How to Protect Yourself Before you File for Divorce
The following information is general in nature and is not intended for the purpose of providing individualized legal advice. As with any legal matter, you should consult with a lawyer about the facts and circumstances of your unique case.
Often the best approach before initiating a divorce is to set down and have an honest discussion with your spouse. If there are open lines of communication, consider mediation first. However, if the lines of communication between you and your spouse are closed, you should consider the following measures to protect yourself, your children and your assets:
- Talk to a lawyer now – not later. Take advantage of an initial consultation with a good divorce lawyer. Do this before you make a move that you may later regret. A good divorce lawyer will review your goals and will candidly assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
- Don’t sign anything. Often a dominant spouse will attempt the force an agreement of the other spouse. Even informal written agreements may result in negative legal consequences to you. Talk to a good divorce lawyer before you sign anything.
- First things first – protect the physical safety of you and your children. Emergency court orders can quickly be put in place that protect you and your children from an abusive spouse. This is usually done through an emergency ex-parte Order of Protection. However, in extreme cases, a court order by itself may not provide adequate protection. In those cases your first priority may be to enter a secure domestic violence emergency shelter.
- If custody of your children is at issue, do not move out and leave the children with your spouse. In most cases a judge will try to maintain the status quo for the children at the beginning of a divorce case. If you have moved out of the family home and left the children with your spouse, the judge may assume you felt that was what was best for the children. If for whatever reason you are forced to move out and leave the children with your spouse, immediately hire a good divorce lawyer – the same day if possible. Each day that your children are not living with you, works against any claim you may have regarding primary custody of your children.
- Protect your financial records. Make copies of tax returns, W-2’s, pay stubs, retirement account information, deeds, loan applications, credit card statements, bank account statements and other such records. If possible, get at least 3 years of these records. Keep your copies of these records in a safe location away from the family home.
- Protect your interest in cash accounts. You may have joint checking and savings accounts with large cash balances (balances in excess of any un-cleared checks that have been written). In order to protect your interest in these accounts, consider putting one half of any cash balances into an account that is solely in your name and to which only you have access.
- Get a Temporary Order put in place as soon as possible. A temporary order will restrain the sale of property, require insurance policies to be maintained, sets child support, puts a temporary parenting plan in place, awards spousal maintenance and sets up other temporary rules pending the finalization of your case. There is simply no substitute to a temporary order when it comes to protecting your rights. The only way to get a temporary order is to first file a Petition for Dissolution. A good divorce lawyer will file all of the initial pleadings on your behalf and get a temporary order for you.