Tips on Preparing for Divorce in Illinois
By putting some forethought into preparing for divorce, you may be able to help simplify the process and save some money at the same time. Think of this as homework you can do upfront to make your life easier as you move through the divorce process.
Get a Handle on your Financial Life and AssetsAside from issues of parenting responsibilities and time, much of your divorce case will likely involve the division of marital property and setting child support and spousal maintenance obligations (if applicable). To accomplish this, your attorney will need to know everything about your financial life, including your income and expenses, as well as your assets and liabilities. Here are some things you can do to save time and expense later:
Get copies of your past 3 years of tax returns together, as well as all W-2s and other tax forms that went into preparing them. If you own a business, this includes business tax returns, 1099s, K1s and so forth.
Make a list of all of your bank accounts, including what bank they are with and what type of accounts they are (checking/savings/money market/IRA/401k), and make sure that you know how to access these accounts online so you can get updated statements from time to time.
Make a list of all of your credit cards, including who the credit card is with, and again make sure that you know how to access these accounts online to see balances and print statements for same.
Make a list of all of your retirement assets, including what type of accounts they are (401k, IRA, etc.), and likewise make sure that you know how to access these accounts online.
Get fair market value estimates for your major assets, including your vehicle(s), and any real estate you own. Along the same lines, if you are still paying off these assets, make sure you have recent statements for these liabilities reflecting the current monthly payment and the total remainder due.
Make a list of any and all debts you may have aside from credit cards, mortgages, and car loans. This can be anything from student loans to unpaid medical bills, personal loans and so on.
Put together a list of each of your insurance policies, including the name of the insurance provider and type of policy (auto, homeowners, health insurance, disability and so forth).
Gather Other Useful Details and InformationThere is other critical information that you should pull together to expedite things for your attorney (and save yourself money) including the following:
There are some important dates you will need to know, including the exact date you were married and the location (city) that the wedding took place in. If you have already separated from your spouse, make a note of what date you were separated (if you can’t remember the exact date, a particular month rather than a specific date will usually suffice).
If you have already separated and are living apart from your spouse, make sure you have current and accurate contact information for them, including their mailing address, e-mail address and cell phone number(s) if at all possible.
If you have a child or children, their date of birth and full spellings of their name, including any middle names. A copy of the child’s birth certificate is always a good thing to have available.
Again, if you have children, there are a lot of other details pertaining to them that you should have handy, including the names and contact information of their doctors and dentist as well as any key personnel at their school. If your child has an IEP or 504 plan at school, having a copy of that is a very good idea.
Make sure you know where other important documents are. Do you know where your car title is? Passport? Birth certificate? Children’s passports? Social security cards? Because your household is about to be divided, it’s best to track down these things now.
Other Things to Keep in MindHere are some additional things to keep in mind as you prepare for divorce.
In all likelihood, your divorce will not be an extraordinarily fast process. A prompt divorce process is a small number of months, not weeks. It is not uncommon for even low-conflict divorce cases where neither party files any motions beyond the original divorce petition to take several months. If both parties agree on literally everything upfront divorces can, hypothetically, be completed much more quickly. Bear in mind, however, that you have several people who are generally going to be part of the communications and timeline processes in the case including both of the parties, the attorneys and even the court system. Any one of those participants in the process can slow things down either intentionally or unintentionally, due to something as simple as a sick child or a long-planned vacation. You can expect that there will typically be multiple drafts of certainly key documents and some back-and-forth negotiations (for example, relating to the Marital Settlement Agreement and, if applicable, the Parental Allocation Judgment). Additionally, the gears of the court system sometimes turn slowly, and it is not unusual for “next available” court dates to be at least a few weeks away.
There is no escaping the fact that this is going to be stressful process. Divorce is, under the best of circumstances, a challenging life transition in itself, even setting aside all of the “homework” you will need to complete throughout the process. However, as suggested above, you can help cut down on this stress by having substantial portions of this work done before the case is ever filed.
It is very important to keep your expectations realistic. This will help you keep your stress under control. Recognize that the divorce may necessitate changes to your lifestyle, whether that is referring to the patten of things you normally do with your children, the size of your residence or how often you replace your car. Expecting everything to be the same socially or financially after the divorce is over is a prescription for disappointment.
If you hire an attorney, follow their advice. They are looking out for your best interests. Chances are, they have done dozens if not hundreds of divorce cases before and already know appropriate responses to particular problems that may arise during the process. Also, be responsive to their communications. Try to always respond to emails or phone calls within a few days to keep the ball rolling. Work tends to back up on cases where clients don’t promptly respond, which can lead to additional court appearances and more circling back on documents and issues than would otherwise be the case. Help yourself by helping your attorney get the information and feedback they need from you in a timely manner. In other words - do your homework, whether that’s sending them the latest W2, promptly completing a required parenting education class online or giving them feedback on a proposed agreed order.