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6 things you MUST do before filing for divorce

Posted on : November 29, 2013

#1: Make sure this is what you really want to do. Before you make the decision, you need to do some serious soul searching.

Do you have children? How will this affect them? Have you sought counseling? Are you sure this is the end of the road? Are there major deal-breakers like domestic violence, substance abuse or a pattern of infidelity?

Chances are, you’ve already thought those questions through over and over again. In your heart, you know what you need to do.

But if you’re still on the fence, get a copy of Contemplating Divorce: A Step-by-Step Guide to Deciding Whether to Stay or Go by Susan Gadoua. It’s a very clever workbook that will help you decide in a calm and rational way.

I highly recommend this book. Just one word of caution: it might be something that you don’t want to leave lying on the coffee table.

#2: Collect your paperwork. Start by gathering up the last 3 years of corporate and personal tax returns, your bank statements, credit card statements, mortgage statements and any other vital papers. Do this now, because you may not be able to find them later.

Next, get a copy of–or reconstruct–your current monthly budget. How much is your rent or mortgage? How much do you pay on your mortgage every month? How much are your property taxes?

All of these numbers will be vital in calculating child or spousal support.

#3: Embargo your children’s passports. If your kids have passports, you may want to lock them up now in a safe deposit box.

If things get contentious, it’s nice to know that your spouse is not tempted to take the children out of the state, or out of the country.

#4: Half your bank accounts. The presumption under California law is that all assets and debts acquired during marriage are Community Property–owned by both of you.

So some lawyers advocate that you run to the bank and take all of the money out of your joint accounts, first thing.

But to me, that seems unnecessarily provocative–if you want to start a major fight with your future ex, cleaning out accounts is a great way to do it.

Instead, I suggest that you withdraw just half of the money. Put it into your own separate account, which will need to be disclosed during the divorce.

Of course, if you and your spouse are using online automatic bill payments, you don’t want to cause the community property mortgage to bounce, either, so be careful.

#5: Write it all down. If you have children, start keeping a daily journal. Write down events and activities (not emotions). Who picks them up from school? Who helps with the homework? Who feeds them dinner, reads to them, and puts them to bed every day?

If a custody battle is on your horizon, your attorney will want to review a typed diary of events in order to draft your declaration in support of your request the custody and visitation rights you want.

#6: Consider getting some help. Before really pulling the plug on your marriage, think about whether or not you need legal representation and–if so–who.

An experienced family law specialist can often save you significant money and hassle, plus move your divorce along faster through the legal process. A good lawyer can also preserve and defend your full rights–even if you don’t currently understand why you need them.

Particularly when significant assets or complex situations are involved, you’ll definitely want to get good legal representation, and fast.

No matter what you decide to do, good luck with these important life changes!

Get more help with family law here.

Legally Barb is attorney Barbara E. McNamara, a Certified Family Law Specialist serving Orange County and nearby areas. For a consultation, reach her at 714-740-2542 or barb@LegallyBarb.com.

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