Preparing for a divorce
Here are a few simple steps to consider when preparing to file for Divorce.
Copy Important DocumentsBefore you move out or even broach the subject of Divorce it is always a good idea to make copies of any important documents. This would include birth certificates, your marriage certificate, your bank statements, your mortgage information, car information, and any paperwork you have on assets and debts. Whether you hire a lawyer or not you will need this information going through the divorce and the better idea of what your assets and liabilities are the better prepared you will be to divide the marital estate. I recommend that you find a place outside of the home to keep copies of documents and statements. Your office, a friends house, or a safe deposit box at the bank are all good choices to consider.
Open your own bank accounts at a different bank.The bank account is usually the first victim in a divorce. If you and your spouse have a joint account either one of you can empty it at any time. I recommend to most clients that they create separate bank accounts at a bank other than one that has your joint accounts and you start to keep some funds in there. Start depositing your paychecks and any direct deposits into your account instead of the joint. In a divorce action you will likely be entitled to somewhere from 40-60% of the marital estate so it is generally safe for you to take 40% of the bank account and put it in a separate account in your name only. Although the Court will hold the parties responsible for any withdrawals in the long run, that doesn't help when you are trying to litigate a divorce and you have no access to the money that used to be in your joint accounts. Transferring money out of those accounts is a big step and you shouldn't take it until you are sure that you are ready to move forward with a divorce.
Consult with several attorneysThe attorney client relationship in Divorce is very close. You will be trusting your attorney with your finances, the skeleton's in your closet, and the very emotional task of dissolving your marriage. You need to find someone you feel comfortable with. I suggest that people meet with at least 3 to get a feel for the differences in each attorney's style and practice. Avoid attorneys giving you a hard sell who try to push you in to hiring them immediately. Make sure that the attorney has significant experience in divorce law. This is not the time for a general practitioner. Ask about the attorney's billing policies. Most reputable attorneys will ask for a refundable up-front retainer. Beware of attorneys offering flat fees or contingencies. Divorces can be long, drawn-out litigation and the attorney who spent all of your money 2 years ago may not be motivated to work as hard as the one who is billing against a refundable retainer. If they do use a refundable retainer make sure that they have an IOLTA account also known as a client trust account. An IOLTA account is strictly monitored to make sure that the attorney is using client funds appropriately. And, of course, if it seems to be too good to be true it probably is. A divorce consult is fraught with ups and downs. Any attorney who promises to get you the moon the stars and the shirt off your exes' back is probably just telling you what you want to hear. An honest attorney will tell you the good and the bad and not just empty promises.
Have an escape planUnfortunately my years of experience tell me that even the most civilized divorce can become a death match overnight. Many client's are caught off guard when their usually calm logical ex goes off the deep end. I recommend to every client who is still living at home with their soon to be ex to have an escape plan if things get bad. Clients who make six figures have ended up sleeping in their cars after getting thrown out of the house unexpectedly. They have come home to find their prized possessions riding away on a trash truck. They have found themselves explaining the situation to a police officer at 3 A.M. Just like I recommend setting up an account for yourself you may want to consider moving that irreplaceable belonging to a safe place away from the vengeful hands of your soon-to-be ex. If you get into an argument that is getting out of control it is never a bad idea to record it. Remember that in PA you can't record someone's voice without permission but you can take video so mute the mic and keep the camera rolling.