Before you file for divorce, prioritize, plan and prepare
by Houston Divorce Attorney Sam M. “Trey” Yates, III
If your marriage is on the brink of divorce, do yourself a favor and take some time to protect yourself and your children, and prepare for this process. Learn all you can about divorce in Texas, commit to being fully engaged and plan your strategy before you act. Most importantly, prioritize your efforts.
Understandably, this will require focus and resolve. Life for you has suddenly turned upside down. Your emotions are in overdrive and you’re trying to wrap your head around the fact that your life is about to change dramatically. Yet, my experience in handling thousands of divorces over the years has shown me that taking the following steps will almost certainly benefit you, your children, if applicable, and your future. Pausing to prepare now, before you file for divorce or even mention the word to your spouse, offers you the opportunity to better control the outcome, which is invaluable.
First and foremost, take action to guard your safety and that of your children. If you or your children have been physically or emotionally abused by your spouse, bring this to the attention of an attorney immediately. This can be a difficult moment for you. Perhaps you are ashamed or reluctant to take this step. How do you decide to seek legal action against someone who you have been intimately involved with for many years? Most abused spouses are conditioned over many years to condone, play down and hide this treatment from their spouses. Consider seeing a family therapist about this, and be brutally honest with him or her about why you believe you or your children are or may be in danger at the hands of your spouse. Don’t sugar coat prior incidents and listen to your intuition on this. Even if you suspect that things could take this direction, or you fear it could escalate to this, it’s best to inform an attorney. He or she can assist you in getting legal protection for you and your family immediately.
Commit yourself to being fully awake and actively engaged in this process. This step may also require you to discuss your situation with a therapist, for yourself and your children. A family therapist can offer you advice on handling the pain, stress, and anger that often accompanies divorce. Therapists can also advise you on how to tell your children and effectively handle their reactions and emotions. It is vital that you practice self-care during this time. Get plenty of sleep, take long walks, meditate, eat healthily and limit alcohol consumption.
Get smart quick about divorce law. Learn all you can about divorce law in Texas because these laws vary widely from state-to-state. For example, your girlfriend’s divorce settlement in California may not even be possible in Texas. There are also many myths about divorce law, so make sure you have your facts straight, despite what your spouse may tell you. And every situation is unique. Free resources are available for you to start reviewing now in your mission to get down the basics. Visit www.GuideToGoodDivorce.com/Resources for a number of guides and articles about divorce.
If you aren’t already, become knowledgeable about your marital finances. This is especially important with regard to how your assets and debts may be divided based on Texas Law and the judge in your jurisdictional court. Find and copy all financial statements and documents that you can find pertaining to yours and your spouse’s real estate holdings and your mortgage, pensions, retirement, profit-sharing or other employee benefit plans; all documents pertaining to life, casualty, liability and health insurance; recent statements from bank accounts, savings & loans, credit unions and brokerage firm accounts; the last 3-5 years of income tax returns; copies of credit card statements and statements for any outstanding loans for cars, motorcycles, boats; etc. Now is also a good time to request a Credit Report on yourself and your spouse. You may be surprised at what you find there.
Build a team of experts to help you. Before choosing a divorce lawyer, interview a number of board-certified family law attorneys experienced in divorce. Ask many questions based on what you’ve learned and gauge whether he or she and you “click” with regard to philosophies and approaches. If you believe your marital estate has some complicated financial components to it, contact a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst to assist you. They have specialized, advanced financial knowledge and training and will help you figure out the best way to divide marital assets and debts to benefit you and your future. Typically they charge by the hour or offer a flat fee for an initial assessment. Carefully choose a close friend or family member you can trust to talk to and be a sounding board for you.
Get your personal financial house in order. Now is a great time to set up credit in your name only. If you and your spouse have a joint savings account, obtain the passwords and consider withdrawing half of that balance and putting it into your own personal savings account for safe keeping. (You will be responsible to the court on how this is spent, so keep all records of your transactions.) Be mindful of the timing of this withdrawal since it will probably signal to your spouse that something is amiss. It may make sense to charge your legal fees to a joint credit card or your new personal credit card account instead of using any cash reserves. Discuss this with your attorney and financial advisor for best results. If you share a safe deposit box at a bank, visit the box and take photos of its contents or remove any separate property or sentimental items. Stay off all social media and consider closing accounts until after your divorce is final.
Start thinking like a single person. Set up a new email account for use during your divorce between your attorney, financial advisor, therapist and others going forward. You also may want to set up a post office box to receive important and private documents from your team. Be sure that you carefully guard all of your personal electronic devices – laptops, cell phones, tablets, and iPads. If your spouse has access or passwords to these devices, change the passwords or purchase a new cell phone, iPad or laptop to use going forward. Keep any new devices in a safe place.
Take courage and know that if you decide on divorce, you can do this. You are not alone.
Start building a team of experts and a confidante or two to help. Focus on what you want for your future and the future of your children.