Divorce: Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

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If you will be filing for divorce in the new year, it’s time to start actively planning how you want your divorce to unfold and the shape you want your life to take post-divorce. Practically speaking, it is to your advantage to get organized and set goals and priorities as early on in the divorce process as possible. As the saying goes, “fail to plan, plan to fail.”

So what exactly should your divorce plans entail? Here are 7 key areas to give careful consideration.

Learn About Divorce: As simple as this may sound, most people don’t take the time to understand exactly what they are getting into when they file for divorce. However, we can tell you from our experience that when you know from the outset what to expect, the divorce process suddenly doesn’t seem quite so overwhelming or stressful. Where should your education in divorce start? To help people who need a crash course in divorce basics, we created our “NJ Divorce Road Map” flow chart series. We encourage you to take a look.

Talk to An Attorney: Meeting with a family law attorney to discuss your situation can give you concrete answers to the legal questions you may be grappling with as you gear up for divorce, including:

– Can I receive temporary child support or spousal support since my spouse no longer resides with me?
– What can I do if I think my spouse is spying on me?
– Should I freeze all of our bank and credit card accounts now that we’re divorcing?
– Who is responsible for paying the mortgage during the divorce?

Besides dealing with the issues immediately in front of you, your attorney can help you strategize how to achieve the best possible settlement and provide you with guidance on your long-terms post-divorce goals. Some people try to go it alone without an attorney. If you are leaning in this direction, we encourage you to read our article, “Pitfalls of Handling Your Own Divorce.” To see how an attorney can help in your particular situation, think about setting up an initial no obligation consultation.

Make a Budget: Figure out how much it will cost to cover your living expenses. Do you have enough coming in yourself to cover these costs? Will you need spousal support or be required to pay it? When you separate, the spouse in need of support can file for temporary (pendente lite) alimony is available in New Jersey.

Get Organized: Because you will need to disclose a great deal of financial information during divorce, as soon as you can, begin collecting and organizing your financial records. Records to look for include your last three years of tax returns, W-2’s, pay stubs, any and all bank account and credit card statements, business ownership information, stock and other financial accounts, and any 401-K or retirement plan statements (Please see our handy financial information checklist for a more complete list). Go ahead and make copies regardless of whether it’s a joint account or in one spouse’s name only. Remember, whose name is on the account doesn’t necessarily translate into who gets it at the end of the day or that the asset is exempt from New Jersey’s equitable distribution laws. If you don’t have access to financial information at this time, don’t stress – this is information that the lawyer can obtain during the discovery process.

Keep paper records organized in an accordion folder for portable ease when your attorney needs to see the documents. You can also scan documents as a PDF and save on a memory stick. Don’t throw away paper records just in case.

Outline Your “Perfect” Divorce: If you could sign a divorce settlement right this instant, what would it say? What kinds of provisions would it contain? Before your meeting with your attorney, brainstorm a wish list of what you want from this divorce. You don’t need to write a novel – just try to think of your top 10 goals. For example, do you want to remain in the family home? Write it down and let your lawyer know. This is the kind of information is useful to your lawyer in understanding your needs and wants, and what kinds of negotiation strategies may be useful to you.

Establish personal bank accounts and credit cards in your name only
: Because joint accounts may be frozen, establishing personal bank accounts and credit cards can be important ways to ensure cash flow once the divorce process begins. If you establish a personal account, it’s best to use money to start it that comes from your paycheck or other separate (not marital) financial resources in order to avoid confusion or conflict. Establishing credit in your own name can help with post-divorce finances. For more tips, see our blog: “Dealing With Money When You Decide to Separate.”

Determine Living Arrangements: 
If you have decided to move out of the family home, have you rented an apartment or secured other housing? Start making plans now See our blog, “What to Do Before You Move Out,” for more on the specifics of setting up a separate residence.

What About the Kids? 
Who will your children live with? What kind of parenting time/custody plan is best for them? What about child support? In NJ, child custody plans and child support can be put in place at the time parents separate as temporary orders, with final orders put in place at the time of the actual divorce settlement. What you don’t want is for your kids to feel abruptly uprooted, so start thinking — and discussing with your spouse — what you think will be best for your children. After all, this is the one area of life (and divorce) where you really don’t want failure to be an option.