Did you know Jan. 6 is the date of the most divorce filings in the entire year? At Andersen Law PC, January is our busiest month for new clients filing for divorce.
If you wait until the last minute, you will go into the proceeding unprepared and perhaps even unable to hire the attorney of your choice.
Consider these important 10 things to do NOW in order to file for divorce in early 2024.
1. Put the Kids First. It is important that you do NOT put your children in the middle of your divorce. As frustrated as you may be with your spouse, keep this from the children who may want to look to both parents over the course of their lives. Document YOUR excellent parenting and come up with a reasonable parenting schedule and plans to pay for their expenses. Learn to compromise while formalizing these agreements in writing with the help of an attorney. You will need a clear cut parenting plan for when you do not agree during the divorce and afterward. Look into possible experts like Child Family Investigators (CFI) and Parental Responsibilities Evaluators (PRE) if you cannot agree on parenting.
2. Set Up Your Support Network. Divorce is like removing a leg from a four-legged table: Your whole life is out of balance and falling over. Make sure you have the support you need to replace that missing leg: a social network who has your back, family, trusted advisors, work back up, therapists, counselors, and whatever you will need to deal with the emotional hardship of divorce.If you hate paperwork and spreadsheets or are uncomfortable with technology, find a helper. If you have not been the primary parent, find ways to get more involved including enlisting your own friends and family for things like carpools and child care.
If you have a hard time keeping your cool, find a way to manage your emotions – especially when it comes to writing. The last thing you need is a written outburst to be used against you in the divorce process as you establish your new separate role in your family and finances.
3. Avoid Premature Announcements. Nothing can box you in more than announcing when and why you plan to file divorce, throwing out ultimatums, making threats and promises you cannot keep. Your plans may change. In addition, once you threaten divorce, the other person will begin protecting themselves financially and strategically for court and their separate life without you.
Divorce is in some ways an adversarial process. Get your own information in order THEN inform the other party of your intentions in a clear and deliberate manner that does not unnecessarily escalate things.
4. Get Your Financial Information in Order. The moment they learn you are filing for divorce, your soon-to-be-ex spouse, their attorney, and panel of experts will be looking at EVERYTHING you own, you owe, you earn and you spend going back perhaps to the beginning of your relationship.
Put this evidence together NOW, including everything on JDF 1125 and JDF 1104. You do not need to turn it over to anyone yet, but organize and analyze it, including joint assets, and just get it together and see what is there.If you do not already have your own personal laptop, now is the time to get one. You want all the information in order AND at your fingertips.
5. Have a Financial Plan. You need to have the resources to support your children, your home, pets, expenses and right to counsel as the case proceeds. Make sure you have access to a bank account and credit. You will be expected to keep up the status quo (the way things are) if you are paying for things, so figure out how to do this during the three to six months it may take for the divorce to resolve itself.
Line up and meet with your own financial advisor and accountant. If you hope to buy the other person out of the house, consult with a mortgage broker or lender – ideally getting pre-approval for the loan you will need (see No. 7 “What About the House” below).
6. Watch Your “Separate” Property. Property that you owned before marriage, received as a gift or inheritance, or agreed is separate is considered “separate” non-marital property. Only the “appreciation” (increase in value) during marriage is “marital.”
Knowing what is marital property and what is separate property is critical because marital property is divided so your spouse gets half whereas you get to keep ALL of your separate property. Start documenting your separate property because you will have the burden of proof to establish it IS your separate property. Generally, the older the property, the harder it is to trace and prove it is separate. Get started on that task.
Watch out for something I call “marriage laundering” where your spouse tries to use up YOUR separate property to pay off THEIR “separate” debt they brought to the marriage.
7. What About the House? If you own a home, it will be a big factor in your divorce. If you are okay with selling then start looking into real estate agents and figure out where you are going next. If you and your spouse can agree about selling and the real estate agent, your divorce will go much more smoothly.
If your spouse is buying you out, again, have a plan to relocate and know what you will need to make it happen. A LOT of people want to keep the house, not realizing they may not have enough income to buy out the other party while refinancing. Check with a mortgage broker.
Check out the options to buy or refinance, because sometimes it is not as grim as you think. Sure when interest rates are 7.5% and you are paying less than 3%, those “golden handcuffs” may lock you into staying in a hateful, toxic or even dangerous situation just because you do not want to pay the higher interest. But there are options like 2/1 buydowns or free refinancing that make the current loans more affordable, sellers taking on some of the burden. So too, a good attorney can help craft an agreement that lets you both exit the marriage without having to refinance immediately. Call Andersen Law PC at 720-922-3880 for a free consultation on these options.
8. Establish Your Credit. Run a credit report so you have a baseline and start thinking about options to finance your divorce and new life including credit card options. If you do not want to borrow money, have resources set up to allow you to avoid it. Now is NOT the time to go on a huge spending spree you cannot afford. Cash flow is one of the most difficult aspects of divorce, so have options open.
9. Be Realistic. As with many critical life events, there is never the perfect time to get divorced. If this is your choice, understand that you will have to struggle in some areas no matter how meticulously you prepare. As someone told me when I got divorced, “You made a big choice and now the other things will fall into place.” If you are spinning with analysis paralysis, maybe now is NOT the time to file or maybe it is just that fear before you move on to the next phase of your life. You can consult and study and prepare, but in the end only you will know for sure what is right for you.
10. Get a Free Consult with an Attorney BEFORE the New Year. An attorney can advise you on the preparation needed. Do not procrastinate. If you wait until after the holidays to hire the attorney of your choice, they may be too busy with other clients to accept your case. Putting down your retainer and getting things started (or at least having that critical free consult) is insurance that the attorney who is best for you is available in the new year when you file. We are happy to give you a GREAT consult. Reach out by calling Andersen Law PC at 720-922-3880.