Before Divorce – Planning Ahead

The decision to divorce is critical, with consequences that can last a lifetime. Even if you are still contemplating divorce, you should educate yourself and read more about what may or may not lie ahead.

Early Warning Signs Your Marriage is in Trouble

Divorce does not just happen overnight. It builds in steps.

The following are some signs a marriage may be in trouble:

  • You no longer have anything in common.  Communication is virtually non-existent. You live in silence and have separate lives though you spend hours under the same roof.
  • You can’t do anything right.  You feel like every action is watched, judged, and criticized by your spouse.  You may also feel intimidated or afraid because of your spouse’s criticism.
  • A drastic change in appearance.  A drastic decline in personal appearance and hygiene by your spouse could be a sign they no longer care or are happy in the marriage.  Alternatively, a sudden extreme concern for and improvement in personal appearance, along with other indicators such as a sudden need for privacy and change in work habits, may indicate your spouse is cheating.
  • Routine Arguments over the same subject matter.  You continue to engage in and focus on arguments over the same issues with no resolution.
  • No Intimacy. There is a significant decline in physical affection.

Planning for Divorce

When separating from your spouse – regardless of which spouse has made the decision- becomes a reality, then it is time to start preparing for your divorce.

Washington State is a “no-fault” state. Courts don’t care who was at fault in the breakup.  The judge’s role is to determine a fair, or “just and equitable”, division of property and debts, assure spousal support is given under appropriate circumstances, make sure the child support order provides for the children’s needs, and order a parenting plan in the children’s best interests.

During this early phase, neither party needs to leave the home.  Meeting with a divorce attorney for a consult makes sense.

By preparing for divorce, you can reduce much of the stress and conflict that many people face when they rush the divorce process.

The following are 11 important ways to prepare for a divorce

1.   Begin With a Plan

Prepare a fair and realistic list of goals so that you can determine what you want out of the divorce. Many of the following divorce planning suggestions are intended for those who are going through an adversarial divorce, not one where you and your spouse agree on most issues.  All situations are different. You may choose to act on a few of our suggestions or all of them; the decision is up to you based on your relationship with your spouse.

Divorces are always easier to get through when you make a good faith effort to work together amicably. Before you make a choice, weigh the consequences against your divorce and those involved.

2.   Hire the RIGHT Divorce Lawyer

Particularly in adversarial and/or complex divorces, you don’t want to wait way too long to seek legal advice. There are things that you can be doing to protect your assets and set up a more favorable outcome in the event you enter the court system. A lawyer will dispel the many myths that exist in the area of divorce.  Get information on divorce options – uncontested divorce, traditional representation for contested divorce, cooperative and collaborative law, and mediation.

Particularly if your case is a complex divorce you anticipate disputes, you should consult with a divorce attorney to find out your legal rights and, if necessary, hire one to represent you.

Choosing a lawyer to handle your case is not an easy choice. You may have already been let down by a lawyer before.

DO NOT rely on marketing gimmicks that use catchy slogans, self-assessments or commercial campaigns that focus on one gender or another.  Such gimmicks have no effect on outcome.

Endorsements from other attorneys, professional associates, or third party organizations may also not be reliable.  Those persons may have shared business interests or personal relationships, particularly if they are within the same firm.  They also don’t represent the views of actual clients.  Third party organizations often base their criteria entirely on endorsements from other attorneys, including attorneys within the firm, with no input from clients or other objective criteria.

Larger firms vs. smaller firms. Having a larger pool of attorneys and support staff is, by itself, not an important factor in hiring a family law attorney.  In fact, if too many persons are involved in your case, it often results in disorganization and substantially higher fees due to duplication of effort.  Larger firms tend to have substantially higher overhead costs for office space, for staff, to support retired owners or partners, etc. which translates directly to higher legal bills but has no effect on outcome.

  • What to look for in a divorce lawyer: The following 10 factors will help you prioritize the most important factors in choosing the right family law attorney.
  • Does the attorney have a substantial record of satisfied clients, or is there a consistent pattern of negative criticism?
  • Does the attorney limit his or her practice to family law and related matters?
  • Does the attorney have the necessary experience to handle your case? Particularly in complex and highly adversarial cases, several years of experience is necessary to handle your case with expertise.
  • Have you been referred by a former client or trusted professional you have personally worked with?
  • Has the firm or attorney been the subject of bar complaints or lawsuits?  While not all bar complaints and lawsuits are credible, a pattern of complaints is very problematic.
  • If the attorney’s fees and his/her paralegals are substantially more than those with similar qualifications, can they articulate a good reason why?
  • Is the attorney able to answer your questions completely and in terms that are clear to you?
  • Can the lawyer articulate the various options available to resolve your case and provide a clear legal strategy?
  • What percentage of the attorney’s cases go to trial? Between 90-95% of family law cases settle prior to trial, so if more than 10%-15%, it suggests lack of negotiating skills, lack of knowledge or unwillingness to pursue alternative options such as arbitration, or an overly aggressive litigation style, all adverse to your best interests.
  • Will the attorney be handling the case or delegating the bulk of their work to another attorney?  If delegated, can the attorney assure you they will be reviewing their work, as well as the work of paralegals?

3.   Start Gathering Information and Documents

In all cases, it is important to start gathering records and documents now. Even if you believe that your spouse will be completely fair with regard to money, you must take steps to educate yourself about your financial situation.

Start gathering important financial documents such as tax returns, pay stubs, business records, bank statements, investment and retirement account statements, tax bills, receipts, credit card statements, safe deposit records and activity, medical records, and any accounts related to your children. Copy the documents and store them in a safe location.

4.   Make an Inventory of all Personal Property

Prepare a list of personal property items and use a video camera to record it, particularly any property worth over $250 such as pieces of furniture, consumer electronics, paintings, etc.   If you have a safe deposit box or storage unit, be sure to inventory the items in the same way.

5.   Secure Valuable Personal Property

Valuable items, jewelry, personal mementos, and other items that can’t be replaced (photo albums, coin collections, firearms, etc.) should be stored in a safe place. This does not apply to common possessions or community property; it only applies to personal property.  When possible, discuss personal items with your spouse first. It is acceptable for you to take your personal possessions and store them in a safe spot.

6.   Safeguard Joint Accounts

If you do not already have your own bank account titled in your name only, and you fear your spouse will dissipate joint accounts, open a checking and savings account in your name for deposit of earnings and income.  Since checking accounts typically do not pay interest, only keep enough money in there to pay for one or two months of expenses. Keep the rest of the money in the new savings account, which most banks will allow you to link to your checking account. A consult with an attorney is important to determine if additional actions are appropriate such as withdrawal of up to half of your joint funds.

7.   Get a copy of your credit report

You should get copies of your credit report. You want to be able to resolve any disputes as soon as possible. Additionally, you should monitor your credit report to make sure that your spouse is not over charging your joint credit cards or dissipating other marital assets.

8.   See a Mental Health Professional or Clergy Member

If you are contemplating a divorce, you are likely very stressed. You should speak with someone about your situation and see how you are being affected by the process. There may be a need for counseling sessions to deal with the anxiety and other emotional issues. It is vital that you find out your status because, under the circumstances, you are not able to make the evaluation yourself.

9.   Don’t Bad-Mouth Your Spouse to Your Kids or Mutual Friends

It is common for divorcing parents to say terrible things about each other in the presence of the children in an effort to get them on their side. The same thing happens when speaking with the mutual friends.

Though this may win the children over temporarily, if such actions are taken, it is highly detrimental to your children and harmful to your case if parenting disputes are at issue.  King County’s family law court and other local county courts consider ongoing negative remarks, along with other factors indicative of parenting alienation, as “abuse of conflict” which is tantamount to emotional abuse of the child.

10.   Consider Changing your Will and Medical Directives/Living

You may not want your soon-to-be ex-spouse making medical and financial decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated or inherit your portion of the community assets before the divorce is final. Bo Weintraub is experienced in the estate planning area and can revise those documents.

11.   Be Cautious Disclosing Information on Facebook and other Social Media

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) recently released a study that showed more than 80 percent of divorce attorneys have used social media posts (also known as “social networking”) as evidence in divorce court cases in the past six years.   Such evidence may be very damaging to your case.  In one recent case involving a Weintraub Law Office client, for example, the opposing party posted her excitement over applying to realtor school after alleging she was unable to work due to health conditions.  Similarly, in parenting cases, photos of party pics and posts bragging about new relationships is often detrimental.

Once You’ve Decided to Divorce

Once the decision is made, keep the following in mind:

  • Understand and gain control over Divorce’s Psychological Impact. With few exceptions, every divorce will involve the following stages of grief:  shock, denial, anger, and acceptance. However, divorce, like grief, is chaotic and circular, with the stages changing frequently.  The initial emotion, particularly for a spouse who did not anticipate it, is usually shock which can cause great distress and disruption to one’s life.  It is crucial to anticipate, address, and learn to gain control over your emotional state.  Seek an emotional support system with family and close friends.  Find a Divorce Recovery Support Group and/or individual divorce therapist to help address your feelings and get feedback. Get medical treatment if necessary. Don’t stay isolated. Isolation intensifies sadness.  Find relief in a higher spiritual power. Know that you will get over it eventually.   Your divorce will go substantially smoother and your post-divorce life will be exponentially more satisfying if you’ve met this challenge.
  • Do what’s in your children’s best interests. Clients ask how custody is determined.  The answer is courts make their ruling based on what is in the best interest of the children. If parental fitness is a question relating to either spouse, a court-appointed investigation may be ordered and one parent may only get supervised visitation.
  • Identify your goals and objectives. Prioritize what you want and the importance of each.
  • Collect documents and information. As noted previously, gather tax returns, pay stubs, spending records, mortgage applications, business records, all banking statements, and medical records, and any accounts related to your children.
  • Hire the RIGHT Divorce Attorney.  It is very important to obtain legal help so you are fully aware of your legal rights and available divorce options.
  • Do not attempt to represent yourself without legal advice. It is understandable if your case is adversarial and you cannot afford an attorney to represent you, you may have to represent yourself.  In that case, it is still highly advisable you seek legal advice.  Representing yourself is particularly challenging and detrimental if your case is highly adversarial, complex, or your spouse is represented by an attorney.  The courts in Washington are mandated to hold pro-se litigants to the same standards as attorneys, and changing a final court order or decree is only allowed under narrow and exceptional circumstances.
  •  Prepare a Divorce Budget Worksheet. You should begin to prepare a projected budget based on current and anticipated income and expenses to anticipate how much income you’ll need to pay for ongoing expenses.  See Divorce Budget Worksheet

At Weintraub Law Office, we have successfully represented hundreds of clients and appreciate your interest in choosing us to help resolve your case. To schedule a low cost 30 or 60 minute consultation at our offices, please call +1 425 374 4045 or contact us online.