Making the decision to divorce is hard. Accomplishing a divorce is harder. Clients often ask what they can do to prepare for divorce and minimize potential problems. Here are some practical steps that will help.
a. Make sure that you have copies of all important documents such as deeds to real estate, titles to vehicles, bank statements, brokerage statements, retirement account statements, insurance information, employee benefit information, paycheck stubs and tax returns, both business and personal. Obtain evidence of all debt including credit card statements, personal loan information and other documentation of indebtedness. Obtain the originals of insurance policies and children’s birth certificates and passports. It is common for these materials to disappear or become difficult to access once a divorce is filed. Monitor the mail for several months prior to a divorce to make sure that you have documents evidencing all assets and debts.
b. Keep your copies of these materials in a safe place–not at home or at any other location that your spouse has access to.
c. Open a new bank account at a new financial institution for the deposit of your earnings and other monies. Change passwords on all accounts that you have access to.
d. If there are irreplaceable items in your home, or items of great value to you, remove them to a safe location. Keep a photographic inventory of items removed.
e. Make copies of all financial or other pertinent materials from the family computer. If appropriate, consider having the entire hard drive copied and all information preserved.
f. Police all social media sites that you use. Make sure any information posted reflects well upon you. Consider terminating social media sites. Definitely change all passwords.
g. Review your spouse’s social medial sites. Copy all information and photographs that may be helpful to your lawyer.
h. Check your estate planning documents, Retirement accounts such as 401Ks and IRAs. Remove your spouse as beneficiary and appoint a new beneficiary. Name a trustee to handle any money or property intended for your children. Cancel all powers of attorney naming your spouse as attorney in fact.
i. Cancel all joint credit cards and lines of credit. Open new ones in your name alone.
j. Tend to family finances. Pay off or pay down all debt to the extent possible. Stock up on food and household supplies.
k. Tend to family medical needs. While insurance is still available, have any medical procedures or appointments, annual physicals, dental work, etc. done.
l. Tend to business needs. Make sure your work auto is repaired and reliable. Upgrade your work wardrobe. Investigate the need for additional education or training to upgrade professional skills and earning ability.
m. Tend to your children’s needs. Line up back up child care where necessary. Plan to keep the children in the same neighborhood and school wherever possible. Keep the children’s routines as normal as possible. Line up a family counselor to assist the children as and if needed. Your medical insurance policy may cover some of these costs. Do not discuss the divorce in front of the children; do not disparage or belittle your spouse to the children.
n. As the divorce approaches, obtain a new mailing address or P.O. Box to receive your mail–including your mail from your lawyer–at a safe location. Consider creating a new e-mail account for secure e-mail communication.
Be sure to discuss all of the above and any unusual circumstances with your lawyer as early as possible. Your lawyer will know how to obtain any information that you may have not
been able to access yourself.