6 To-Dos When Facing a Divorce in the New Year
by Taylor Toombs Imel as published in Divorce Magazine
Chances are you’ve already set new years’ resolutions and the changes you so desperately want to make to improve your life.
For many, that includes promises to exercise more often, eat healthier, spend more time with family, etc.
But for those facing marital turmoil, divorce may inevitably become their unspoken resolution for the new year. Anyone considering a divorce in the new year should resolve themselves to start preparing for it now. Below are six to-dos to ensure you’re prepared.
6 To-Dos When Facing a Divorce in the New Year
1. Begin Gathering Financial Information
Whether you are the monied/working spouse or the spouse with less financial information, it is essential that you begin getting your ducks in a row. Divorce can often be chaotic, particularly at the outset of a case when emotions are high. This is especially true after the holidays when a spouse is typically caught off-guard by the announcement. Many resort to excluding the other party from the home, cutting off credit cards, withdrawing funds from joint accounts and removing documents from the marital residence.
Before that happens to you, be sure to compile all the financial documents that you can. Start pulling bank statements for the past few years, tax returns, retirement statements, credit card statements, etc. Not only are these typically the first documents that any competent family lawyer will request from you, such documents also contain information that will be essential to determining the existence of certain assets, the value of your community estate, and your relative access to liquid funds.
2. Secure Liquid Funds, if Possible
Before your angry spouse cuts you off completely from the finances, do yourself a favor and ensure that you have your own separate bank account that contains enough liquid funds to get you through at least a month’s worth of expenses, with a little bit of cushion. Consider withdrawing and/or transferring cash to an account solely in your name to assist you with living expenses and payment of that initial retainer for your chosen attorney.
If your spouse did not allow you access to financial accounts during your marriage, then you should assume that behavior will not only continue but exacerbate during the divorce process. You do not want to wait for a court to hear your case to gain access to necessary funds or be at the mercy of your soon-to-be ex-spouse.
3. Create a Monthly Budget
Your single household is about to become two. You, therefore, must know what you can and cannot afford on a monthly basis moving forward. As such, you should go ahead and compile a budget of reasonable and necessary expenses. The very first piece of homework our office gives to a client is a budget worksheet that breaks down each monthly expense.
I cannot begin to impart the importance of completing this task now before you file for divorce. I often have clients tell me they had no idea they were living beyond their means or close thereto. This exercise will truly allow you to understand not only what you can (and must) afford during the divorce process, but also the liquidity that you will need at the end of the divorce to roughly maintain your lifestyle or pay for those items that are most important to you.
4. Before Filing, Consider Preparing Your Family for the Divorce
As a general rule, preparing your entire family for a divorce is appropriate and can be very beneficial. Children benefit from a joint statement from parents regarding the divorce. The deleterious effects that can often result from a divorce are not limited to you and your spouse and tend to be far-reaching – affecting children, extended families, and even friends.
If contentious, family and friends may even be called upon to take sides in the divorce. This can sometimes lead to broken friendships and rifts within families. Discussing the divorce initially with your spouse and ironing out a game plan may save you and your family from unnecessary heartache and expense.
However, it may simply not be possible to discuss the divorce with your spouse or other family members prior to filing. If you cannot communicate with your spouse, the only solution may be serving that spouse with papers, without warning, come the new year. Informing immediate family members, especially children, may only serve to warn the other side and may be disastrous for you financially, at least in the short-term.
Bottom line: use your best judgment and consider the history of your interactions with your spouse before you decide to inform your family of the divorce.
5. Change Your Passwords and Get Your Own Accounts
Many married couples share cell phone plans, computers, email accounts, cloud-based accounts, and passwords. For those families, having apps on a phone to keep track of each other and have easily accessible lines of communication has been a godsend. But with the advent of smartphones, cloud-based technology, social media, and apps such as Life 360, iMessage and WhatsApp, digital spying has never been easier.
The very digital tools that were designed to assist parents in tracking the online activities of their children are now being used to track their soon-to-be ex-spouses. If you are considering getting a divorce in the new year, it is essential that you disentangle yourself from these accounts with your future ex-spouse.
Start by changing your passwords on all social media accounts, email accounts, cell phones, online banking accounts, etc. Make sure that all cloud-based accounts are separate from your spouse and that you do not have a shared family account. Understand that if you have a joint cloud account, you have no expectation of privacy and your soon-to-be-ex will have access to information you may want to keep private.
Thus, consider setting up a new, private email address with a unique password on a personal device to which only you have access. This account should be the exclusive means through which you will correspond with your attorney, friends or family concerning the divorce. Get a new cell phone and a separate phone plan from your spouse. If you continue on the same family plan, your spouse will have immediate access to cell phone bills that reveal who, when, and for how long you are texting and calling. Do not leave this cell phone or any other electronic device lying around the house where either your children or your spouse can access it.
6. Mind Your P’s and Q’s
Be very mindful of what you post on social media. Assume that whatever you are posting will end up in a courtroom. That also applies to the amount of time spent on social media. If you have children, you do not want to paint a picture that you are more interested in documenting what you are doing with your children rather than spending quality time with them.
Minding your p’s and q’s is not only limited to the written form but applies to any communication with your spouse or a potential witness (yes, your friends, co-workers and family members are potential witnesses). Keep in mind that Texas (and several other states) is a one-party consent state, which means that as long as you are a party to the conversation you can record it without the other participants’ consent.
Without being too paranoid, assume that each of your conversations is likewise being recorded by your spouse. With that in mind, consider also recording the conversations yourself, especially if you anticipate that the divorce is going to be contentious or if you have an abusive spouse. You do not want your only evidence to be “he said, she said.”