January is called ‘Divorce Month’ because, almost every year, more divorce cases are filed in that month than any other. This year, with everyone having the additional difficulty of living through a worldwide pandemic, it is likely the number of cases will be even higher (I hope this is not true, but based on the increased volume of family law cases in 2020, it’s likely). So, if your 2021 includes a divorce, this article may help. Here is a list of 4 things you should do to prepare for filing for divorce.
#1: Consult with a Divorce Lawyer: Over the years, a number of friends and family have asked whether they need a divorce lawyer or not. I always tell them YES. Now, financial realities may impact whether or not the ongoing services of an attorney are feasible, but a consult is wise. If you have the resources to avail yourself of an attorney’s services and support, I do believe everyone can benefit from having a good divorce lawyer on their side.
For your consult, it is important to find the right attorney (please see my prior blog below: “Hiring the Best Family Law Attorney for You” from 9.9.19). At the start of this process, it is VERY important to consider the advice you are taking and the type of lawyer you want before you ever start interviewing potential counsel to represent you. Do you want to have a big fight and take your pound of flesh…or do you want to get a fair resolution without spending everything you have accumulated to get divorced? Take the time to consider what you want, what you’re willing to accept, and how you want to get there. A good attorney, who is experienced in family law, can strongly advocate for you while avoiding incurring unnecessary fees and costs. However, if you have a situation involving children and their well-being is at risk, by all means protect the children and find an attorney with a strong track record in high-conflict family law cases and the areas that impact yours.
#2: Assess Your Assets:
Determine what assets you have. You should start looking at all of your financial accounts, life insurance policies, investment accounts, real estate, and any property you may own (cars, house, art, jewelry). For all of your accounts, I would encourage you to get account statements, log in information, and verify beneficiaries. Regarding property, it would be helpful to get Kelly Blue Book values for cars and toys (NADA may be necessary), to determine their values.
#3: Assess Your Debts:
Determine all of your collective debt. Any debt obtained during the marriage will be community debt; any debt incurred prior to marriage will be separate debt. There are some exceptions, but that is the general rule. You should get account statements for all of the debt. Student loans are one area that you should consider, as often these debts are incurred as a combination with part before and part after the marriage. Try to consider what the loans were used for. Not a wise financial decision, but I used part of my student loans to take a nice family vacation. In a circumstance like that, it can be easily argued that the debt is one of the community. Finally, as with your assets described in #2 above, you should also get statements and log in information for these accounts as well.
#4: Make a Plan:
I have written a couple of articles on making a plan, so please read those articles as well, but you need to have a plan to help you and your attorney achieve your goal. I really like the Navy Seal R.E.A.C.T., plan described in detail in my 10.3.20 blog, which stands for:
Recognize your reality
Evaluate your assets and position
Asses your options and outcomes
Choose a direction…and communicate it
Take action…get off the “X”
My final piece of advice, if divorce is a part of your 2021, is this: Divorce can be hard. As you’re taking stock of your assets and liabilities, I cannot overstate how important it is to identify and lean on your support system! Everyone’s squad looks different, so identify the friends and family you can count on for unconditional love and support as you go through this. When you identify, please keep in mind that I’m referring specifically to the people who will be PURE YOU. Let me be clear: Everyone will not. In every marriage, friends and family are shared…and in every divorce, people will pick sides. It’s natural, but painful nonetheless. Rethink your squad through the lens of this divorce. Your support system needs to be composed of people you can 100% count on for discretion and unconditional regard FOR THIS MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE…and beyond. Your need to count on your team for discretion, loyalty, and positivity. This is going to be emotionally and psychologically draining as it is, and having someone on your support team who betrays, leaves, or hurts you is not a distraction you want to invite. With the right attorney and loved ones, you will be on the journey toward starting something new.
Jason Castle is a family lawyer who specializes in high-conflict cases. He's also a former prosecutor & social worker. Hear his latest divorce thoughts!