ADVICE FROM FAMILY AND FRIENDS
Your well-meaning family and friends may offer you advice about your case. Frequently such advice is not accurate. The facts surrounding your marriage, divorce, children and property are unique and different from any other case. The only thing your divorce and your cousin’s divorce may have in common is that you and your cousin are related to each other.
ONE ATTORNEY FOR BOTH OF YOU
If there ever was a conflict of interest, it has to be two people getting a divorce. An attorney cannot represent both parties in a divorce. If you and your spouse have agreed on everything, it may be possible for one person to do all the legal work, but they will represent only one of you.
JOINT ACCOUNTS AND DEBTS
If you can, close joint credit card accounts and terminate the accounts. While debts that are incurred by your spouse after separation may not be your responsibility from the standpoint of the court, the credit card issuer does not care about your separation; if you are on the card, you are generally liable to the issuer whether you approved the charge or not. You may want the company to reopen an account in your own name. This is a good time to request it.
If there is money in a joint account (checking, savings, credit union, money market, brokerage and the like), consider whether to withdraw some or all of it and put it in an account in your name alone. It is not illegal to do so. You will have to be the one to determine whether it is reasonable to withdraw some, half or all of it. Withdrawing it does not make it yours and you will have to account for its use; however, it is often easier to give money back than to get it back. If you are the breadwinner, do not put your spouse or children in a position where they are without money to meet their needs. This will not help your case and you will most likely be required to pay for their expenses or reimburse them.
If you have a lot of debt, you need to take steps to correct this problem as soon as possible. There will be less money to go around after you and your spouse separate because you will be supporting two households on the income that previously only had to pay for one.
Generally speaking, debts incurred during the marriage for a marital purpose are marital debts, even if they are not in your name. That means that both of you are, at least for divorce purposes, responsible for the repayment of the debt
If you cover your spouse or children on your insurance, do not drop them from the policy until you have an agreement or court order allowing you to do so. You could be responsible for their medical bills if you take action that makes them uninsured.
RECORDS AND RECEIPTS
It is very important that you keep records of payments you make or receive for alimony and child support as well as any voluntary support you are paying. If you cannot prove you paid, you might as well have not paid it. If you are receiving payments, keep a running account in a safe place. If you cannot prove what you did receive, the court might not believe you when you testify about what you did not receive.
If you have not done so already, start looking for documents which might be used to support your positions in negotiations or hearings. Check desk drawers, safety-deposit boxes, bank boxes or other places where documents might be hidden. This is a good time to visit with your family banker, stockbroker or accountant to discuss the family financial situation, although you may not want to tell them about the separation or divorce.
You probably need a new will now. If you have a living will in which your ex-spouse has the right to tell the hospital to pull the plug and let you die, you may want that changed.
POWER OF ATTORNEY
If you have given your spouse power of attorney (the legal authority to act for you), get it back and cancel it.
State and federal laws prohibit activities such as hacking into your spouse’s computer or email, installing spyware, recording telephone conversations to which you are not a party and listening to your spouse’s voice mail messages. In general, if the snooping activity seems like it should be illegal you should avoid it. Information that is obtained by unlawful means will not be admissible in court and could end up with you going to jail.
MEDIATION AND OTHER ALTERNATIVES TO TRIAL
Before going to the ultimate test of a trial, there are alternatives.
Mediation is negotiations with a neutral party assisting the negotiations. The mediator is not an advocate for either spouse. The mediator facilitates the process and does not take sides or make decisions for you. They merely facilitate settlement. Mediation is required in almost all cases involving an initial custody determination or a modification of custody and in most cases dealing with equitable distribution.
In arbitration, the arbitrator makes a final decision. This is like a judge, but you must pay the arbitrator and you are bound by the decision.