Introduction: Why prepare for Divorce?
Divorce in Washington is never easy. It is stressful and complicated by a seemingly incomprehensible legal process. This guide is designed to provide valuable information to allow a spouse to protect their position and minimize liabilities during this already difficult transition period. Being prepared for divorce can increase the odds of obtaining what you want in a divorce settlement, as well as reduce litigation expenses.
Do not sign any contracts, promissory notes, deeds, mortgages or similar documents at the request of your spouse. Your refusal to sign may tip the other spouse off, but the consequences of signing may be far worse than those of disclosure.
Keep a diary of relevant events, including the activities of your spouse. If your spouse is away from home a lot (out at night, away on trips, etc.)keep records of the dates and times.
Identify, collect, and organize the financial information you and your attorney will need. You should have a record of names, account numbers, addresses, and phone numbers for all of your assets and debts. Items to have copies of include: pay stubs and employment information, your most recent bank statements, credit card statements, investment account statements, retirement account statements, loan applications, last three to five years tax returns & W-2's, property tax bills, mortgage statements, and credit report. Basically, anything that has bearing on your financial situation. If there is a business involved, get a copy of the tax records, assets, and debts. Other paperwork to make copies of are deeds, prenuptial or antenuptial agreements, wills, trusts, marriage certificates, birth certificates, and powers of attorney. You should also write down all applicable social security numbers and driver’s license numbers.
It is a good idea to ensure that all federal, state, and local taxes are paid to date. This can be a major hassle once the divorce is finalized. The last thing that you need after a divorce is a tax lien on your property. If you suspect that your spouse has not reported taxes properly and stands to be audited, consider filing amended tax returns as “married-filing separately".
Consider Insurance Coverage
If you are covered on your spouse's insurance, get complete medical and dental check-ups done for you and the children prior to filing for divorce. If convenient, undergo any treatments which are needed or which you anticipate needing in the near future if they are covered under your spouse's insurance. It's important to have any necessary procedures done now while you are covered.
Document Your Valuables
An inventory of assets should be made, especially any gifts or inheritances that are separate property. You should photograph or videotape the contents of your home including any garages, sheds or other buildings on your property, to record the assets and fixtures contained in each.
Be on Good Behavior
If you are already separated, don't start dating someone else. This will not only anger your spouse, but it may make your spouse less cooperative during the actual divorce. Don’t conduct yourself in a manner that could give rise to allegations of misconduct during the divorce proceedings. This will not only help your attorney reach a better settlement for you but it will also make the divorce proceedings less strenuous.
If you utilize any kind of social media, like Facebook or Twitter, you should be careful about the content you post on those sites. Courts are increasingly using statements made through social media to make determinations about issues during divorce like child custody, maintenance (aka alimony), and disposition of property. Before you post anything online remember that it could potentially be used against you in court to your detriment. It might be prudent or wise to refrain from posting anything online until the divorce is finalized. It could save you aggrevation and possibly money.
Close Joint Accounts
Before you separate, when possible, close all joint credit accounts. Closing them before divorce proceedings will keep an angry spouse from using the account and running up charges that you may be responsible for after the divorce.
You need to prevent your spouse from being able to clean out any joint accounts you have together. If you fear your spouse might empty joint accounts you can protect yourself by opening accounts in your name alone, remove half the funds from the joint accounts, and deposit them into your new accounts.
Do not hide the fact that you have done this and do not spend the money foolishly. Document what you spend so that you can have an accounting for it during divorce settlement negotiations or in court. If you think your spouse might abuse savings accounts, money market accounts or any type investment accounts you should consider having the accounts frozen.
If you're a parent, you need to be prepared for how to tell your kids about the divorce. In doing so, you also need to learn ways to help them cope and to understand how their lives will be impacted. Divorce can have a detrimental impact on children, so it is essential that the parents present a united and amicable front to the children. No blame should be assigned to either parent and most important of all, the children must understand that the divorce is not their fault.
You should begin to think about how physical custody, legal custody, and visitation parameters will be determined for the noncustodial parent. Support and financial matters, such as how insurance, health, and education costs will be covered, should also be addressed. The more these issues are discussed prior to divorce proceedings, the more efficiently they can be agreed upon in the parenting plan, saving you money and aggravation.
Divorce is difficult on almost everyone and those going through it often need support. Sometimes, merely having a friend that sympathizes with your situation can be enough. Friends, family, and other advisors, such as career counselors, financial planners, ministers, and therapists can help guide and encourage you when the going gets tough. A strong support system is essential when dealing with the emotional turmoil of divorce.
Changes to the Will
If you have a will, this should immediately be discussed and adjusted based on the divorce settlement agreement when you financially prepare for divorce. It may not happen for many years, but imagine how you would be rolling over in your grave if your estate were passed to your ex-spouse 40 years from now.
Staying in the Marital Home
Depending on your circumstances, you could weaken your position on custody and possibly your personal or marital property if you move out of your marital home. It is usually advantageous to remain in the home, especially when children are involved or the other spouse earns more income. You should discuss any plans to move from the marital residence with your lawyer before making a decision. Of course, take immediate action if domestic abuse is at issue.
A home can be very expensive to maintain in the long term. A mortgage, taxes, utilities, maintenance and general day-to-day upkeep add up. Down the road, will you still be able to maintain the house once the marriage is dissolved? Make sure you calculate the numbers ahead of time - and determine your ability to acquire a new residence - before you stake your claim and fight to keep your marital home.
Filing for Divorce
Filing for divorce can be overwhelming, but hopefully with these tips it can take some strain off the process and help you cope with the end of your marriage. Like every marriage, ever divorce is unique and it is important to find the right family law attorney. The right divorce attorney can make the process as painless as possible so you can start your new life. To consult with one of our Lynnwood divorce attorneys at Bohan Law, PLLC you can contact us at 425-582-0167 or send us a secure message via our website.