts” for divorce. Little details can cause a divorce to spin out of control, such as one party seeking a protective order.
- Social Media. One of the first considerations in considering and planning for a divorce is to stop social media posts. Even the most benign post can provide witnesses to be identified and deposed during the divorce. In addition, attendance at events can be used to infer instability, drinking alcohol, and wasted marital resources. Every divorce attorney has had significant Facebook posts presented to him or her to use in divorce proceedings. Frankly, in the social media world, it is almost automatic to post even the most intimate aspects of life. Thus, the best advice is to remove and take down all social media pages until after a divorce is finalized. Avoid texts and emails you would not want the world to read, as well as phone messages!
- “Our” Children. While Indiana is a state that presupposes a parent will be awarded custody and another parenting time, the judicial trend is ordering more time and sometimes joint physical custody. This type of arrangement may be a consideration to talk with your counsel about and learn the court system you are in, in a given county. The type of custody ordered dramatically impacts where a parent may choose to live or be able to live, relative to the school system and work. In some cases, this is a really critical consideration because there may not be ample or affordable housing where the parties are living on separate incomes.
- Martial Documents. In order to divide the marital estate, certain key documents are necessary. These include three (3) years tax returns, current pay stubs, investment account statements, insurance policies, appraisals, bank and credit card account statements and other documents evidencing the total assets and liabilities of the marriage. Further, it is key to secure professional licenses, passports, and birth certificates. In addition, it is helpful to take pictures room by room as assets have a way of disappearing; and you forget what was in a given spot over time.
- Financial Reserve. Typically after a divorce filing, there is a preliminary hearing and a party leaves the marital residence. In simple economic terms, it costs more to operate two households than one. There are deposits on utilities, rent pre-payments, and simple things like purchasing extra linens and pots and pans. And to use an old adage, “when it rains it pours” so it is almost a certainty some unexpected expense will arise. Being prepared and avoid a short-term financial strain is the best way to minimize the stress of divorce. Have a “nest egg” relative to your lifestyle.
- Transportation. Many couples share a car or have one newer and one older one that is not as dependable. Whose car will be driven at the time of filing? If in doubt, then serious consideration should be given to trading for a newer vehicle, leasing, or buying a new car. Having a breakdown, or the car “die” during the divorce, can create significant problems in an already tight schedule and budget. Further, it may be that the court has to approve this purchase and credit standing and may lessen post-divorce filing. This may impact your ability to purchase a car. Again, like housing, a dependable car is key for most people and a necessity for many others.
- Separate Financial Accounts. Long before the divorce filing, you should obtain your own checking account for the direction of your paycheck (via ACH) and to establish a financial nest-egg before filing. In addition, it is key to obtain your own credit card and credit and credit standing. Obtaining a credit report is also a sound part of this process so you know what your buying power is to plan for the post-divorce life. With this, you avoid the unwritten rule of a spouse emptying the joint account at the time of filing.
While there may be significant additions to this list and some that may be unimportant to your situation, this list is a solid foundation or blueprint for your future and making the right choices in a divorce. Keep in mind, divorce is a process, not the end itself, so it is key to remember these difficult steps will lead to a bright future. We hope it has helped you consider the divorce planning process for moving on after divorce for a good future. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. advocates and handles divorce cases throughout the State. This blog is written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. and is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.