Thursday, September 29, 2011

Where do I start? - 5 things to know

Perhaps the scariest part of going through a divorce is the beginning.  Where do you start?  What do you need to do?  The simple answer is call an attorney.  But you need to be prepared to answer all of the questions the attorney will ask you.  You need to be prepared to give the attorney all of the information they will ask from you.  So, here is a list of 5 things you can do to get you started.  It's a basic list, and by all means, not complete, but at least you'll have something to give the attorney when you have that first consultation.

1. Show me the money! - I hate to say it but divorce is about money and kids.  Do you know where your money is?  Do you know where your spouses money is?  Are you sure about that?  In today's economy, many people are in debt rather than saving a bunch of money in a savings account or investing in the market.  But even a small savings is worth protecting.  Get your pay stubs together.  Get your bank account records together.  Get your investment account records together.  Get your retirement account records together. Etc. Etc. Etc.  You get the point.  When you meet with the attorney, if you can bring your records to the meeting ready for the attorney to analyze, this will help the attorney get a better understanding about the issues involved in your divorce.  If you're going to spend your hard-earned money on an attorney, you should maximize the value of your investment.  Why waste the attorney's time and your money not being prepared?

2. How well do you know your kids? - Names, dates of birth, social security numbers, schools, medical issues, day care providers, relationships to other relatives, time spent with the other spouse, history of violence and abuse, exposure to drugs and alcohol, etc.  Be prepared to give this information to your attorney if you have children.  In my experience, there's one thing people care more about than their money and it's their kids.  The more you can tell your attorney about your kids the better the attorney will be able to explain some of the issues you will encounter during your divorce, such as child support, parenting time, limitations/conditions on visitation, health care, doctors bills, expert witnesses, etc.  A divorce with children is about the best interest of the children, not the parents; however, the more information you can give your attorney about your children, the better the attorney can prepare your case to defend what you believe to be in the best interests of your children.

3. You are more than what you own! - You've worked hard to get the things you own, even if it may not seem like much, it's still yours.  Your attorney is going to want to know about all of the property you and your spouse own.  Do you own a home?  If so, get your mortgage records together and try to get an idea of what your house is worth if you sell it.  If you know a realtor or appraiser, they might be able to give you a general idea.  Do you own any vehicles?  Get the loan records together so you can tell the attorney how much is owed on each of your vehicles.  What about jewelry, boats, jetskis, furniture, photographs, lawn equipment, etc.  Usually, anything valued at $250 or more is important but if something is important to you (i.e. photographs, your mother's lamp, the dog, etc.), then they need to be included.  You might write all of these things down on a sheet of paper before you meet with your attorney.  That way you can hand the attorney a piece of paper instead of talking about each thing item-by-item, spending a lot of valuable time on something your attorney can make sense of just by reading your paper.

4. You said what on Facebook? - Protect your online identity.  Most social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ give you the ability to hide your account from people.  I strongly advise you to do this immediately.  Then log out of your account and see if you can find your account and what you can see about yourself.  Remember, anything you post on your Facebook page or your friend's Facebook page will be read by someone, printed by someone, and used against you in court by your spouses attorney.  Assume this to be the case.  For example, I have seen people posting messages on Facebook about their boyfriend (i.e. not their husband) and joking about how they need to keep it a secret.  People post pictures of vacations they take with their secret lovers.  People post pictures of themselves at parties getting wasted (sometimes with their kids in the background).  Don't be stupid.  Protect yourself.  Someone is always watching and it will be used against you.

5. Take a deep breath, be honest and write it down! - Divorce is hard.  It's probably going to be the worst experience of your life.  Don't be afraid to get counseling to help you through it.  There's no shame in wanting to discuss with a professional  the emotional challenges you face in divorce.  Also, keep a diary, a daily log of things that happen during your divorce, although I would keep the personal stuff to the counselor or the attorney since people might read your diary.  Keep track of when you see your kids, what you do with them, the time you spend, the things you buy for them.  Divorce is stressful.  You might have to testify in court.  You're going to be emotional.  A diary will help you remember all of these things amidst all of the stress and anxiety you feel.  And remember, this too shall pass.  It really will.  Just don't forget to pick yourself up when it's done.  You deserve to be happy again.


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