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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.
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
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.