While your client is deciding whether to file for a separation or divorce, they should take the following steps to protect their rights emotionally, financially, and legally. Clients should realize that their main objective is to preserve and protect marital assets, not dissipate them or grab them first.
o If you received any monetary inheritance or gift (other than from your spouse) do not commingle it with marital monies. Keep it segregated and try to keep it intact. You may need it in the event of a separation.
Make copies of important documents
o Locate and make copies of:
o the most recent income tax returns, including all schedules;
o stock or bond certificates (regardless whether ownership is individual or joint);
o savings account passbooks or statements;
o money market fund or brokerage account statements;
o checking account statements (and, if possible, the check stub register);
o appraisals of real estate or tangible personal property (e.g., those made for insurance purposes);
o loan applications and financial statements and wills or trust documents;
o If your spouse owns a business, try to make a copy of all cash receipts for past three years.
Protect your household valuables and credit accounts
o Inventory contents of any jointly held safe deposit box, and household valuables such as silver,
china, antiques, and objects d'art.
o Try to establish personal credit relationships (gas credit cards, Dept. stores and National credit card
companies such as Visa, MasterCard, etc.)
Open a separate bank account and safe deposit box
Open a bank account in your name at a bank where your spouse does not do business. Start depositing as much money as you can. If and when you do separate, you will need available funds. You will need to retain an attorney and may have other expenses which your spouse refuses to pay. He/She may even withhold support, which will place a financial burden on you until a motion can be brought and heard.
o Obtain a safe deposit box at the same bank as your (new) personal bank account.
Other steps to protect yourself
o Make a list of return addresses of all mail received by your spouse from brokerage houses, banks,
insurance companies and credit card issuers.
o Have a medical and dental exam. If convenient, undergo any treatments you need or
anticipate needing in the near future if they are covered under your spouse's insurance.
o Keep a diary of relevant events, and prepare a detailed chronology of your marriage, relationship, purchase
of major assets, refinances, birth of children, etc.
Additional resources provided by the author
The above Family Matters “Q & A” Newsletter question was answered by Jacqueline Harounian, a law partner at Wisselman, Harounian & Associates, P.C.
You can reach Ms. Harounian at email@example.com if you have any questions or would like additional information. You can also schedule an appointment for a free consultation at (516) 773-8300.