Protecting yourself before filing 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 starting a divorce case is to sit down and have a frank and 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 strained or 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 to force an agreement on 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 to protect you and your children from an abusive spouse.
- If custody of your children is an issue, do not move out and leave the children with your spouse. In most cases a judge will try to keep the status quo in place for the children at the start 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 made a decision you believed to be in the children’s best interest. 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.
- Protect your financial records – make copies of tax returns, pay stubs, employment contracts, retirement account information, deeds, titles, loan applications, credit card statements, bank account statements and other such records. If possible, get 3 years of these records. Keep your copies of these records in a safe location away from the family home. Your divorce lawyer will want a copy of those documents as well.
- Protect your interest in cash accounts. You may have joint checking and savings accounts with large cash balances. In order to protect your interest in these accounts, consider putting half of any cash balances into an account this is solely in your name and to which only you have access. Keep an accounting of any money you remove.
- Get a temporary order put in place now. The only way to get a temporary order is to first file a Petition for Dissolution, which is done by your divorce attorney. A temporary order restrains the sale of the property, requires insurance policies to be maintained, sets child support, puts a temporary parenting plan in place, awards spousal maintenance (alimony), and addresses other immediate issues that need resolve.