Friday, September 15, 2006

Are you considering divorce? I’m talking about quiet, sober consideration of a question, not the thoughts that flare up from the heated emotions that come right after an argument. Have you thought through the effects of a divorce, and come to the conclusion that you may want to act? If you have, there are things you should do right away.
If your spouse has already filed before you, then you must act immediately. If not, you should take certain actions quickly, but not carelessly. The things you do now will affect every decision throughout the process, right down to the final decree.
If you have reached the point where divorce is a clear option, and particularly if you are considering an action that shows you mean to separate from your spouse (if you are thinking of leaving, or asking him/her to move out), you should do the following before approaching your spouse:
Seven things you must do before approaching your spouse about divorce
Make copies of your spouse’s pay stubs for the past eight weeks.
Make copies of your joint tax returns for the past five years.
Copy all bank statements and documentation of stock accounts, IRAs, and pension plans.
Make copies of all of your monthly bills over the past three months. These should include mortgage statements, rent payments, utility bills, car payments, insurance premiums, children’s expenses, medical expenses, and credit card statements.
Copy deeds to any properties owned jointly or in your spouse’s name.
Copy documents relating to any investments. These should include stocks, bonds, real estate, and any corporations or businesses owned in any part by you and your spouse.
Make a list of all collectibles, jewelry and other valuables. Photograph or videotape these items. Also list all furnishings and take pictures of these also
This may seem like an overwhelming task, but doing it will ensure that you have all the information ready when you need it most. Once you leave, or if your spouse leaves and takes these records, then you may have to ask your attorney to file a motion to force your spouse to produce them. That would become just another costly hassle down the line. Avoid it. Make copies.
Why do you need all these documents? If divorce proceedings get into a courtroom it means you and your spouse are in a battle. What are at stake are almost certainly income, lifestyle, and assets. You and your spouse are sorting out all of these things in a courtroom, so you need to establish the cost of living and the lifestyle you and your family enjoyed while married. This becomes the baseline the court will use for a settlement. The judge will base decisions about child support and alimony on this information. You must show what your family spends on maintaining a home, food, clothing, transportation, health, education, and any other necessities. In addition you need to clearly establish what your spouse earns or is capable of earning.
If you exit your home empty-handed, or if your spouse walks off with these records, you have no proof. In theory, the Court can force your spouse might produce these records, but only if your spouse is honest in producing the necessary documents, and only at the cost of one more bill from your attorney. That bill will probably come when you can least afford it. And if your spouse swears that the records produced are the only records in existence, you may be stuck with that answer. Once again: Make copies. Give them to a trusted friend or relative before informing your spouse you want a divorce.

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