Preparing For and Protecting Yourself in Divorce

By Staff Writer

No one thinks that they will ever be in the position of preparing themselves for an immanent divorce. There is, however, perhaps nothing as bad as being taken totally by surprise when your spouse announces that he or she wants a divorce. If your are not prepared, you could come home one day to an empty house and a note, with your spouse, children, property and savings. If your spouse has planned well, you may find that assets have been siphoned off or dissipated over time, or that a move was carefully orchestrated with the assistance of counsel in an attempt to bootstrap a custody issue. Although that kind of orchestrated devious planning happens infrequently, it does occur and should serve as a lesson to anyone who is considering separation or divorce: planning and tactics are critical and should be undertaken by everyone.

Since divorce is often a battle over finances, having all of the possible information about your finances is critical. You should have copies of at least your last three years income tax returns and your and your spouse’s w-2's for each year. Those figures are critical to any early application to the Court for child or spousal support. If you do not know where those documents are, you may request copies from the IRS. If you are in a situation where you do not want your spouse to know that you are undertaking divorce planning, have those documents sent to your work address, a friend, or to your attorney.

In addition to your tax returns, you will need information about all of your assets and debts. If you have investment accounts or charge accounts, you will want copies of statements that cover a substantial time period. If any of those accounts pre-date your marriage, you will need copies of the statements from prior to your marriage. These will show what part of the asset or debt was accumulated during your marriage.

If Custody will be a disputed issue in your case, you will need to prepare an outline for your attorney of how your children have been cared for by you and/or your spouse. If you have shared parenting responsibilities, or if you have been the primary parent caring for your children, that outline will be important in presenting all of the facts to the Court that decides temporary Custody. If you have not shared or undertaken most of the parenting responsibilities but want shared or primary Custody, you will need to provide your attorney with all of the facts that would convince a Court that you should still be awarded a shared or primary parenting schedule. Information that could be important in that situation includes detailing any domestic violence committed by your spouse or discussing other facts that demonstrate that your spouse is not fit to be the primary custodial parent.

An outline of the history of your marriage will be critical to other issues that your attorney will need to consider. Many attorneys request that you provide some sort of written outline to assist them. If yours does not, prepare on anyway. The work that you put into that outline will help your attorney and save attorney time in preparing for your case. That savings in time will translate into a savings on attorneys fees for you.

If spousal support will be requested, your attorney needs to have a history of marital earnings and spending, and current expenses. If you or your spouse will be contesting grounds for Divorce, your attorney will need an outline of those issues. If you are the party seeking a Divorce, put together a detailed list of all of the incidents in your marriage that you believe entitle you to a Divorce. If you are contesting the Divorce, put together a detailed history of your marriage and outline why you believe your spouse’s claim for Divorce is not credible or fair.

The more time that you spend gathering, preparing and outlining critical facts and information for your attorney, the less time you will spend in your attorney’s office discussing those issues with your attorney. That translates into less time spent on basic fact gathering and more of your resources spent on tactics and planning. With proper planning, your rights will be preserved and you will be protected if your spouse does file for a divorce.