Divorce can be disruptive and emotional, but being prepared can help you navigate the process. Getting organized beforehand will keep you focused and increase your prospects for a fair outcome. Aiello & DiFalco, LLP has created the following divorce preparation checklist to keep you on track.
Though it will take some time before you can move on to the next chapter in your life, take the following steps to be prepared for divorce:
1. Determine Whether You Can Settle Your Divorce Without Going To Court
Generally, there are two types of divorce: uncontested and contested. In an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse agree on important divorce-related issues:
Though court intervention is not necessary for an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse must agree on a parenting plan before the court will grant a divorce. If you cannot agree on all the issues, there are two paths for ending your marriage: divorce mediation or litigation.
2. Consider New Parenting Arrangements
Divorcing parents must create a proposed parenting plan, including deciding which parent will have primary custody of the children or whether custody will be shared, visitation schedules (e.g. overnights and weekends), and holiday and school break schedules. Keeping track of the children’s time with each parent, communication issues, and expenses will help when it comes to determining custody arrangements. Also, all parents must support their children financially. In a divorce, the noncustodial parent will pay child support unless custody is shared. In that situation, the parent who earns more will pay child support.
3. Collect Marriage Documents
Gather documents related to your marriage and estate, including:
- Marriage license
- Prenuptial/postnuptial agreements
- Estate planning documents (e.g. will, trusts, powers of attorney, advance healthcare directives)
- Life insurance policies for either spouse
Remember, beneficiary designations on your estate planning documents and life insurance policies must be updated after the divorce is final.
4. Compile Essential Financial Information
Identify all the financial information you’ll need to hash out property division and child support issues:
- Assets – Compile a list of your marital assets, including the marital home, other real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, credit card debts, medical bills, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, and other investments. The courts require both spouses to provide financial disclosures, but some spouses may attempt to conceal assets. Being as detailed and accurate as possible will help you during the divorce process.
- Debts – Track down documentation of your marital debts, including mortgages, auto loans, joint credit cards, personal loans, and student loans.
- Retirement plans – Retirement accounts such as 401(k) plans, pension plans, and IRAs are subject to equitable division in a divorce, so gather information on any retirement or pension accounts for both spouses
- Income information – Make copies of your spouse’s W-2s or other paycheck information to provide to your divorce lawyer
- Tax returns – Locate copies of your joint tax returns for the last 5 to 10 years if possible
5. Gather Other Personal Information
Collect the following personal information:
- Credit report – Get a free copy of your credit report to ensure your credit profile is accurate and up to date
- Login credentials – Make a list of login information for your joint accounts (bank accounts, credit cards, health insurance)
- Deeds – Locate deeds or other documents identifying the property you own together or separately
- Vehicle titles – Make copies of the titles of cars and other vehicles owned jointly and separately
6. Take Steps to Separate Your Life
Starting a new life after a divorce involves several to-dos, such as:
- Protect your credit – Because divorce may damage your credit rating, close your joint credit card accounts to prevent your spouse from running up bills and open a new credit card in your name to maintain your credit after the divorce.
- Open new bank accounts – If you have joint checking and savings accounts, open new accounts in your name only. Do not move your direct deposit to your new account until your lawyer or the court tells you to, however. Both spouses’ earnings are considered marital property – removing those funds from joint accounts could impact your divorce.
- Protect your online information – Change any passwords to your email and social media accounts, and don’t post any comments about your divorce on social media.
- Set up a P.O. box – If you have a divorce lawyer and expect to get mail related to your divorce, get a P.O. box in your name so you can receive important documents without your spouse having access.
- Find health insurance – Explore your options for health insurance if your spouse’s plan covers you or if you are unemployed.
- Itemize your belongings – Create a list of personal items that belong only to you, like jewelry, family heirlooms, or gifts, and secure them with a family member, if necessary. However, you must disclose these items in financial or other disclosures when the court or an opposing attorney asks.
7. Decide Your Living Arrangements
Many divorcing couples cannot afford to pay for separate dwellings and may need to stay in the same home. If living together is not an option, you must decide which spouse will remain in the marital home while the divorce is pending. If there are minor children, the primary caretaker will likely continue living in the marital home to provide stability for the children.
8. Get Support
Divorce can get messy and complicated. Gather a group of family members and trusted friends who will be there to support you and lend a hand. Also, consider seeking counseling, especially if you are dealing with any trauma, such as domestic violence or substance abuse. Consulting with a financial planner can also help with financial decisions during and after the divorce.
9. Hire A New York Divorce Attorney
Whether your divorce is contentious or amicable, hiring an attorney is the best way to protect your rights. Marriage is a personal and business relationship, and sorting out the details of ending a marriage requires trustworthy advice and guidance. Contact Aiello & DiFalco today to learn how we can help.