While the holiday season is referred to by some as “the most wonderful time of the year," many people are just trying to make it through the holidays in order to hold off on filing for divorce or custody until after the New Year. For some, the financial and emotional stresses of the holidays combined with an already strained marriage results in the decision to consult with a family law attorney and discuss the possibility of divorce. Historically, the number of family law cases initiated between Thanksgiving and Christmas drops significantly and drastically rises in January. The New Year is commonly known as a time for fresh starts and people tend to exercise that practice by finally taking the steps to end a toxic marriage or solidify a custody arrangement.
Here are some tips for anyone considering taking the step to initiate family law litigation after the first of the year:
1) Tax information is due to you from your employer by the end of January. Be on the lookout for this information in the mail and make copies of any tax information and past tax returns. If you filed your taxes jointly with your spouse, contact your tax preparer and request a copy of at least the last three (3) years of tax returns. Continue to look around and gather any other financial information.
2) Run a credit report to confirm the community debts. The Federal Trade Commission (a government website that can be found here - http://www.ftc.gov/) offers several options for obtaining a free credit report. It is important that you are aware of all of the debts of the community and realize what you are facing during the community property partition.
3) Print out statement balances of all credit cards, bank accounts, retirement accounts, investment accounts, loan statements, etc.
4) If/when you and your spouse or child’s other parent physically separate, dedicate a notebook/journal specifically to the time that he or she is spending with the child. Also, keep accurate details of when he or she calls, emails or texts the child. The courts will want to know how active a roll the parents have played since the date of physical separation.
5) Sit down and think about all of your expenses on a monthly basis. Review your bank statements to show what your average grocery bill, gasoline bill, prescriptions and medical expenses, etc. Think about the child’s expenses as well. Get a copy of the child’s daycare or tuition expenses directly from the daycare provider or school. You need to keep account of what goes in and what comes out of your banking account each month because you are going to have to complete a monthly income and expense form, which will be filed into the record of the court.
6) Change your email and Facebook passwords immediately. Make sure passwords to any other website that you do not want your spouse to access are changed as well and not saved into the home computer. Create a brand new email address to provide to your attorney.
7) Go through your home and write down the community assets in each room of the home. For example, master bedroom: 35 inch Samsung television, 2 nightstands, 2 table lamps, King size bed and mattress, dresser, etc. If you move out of the former marital home and/or your spouse is granted temporary exclusive use of the home, it is much easier to compile a list of household furnishings while in the home rather than trying to picture the household furnishings room-by-room after you have moved out. Also, take pictures of the assets. Ideally, you should photograph the assets with a camera that allows you to put the date on the picture. Sometimes things have a peculiar way of disappearing after you have moved out of the home, so make sure you document what assets were in the home prior to moving out.
8) Remove any items of significant sentimental value from the home and secure them in a safe place until the formal division of the community property. For example, if you have your grandmother’s china set that is special to you, then bring it to a friend’s house for safekeeping. You cannot sell or otherwise dispose of the item, but you should protect any assets of sentimental value that cannot be replaced financially. In my experience, if the divorce proceedings become extraordinarily heated between the parties, occasionally items of sentimental value to the other party can become “accidentally broken" or “lost."
7) The most important tip is to STAY ORGANIZED! The more organized you are and the more organized the documents are that you provide to your attorney, the less time it will take me to sift through and finalize the documents, which equates to less attorney’s fees for you.