Anyone that has been through, or is currently going through, a divorce or custody case knows that sometimes time seems to stand still.It can feel as if you are helpless and that there is nothing you can do to get an advantage in your case.
In this article, we offer you 15 steps you can take right now if you are getting divorced or going through a custody battle. These steps will help you protect your property, finances and children in your custody or divorce case.
Seriously! What are you waiting for?
Even if you just do 1 or 2 of the items on this list, it can go a long way to securing your future, protecting your assets and they may even help resolve your divorce or custody case faster.
1. Safeguard Your Good Credit By Running A Credit Report ImmediatelyMost people work their whole life to obtain and maintain good credit. Despite this, one of the biggest mistakes we see in divorce cases is people that run up debt prior to filing for divorce. Or even worse…we see one spouse run up debt in the hopes of forcing the other spouse to pay half the debt at the time of divorce. In order to preserve your good credit, or if you hope to obtain a better credit rating once your divorce is final, you should immediately run your credit report.
Not sure how to check your credit? There are three major consumer reporting agencies in the United States:
You are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three reporting agencies above.
Beware of using one of those heavily advertised companies to obtain your credit report. Most of those companies ask you to subscribe to a service that monitors your credit scores. And, if you don’t cancel the subscription service within a certain period of time, your credit card will be charged.
This defeats the purpose of checking your credit and limiting your debt prior to divorce.
Instead, we recommend that you obtain your credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com. Annual Credit Report is a federally mandated credit reporting site where you can truly get your credit report at this website for free. In addition, you can obtain a report from all three of the reporting agencies.
Keep in mind that you can check your credit as often as you need without it negatively affecting your credit score but you do have to pay for your FICO score.
If you believe that your ex is running up debt, you should continue to check your credit history and your credit score while your divorce is ongoing.
Besides keeping track of your existing credit, you should also try to fix any errors on your credit report while your divorce is pending
To fix a mistake on your credit report, you should go directly to the source.
For example, if you see that you are showing a non-payment for your Target Credit Card, you should go to Target or call their credit department directly to dispute the charge. You might even need to provide proof of payment for your card in order to have the mistake removed. However, fixing little errors in your credit history can go a long way to improving your credit score.
A good credit history and credit score can be the difference between being able to purchase a home or buy a car once your divorce is final.
2. Avoid Large Tax Penalties Get Your Taxes In Order Now
Most people don’t realize that the year they get divorced is the year they MUST file single, unmarried on their tax returns.
This means even if your divorce is final December 26, 2018, you will be considered single for 2018 tax reporting purposes.
This can lead to new deductions and new tax obligations.If you are going through a divorce, it is important to start planning for your tax obligations right now for 2 reasons:
- You need to get your taxes in order before your divorce is final so that you don’t owe a huge amount to the IRS because you didn’t withhold enough as a single, unmarried person AND
- So that you can take advantage of deductions that may not have been available to you when you were married.
Like we said before, we are family law attorney not tax professionals and we can’t give you tax advice.
But what we can do is offer the following tips for finding a tax professional:
- Make sure your tax professional is qualified: You will probably want to hire a CPA, tax lawyer or Enrolled Agent. You can check your tax professional’s credentials by going to the IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications.
- Make sure your tax professional hasn’t been in trouble: You can check on the internet for reviews, ask the Better Business Bureau or if you are hiring a CPA, check your State’s Board of Accountancy to see if your tax professional has had any trouble from the State or the IRS For Enrolled Agents, go to the verify enrolled agent status page on IRS.gov or check the directory.
- Get an answer about fees: A reputable tax preparer will have no problem discussing their fees with you and will be upfront about any service fees or other obligations. Avoid any tax professional who bases their fees on a percentage of any refund you might receive.
- Make sure your tax professional can get the job done timely: It isn’t unusual to see tax preparers set up shop right before the IRS filing deadline in April and then close shop right after. This doesn’t help you because you need to start planning for your divorce now and the divorce may end in October. When looking for a tax preparer you will want to find someone who’s available on a regular basis not just during tax season.
3. Ensure Your Children’s Future. Address Your Children’s College Funds Now.
Most people going through a divorce or custody case don’t realize that child support usually ends when the child turns 18 or graduates from high school.
This means that there is no obligation for a parent to continue to support a child beyond the child’s graduation from high school. This includes paying for college or college related expenses.
Simply stated, there is no law that requires parents to pay for the kids’ college.
For most of our divorce and custody clients, the idea that a parent can’t be forced to contribute to their child’s college education is shocking.
In reality, it is the law.
To get ahead in your custody or divorce case, figure out now how you will address your children’s college education.
Figure out how you are going to save for your child’s education
There are lots of different options when saving for your kid’s college education.
Here are a few ways to save for your kid’s college:
- Open a savings account: Savings accounts are simple to open and easy to fund. However, the interest rate on a savings plan often doesn’t keep up with inflation which means your savings account could be worth less in 18 years. Furthermore, any contributions are after you’ve already paid taxes on the money put into the account. And probably most important - you will need to decide which parent controls the account. This can lead to substantial conflict and post-decree motions if a parent stops contributing or the managing parent takes money from the account.
- Establish a 529 Plan: 529 college savings plans allow parents to invest after-tax money into diversified, low-cost stock and bond funds and then withdraw the money tax-free for qualified education expenses. 529 Plans usually offer great tax advantages and are usually considered favorably when calculating your child’s financial aid for college. The downside of 529 plans is that the money must be used for college otherwise there are large tax penalties.
- Establish A UTMA or UGMA Account: Money saved in these custodial accounts can be spent on anything like cars, airline tickets or computers as long as the funds are used for the benefit of your child. And, there is no limit as to how much you can invest. However, there are significant tax implications for these accounts to your children. And, your child can gain access to the account at age 18 and can use the money for whatever they want.
While these are just a few of the options available for saving for your child’s college, we are family law attorneys.
We suggest you contact your financial planner or tax professional to determine the best option for the type of saving you will want to use for your child’s college fund.
Next, you need to figure out how you will fund your child’s college education.
This can be as simple as coming to an agreement with your ex that you will each contribute a monthly or annual amount to your child’s college account.
You can also agree with your ex that in lieu of child support or alimony, your ex will fund your child’s college education.
If you and your ex cannot agree on how to pay for your child’s college education, you can always ask the judge to order your ex help you pay for your children’s college education.
However…in most jurisdictions, there is no requirement for a parent to pay for a child once the child reaches 18 or graduates from high school.
So, if you find yourself begging your ex to assist with your child’s college fund, chances are you are going to have to help pay for your child’s college on your own.
If this is the case, you need to plan ahead.
Consider asking for extra in alimony or asking for increases in child support. This way, you can take that extra amount and put it into your kids’ college savings.
Knowing how you will fund your child’s future right now, will help you better strategize and plan your divorce or custody case.
4. Prepare For The Road Ahead By Creating A Budget
One of my favorite parts of a divorce trial is shattering the opposing spouse’s request for alimony.
I do this by going through their financial disclosure form and arguing that their listed expenses will decrease once their divorce is over and therefore, the request for alimony is inflated.
However, I know the weakness in my own strategy.
If an opposing spouse ever presented a budget for future expenses, my entire argument would be over.
And guess what? I would lose.
So, if you are planning to ask for alimony you should create a budget for your post-divorce life ASAP.
Simple. Keep a piece of paper with you at all times and every single time you spend money write it down on the piece of paper. At the end of 30 days you need to add up your expenses and see how much you spent.
Then factor in your income. What have you deposited in the bank? How much cash do you have stashed? Etc.
Again, keep track for 1 month. This should give you a general idea of how much you are bringing in and how much you are spending.Now, it’s time to create the budget for your future.
First, you need to gather your last few years of tax returns. Tax returns will show you exactly how much income you received and your spouse received along with income sources.
When creating your budget make sure to transfer only your individual income numbers from your tax returns onto your Budget because after you are divorced your spouse’s income won’t matter.Next, it’s time for the rubber to meet the road – Calculating Expenses
Take a look at every expenditure you made on your piece of paper over the last month. You will need to create categories and fill in the blank for each type of expense that pertains to your own lifestyle.
Remember that some of the expenses you had were for “married expenses and some were for single expenses.”
For example, your Starbucks purchase was probably a single expense and while your dinner out with your soon to be ex might be a married expense. You will need to separate your single expenses from your married expenses moving forward.
In addition, you will need to start considering what it will cost you, and only you to live. It is important to take the time to get these number right because they can affect your well-being for years to come.
There are lots of sample budgets available on-line but the ones we like best are available here:Determine what can be eliminated and what you can cut back on.
Again, the purpose is to create a budget to be used for an alimony request. A judge is unlikely to award alimony if you have a $2,500 a month car payment or if you spend $500 a month on hair and nails.
However, if you create a list of necessary expenses and your expenses still exceed your income there is a good chance, the judge will award you alimony.
After you have spent time creating your budget don’t forget to give it to your family law attorney to present to the judge.
5. Preserve Your Personal Property. Create A Video Log Pronto!
Often parties going through a divorce find a prized possession missing or broken.
This why we strongly recommend that if you have personal property that could be at issue in the divorce you make a video record of that property. TODAY!
Not sure how to create a good video log? Follow these simple steps:
First start in a simple place. You will usually want to pick a contained area like your sporting goods closet, purse shelf or jewelry box.
Next you will want to capture each item and describe it for the video log.
For example, you might describe the contents of a kitchen cabinet: "Seasonal Blue Serving Set by Lenox, service for 12 that includes a dinner plate, salad plate, bowl, cup and saucer. Purchased in 2010."
You will want to take your video inventory room by room, cabinet by cabinet, shelf by shelf.
For large ticket items such as TVs or large pieces of furniture, make sure to capture the items and include serial numbers.
Be sure to make note of the make and model of certain items such as TVs, large appliances and other electronics.
If you have receipts or credit card statements that can prove the items was purchased make sure to keep these separate as you may need them later.
You can also photograph items as needed if creating a video log is too overwhelming or time consuming.BONUS TIPS:
Be sure to video new or large ticket items and don’t forget to inventory items kept off site, like a boat, ATVs, RV or items inside a storage unit. Don’t forget to video log any contents in a safe or safety deposit box as well.
Also, it is important to date and time stamp the video log so that your judge will know that the items were in your home recently.
Finally, don’t get too overwhelmed creating the video log. Chances are if you forgot to put it in the log, it really didn’t mean that much to you anyway and won’t really be a factor in your divorce case.
6. Avoid False Accusations Of Inflated Income. Get Your Paycheck Stubs
Because our law practice is in Las Vegas, a lot of our clients work in tip professions meaning that they receive a base pay but the vast majority of their earned from tips.
This can lead to crazy allegations when an opposing party is asking for alimony or child support.
It is not unusual for an opposing party to allege that a craps dealer earns $75,000 a year or a cocktail server earns $95,000 a year.
While this may be true in very rare cases, proving income for a tip earning employee isn’t that difficult.
Almost every tip earner is required to report their tips to their employer through mandatory tip compliance.
Simply, it shows right on the employee’s paycheck what the employee’s tip rate is.
So how do you avoid false allegations of inflated income?
Get your paycheck stubs and provide them to your family law attorney.
Not only will have your most recent paycheck stubs help if you are a tip earner, providing your paycheck stubs can also show your family court judge decreases in income, a trend towards less overtime pay, your actual earnings without bonuses, etc.
Since most States calculate child support from gross earnings, it is important to have your most current paycheck stubs to avoid allegations of inflated income.
7. Get Your Bank Statements Together
So many times, in our family law practice we hear clients say they are not producing their bank records because it’s none of their ex’s business.
And…they are wrong.
Bank records are often the hidden gem of a family law case involving child support or alimony.
Not only can bank records help show what money is being spent and where, bank records can also lead me to hidden assets including other bank accounts, large stashes of money and sometimes, even a hidden boyfriend or girlfriend.Bank records show deposits made into an account.
In cases where there is a dispute in income, this is particularly important.
We have already talked about getting paycheck stubs but bank statements will show whether your ex’s tip compliance is accurate. If your ex is depositing more into a bank account than is being reported on the paycheck chances are your ex isn't accurately reporting tips.
Likewise, bank records can show income from other sources such as rental income, investment income or side jobs.
Producing your bank records can also protect you from allegations of inflated income. Just like producing your paycheck stubs, if your bank records show your deposits are similar to your tip compliance, it will be difficult for your ex to argue you are hiding income.
In calculating child support or alimony, being able to identify all sources of income is critical.Bank records show money out...and much much more!
Bank statements are great at providing proof of where money was spent, how much money was spent and when.We can establish residency through bank records
: For example, in our office we recently went to trial on a custody case where the mother wanted to take custody away from the father. The mother was a flight attendant based in California. We argued that mother lived in California and therefore, could not exercise custody equally since her daughter lived in Nevada. We used her bank records to show that she was paying rent in California, paying utilities and gym memberships in California, buying groceries there, etc. There was no doubt in the judge’s mind that Mom lived in California and her request to modify custody was denied.We can show hidden assets through bank records
: We have used bank records to show a spouse bleeding assets from the community. Specifically, we could see that the husband was depositing money into the parties’ joint bank account, but we could also see that he was withdrawing $200 or $400 at a time. We were then able to prove to the Court that husband was withdraw about $1,500 a month for the last year in cash and we successfully argued that he was hiding cash.We can show community waste through bank records
: In one case, we were able to show that wife had a shopping addiction. First, we could see that wife had obtained several loans that were deposited into the parties’ joint bank accounts. We were then able to use bank records showing wife taking almost every dollar out of the parties’ joint accounts to purchase items at various stores. When we totaled the money taken in from loans and gifts (about $95,000) and compare them to purchases made by wife which totaled almost $95,000. The judge ultimately determined that the wife wasted $95,000 and that she owed money back to the husband for her community waste.
In most divorce or custody cases, proving bank statements is required. But you should look at the obligation to provide bank statements as an opportunity to protect your alimony or child support case.
8. Know Your Medical Future Determine Your Health Insurance Costs This is probably one of the most overlooked pieces of a divorce or custody case.
And…it is probably also one of the most important.
You need to know the cost of health insurance not only because it makes sense but also because it can help you calculate child support and alimony.
By now you might be asking “how do I figure out the cost of my insurance and what my children’s insurance premiums are?”
If you are paying for health insurance for yourself, your spouse and/or your children, start with your paycheck.
Your paycheck should breakdown the deductions for health insurance.
If your paycheck doesn’t show you separate amounts for yourself, your spouse and your children, you should go to your human resources and ask for a breakdown.
Still can’t figure it out?
Ask your human resources (or health insurance company) for a rate sheet for an individual, individual and spouse, individual and child and family plan.
Once you have this information, you’ll need to do some basic math.
Let’s assume that your employer provides the following information for insurance:
- Individual $100 per check
- Individual + spouse $150 per check
- Individual + child $175 per check
- Family Plan $200 per check
To calculate your spouse’s insurance rate, subtract the individual rate from the individual + spouse rate.
In the example above, it would look like this: $150 (individual + spouse rate) - $100 (individual rate). This means insurance for your spouse would be $50 per paycheck.
Using the same example to figure out the rate for a child, you would take the individual rate and subtract it from the individual+child rate. Again, based on the example about it would look like this: $175 (individual+child) - $100 (individual rate) = $75 per paycheck.
Now, you need to know how many paychecks you have a year. If you are paid weekly, you’d need to multiple the per paycheck rate by 52 weeks, at twice a month you’d need to multiply the per paycheck rate by 26, and so on.
This will give you an annual amount paid for health insurance for a spouse and/or child.
Remember . . . alimony and child support are calculated based on a monthly amount.
Therefore, if you are asking for some consideration for health insurance premiums in an alimony or child support case, you will need to figure out a monthly amount paid for health insurance premiums.
To do this, take the annual amount we figured out above and divide by 12.
And…there you have it… a monthly health insurance amount for a spouse and/or children.
So now you are asking “What does this mean for my custody or divorce case?”
Once you know the monthly amount for insurance, you can easily calculate deviations for child support and you can easily ascertain alimony amounts.
For child support, if you are the parent paying child support, you might want to ask the Court to reduce your child support amount by the monthly cost of the amount you are paying for health insurance for your children.
This could save you thousands of dollars in extra, unnecessary child support payments while ensuring your children maintain health insurance.
On the other hand, if you find that the costs of continuing to insure your children is too expensive now that you are single, you might want to look for cheaper options like a private policy or a policy through your ex’s employer.
Likewise, if you are getting divorced and your ex insures you, you need to figure out how much your health insurance will cost on your own.
BONUS TIP: Be sure to ask your employer if a divorce is a qualifying event that makes you eligible for insurance outside of your open enrollment period.
As you can see, knowing the cost of insurance for yourself, your spouse and/or your children can help you prepare for child support calculations or alimony requests before your case is over.
9. Secure Your Prized Possessions And Important Documents As Soon As Possible.
It is not unheard of in a divorce case that a client’s social security card, passport or other prized baseball card collection goes missing.
Even worse and more upsetting is when we know our client’s ex has a document or prized possession and refuses to return it.
This can lead additional legal fees and a significantly longer litigation process.
To avoid the extra time and cost, we recommend that you secure your prized possessions and important documents before your divorce is over.And yes…you can remove these items from your home, but you must follow the steps below:
Protect Your Personal Possessions: Move valuable documents such as your passport, social security cards, birth certificates and other identifying information outside of your home.
Do not secure them in your car or office. The number of times we have heard from clients that their car was broken into or their ex got into their office is uncountable.
Keep these documents somewhere that your ex cannot ever get to them life a friend’s house or a safe deposit box.
Get Copies of Important Documents
It is often our experience that once a spouse leaves important documents behind, you may never see them again.
Before you move out copy everything and we mean everything! Documents you should have copies of include:
- joint tax returns
- titles to vehicles
- deeds to real property
- bank statements
- credit card statements
- estate planning document such as will or trusts
Be sure your lawyer has copies of everything!
Secure personal possessions that matter to you
You are permitted to secure your family photos, clothing and other mementos that mean something to you.
Keep a list of what you removed and be prepared to return the items if needed.
However, removing such items will ensure that the items are kept safe during the divorce proceeding.
10. Assess Your Banking Situation And Prepare For Financial Independence
Whether you have a joint account with your soon to be ex or you have been keeping your money in separate accounts, you need to assess your banking situation now.
You need to start preparing for your life as a single, unmarried person.
This means getting your financial house in order by following these steps:Set up a bank account in your own name
You don’t have to wait for your divorce to be final before you establish your own bank account.
You should compare institutions and determine the best place to meet your banking needs.
If you plan to travel after your divorce is final, you might be best served by finding a national bank as opposed to a local or regional bank.
You also need to decide whether you want access to 24-hour banking support.
Finally, decide what the minimum amount is to open an account, whether you will be charged ATM fees, maintenance fees and other costs. Then open the account in YOUR NAME ONLY.Start Figuring Out How To Close Joint Accounts
If your divorce is amicable, you should talk to your spouse about closing joint accounts.
Make sure you have decided who will be paying which bills and start switching over any automatic bill pays to your own bank account.
If there is money in your joint account, you will need to determine how much you are entitled to and how much your spouse will take.
If your divorce isn’t amicable, chances are you are going to have to keep your joint accounts open a little longer.
You probably wont have to continue to make deposits into the joint account, but you should plan to deposit money into the account to pay joint obligations so long as your divorce is pending.If You Have Questions Ask Your Divorce Lawyer
Before taking drastic steps like draining a bank account or cutting off access to lines of credit, etc. talk to your divorce lawyer.
Also, if you believe your spouse will drain accounts, you should talk to your divorce lawyer about freezing accounts.
11. Stay Ahead Of The Opposing Party By Saving For Your Divorce Attorney
There are a million articles about how to anticipate costs for divorce and what you should know about hiring a divorce attorney and their fees.
While these articles are helpful, they leave out one critical element – saving enough money and planning for the long haul if your case cannot settle quickly.
Sure. Lots of articles suggest ways to cut short the divorce process or tips on how to save money during a custody battle.
But what if that isn’t possible?
What if your ex wants to “take it to the judge?” What if there is no easy way to resolve your divorce or custody dispute?
You need to plan ahead!
Make sure you have enough money saved so that you have legal representation from the beginning of your case through the end.
How much is enough to fund my divorce or custody litigation?
A lot of this answer depends on how adversarial your divorce or custody case is and how much your attorney will cost.
If you have an easy case where nothing is really disputed, on average you should plan to spend somewhere between $1,000 to $3,000 for attorney’s fees and court costs.
If your case is hotly contested and you will need to have a trial, you should plan for somewhere between $5,000 and $50,000.
Now we know there is a BIG difference between $5K and $50K so this is where talking to your attorney can help.
Sit down with your family law attorney and ask how much they expect your case to cost.
An experienced family law attorney should be able to roughly estimate the entirety of legal expenses from the filing of your case through a trial.
Some attorneys might even be willing to provide you with a budget or proposal for litigation costs. Don’t be afraid to ask for this!
Knowing how much you can expect to spend should help you save for your legal representation.
Don’t Forget to Ask Your Lawyer About Additional Expenses
There is more to putting on a family court case than just the fees you pay to your lawyer.
To be sure you have saved enough for your legal defense, don’t forget to ask your lawyer about expenses other than legal fees.
These expenses can include but are not limited to:
- Custody evaluations
- Reunification therapists
- Domestic violence assessments
- Forensic accountants
- Business valuation experts
- Deposition costs and court reporter fees
- Transcript costs
- Court costs
- Subpoena and process server fees
- Appeal costs
- Copy costs
- Long distance charges
Keep Enough Money For Your Legal Defense
Once you have had a frank discussion with your lawyer, plotted out any extra costs and received a litigation budget, you need to gather funds.
There are a few ways to do this:Ask if your lawyer will take a payment plan or at least understanding the timing of your legal fees:
Some lawyers bill by the hour and bill monthly. Other lawyers charge flat fees and others may bill on a piece by piece basis. Understanding how your lawyer bills and when you will be asked to make payments will help you plan for your legal defense. You should talk to your lawyer about making payment arrangements. For example, if you know your case is going to go to trial and it will cost about $5,000, you should talk to your lawyer about making monthly payments towards your trial fees now.Use marital assets to pay attorney’s fees:
Some people will use a loan against their 401(k) or cash in some savings to pay for attorney’s fees. While there is nothing wrong with this, you should expect that the Court may offset any savings you take against another asset or order you to pay back the 401(k) loan on your own. Before you use marital assets to pay attorney’s fees you should talk to your lawyer.Take a personal loan:
Some people don’t want to ask friends or family for money for their divorce or custody case. One way to ensure you have enough saved for your legal defense is to take a personal loan. If you do this, check in to financing and be sure you can afford any monthly payments owed. Also, be sure you are receiving a favorable interest rate and decent terms.Use a credit card:
Many lawyers take credit card payments. Even if you have joint credit cards you can still use your credit card to fund your divorce litigation. Often, a judge will hold both parties accountable for the debts on a credit card but the reallocate the amount of lawyers fees to the party incurring those costs. Often though credit card rates are high so if you are using a credit card to fund your defense compare rates.
In order to best protect yourself, your family, your property and your finances, be sure you have enough money to fund your litigation.
12. Don't Turn A Blind Eye Towards Your Debts
Just because you're getting a divorce doesn't mean your financial obligations end.
This is true whether you are paying your mortgage or your credit card bills.
Of course, divorce is stressful and may create much bigger issues that paying your bills.
But...at the end of the day, your creditors expect to be paid. Otherwise, you should expect to have even bigger problems.
So the moral of this story is to get ahold of your debts and face them head on.Know what debts you have
Before you can figure out who will be responsible for paying what debts, you need to know what debts you owe.
You can do this by running a credit report to see what credit card debts and other debts you have outstanding.
You should probably ask your soon to be ex to also run a credit report to see what debt your ex owes.
Check your bank statements. Insist on seeing what bills come in the mail. Review your tax returns.
And...you should keep in mind that just because your ex opened a credit card in their own name, doesn't mean it wont be considered a community debt and you could be responsible for some or even all of it.Steps to take once you know what debts you and your spouse owe
Once you know what debts you have, you should talk to your spouse about cancelling or freezing any accounts that you don't use. If your spouse doesn't agree to freeze or cancel accounts, talk to your divorce lawyer about what you can do in Court to keep your ex from using these accounts.
You also need to decide if you and your ex will pay the debts jointly or separately.
If you decide to pay the debts jointly, you can use community funds such as savings or funds from the sale of property to pay down the debts.
If you decide to take separate debts, you have a few options. One might be to transfer the debt to a credit card in your name only. Another option might be to refinance the debt into your own name. Finally, you might try to take a loan, such as a debt consolidation loan, to pay off the debts.
If you decide to pay debts separately, you need to reach out to your creditors. At the end of the day, creditors are not bound by your divorce decree and if your ex doesn't pay the debts they agreed to pay, the creditors can still come after you. Ask what you can do to protect yourself in the event that your ex doesn't pay the debts they agreed to be responsible for.
13. Figure Out Your Housing Situation Now
Many people going through a divorce often ask themselves where they are going to live once the divorce is final.
Some people choose to stay in the marital residence while others want a fresh start and find something new.
No matter what direction you choose, you need to figure it out. Now!
Sell Your Home
One option is to sell your home.
If this is what you choose to do, you should start the process immediately. After all, you don’t want to continue living with your ex under the same roof after the divorce is over…waiting for your house to sell?
You should immediately begin the process of finding an appraiser for your house.
You should also figure out who you will use as a realtor and make sure your spouse agrees to the realtor, appraiser and listing price.
You and your spouse should discuss what your bottom line price is for the home and discuss this with the chosen realtor. Agreements should be drafted to ensure that neither spouse can take a low ball offer or set offers too high to keep the house from selling.
Finally, you will want to have a home inspection and plan for any repairs that need to be completed before the house is sold. If there are major repairs, you should try to reach agreements with your spouse as to how those repairs will be paid for.
Buy Your Spouse Out Of The Home
This is another option if you decide that you want to stay in the marital residence.
If you can’t afford to outright buy out your spouse, you will need to refinance the home, take a loan or line of credit to pay off your spouse.
Obtaining financing to buy out your spouse could take time so it is best to start working on this now.
You will probably still want to get the house appraised but you and your spouse will need to agree on a “buy out amount.”
If you choose to buy out your spouse, be sure that you can afford the mortgage and cost of the marital residence on your own once your divorce is final.
Buy A New Home
If you decide you don’t want to stay in the marital residence after the divorce, you could consider buying a home.
Again, this is a process you need to start now.
You will probably want to find something affordable but that might also be in the same school zone where your children attend school.
You will need to obtain a home loan and you will need to be sure you have enough income to qualify for the loan.
Rent A Place
In many cases, renting seems like the most reasonable option.
Usually, our clients want to be sure they are making the right moves financially but also for their kids.
It is a lot easier to rent a place nearby than it is to buy or try to afford the marital residence on one income.
Taking an extra year or more can also help you build your credit, get your finances in order and save for a new place.
Whatever you choose, it is best to plan your next steps now rather than wait for the divorce to be finalized. By then, it is probably already too late.
14. Change Your Passwords Or Even Get New Accounts
Whether you are going through a divorce or custody battle it is important to change your passwords or even set up new accounts altogether.
According to a Pew Research Center study, 67% of married or committed couples share their online passwords with their partners.
And if your spouse guesses your password it’s not considered hacking.
Don’t want your soon to be ex to see your plans for the holidays? Don’t want your ex to know about a Christmas bonus? Don’t want your ex to know you have a new girlfriend?
Change your passwords or accounts IMMEDIATELY.Follow these tips for setting up a secure password:
- Make your password long – 12 characters or longer is the suggested length for a super strong password.
- Avoid names and places especially names and places that your ex is familiar with and could easily guess.
- Use a mixture of numbers, characters and upper and lower case letters.
- Don’t reuse the same password over and over. If your ex guesses your new password and you have used it for all of your new accounts, your ex will now have access to everything.
Aside from changing passwords on your social media pages you should also consider changing your passwords to the following:
- Bank accounts and other financial accounts
- Utility accounts and other automatic bill pay accounts
- Email accounts
- Credit card accounts
- Shopping accounts like Ebay and Amazon
- Music accounts like Itunes or Spotify
- Any app that tracks your location like Strava or Map My Run
You should also consider wiping any phone, tablet or other electronic device that your ex had access to. Change your passwords and/or restore factory settings to keep your ex from accessing your electronic stuff.
15. Win The Battle Of Credibility By Keeping Your Personal Business Off Of Social Media
We often find ourselves saying that social media has made our job as a family law attorneys so much easier.
How can I prove an ex isn’t credible? Get on their social media!
Posts about vacations, new clothes, a nice meal or new car tells me you have money to spend and you might be hiding it from your ex.
Check-ins at a movie, restaurant or a night-club while you have the kids might show me that you are leaving the kids with unapproved third parties during your custodial time and therefore, maybe you should lose custody.
See how your social media makes my job that much easier and leaves you having to explain yourself to the judge?
Not fair? You’re right!
But…any decent family law attorney will use your social media pages against you.
We’d love to tell clients to turn their social media off until their divorce is final and until their kids 18 but we know it’s not possible.
So, before you go post a rant about your soon to be ex, consider these tips about social media during divorce and keep your credibility intact.
Your ex is always watching you
Unless you are an internet and social media genius, your ex will find a way to access your social media.
You may think you have blocked your ex from your accounts and you may have even changed your passwords, but your ex has friends, family, friends of friends, fake accounts, co-workers and a host of other people that can and will find your social media and provide the contents of those accounts to your ex.
If all else fails, your ex’s family law attorney can subpoena your social media records and can even request you print out the entirety of your accounts.
So . . . before you make your next post, consider that everything you are posting, no matter how hard you try, can and will be accessed by your ex.
If you have to post don’t brag
Many people use social media to keep friends and family apprised of life events like a great new promotion, a new car or nice vacation.
It never fails in a divorce case that I have clients complaining that they are paying too much in child support or spousal support.
Then . . . their ex produces hundreds of social media posts about my client’s recent lavish trip to South America with first class accommodations.
Simply, judges don’t like it when litigants complain that they can’t support their children but can afford to buy a new car or take an expensive trip.
If you must use social media, try not to brag in your posts.
Ultimately, the bragging could cost you in increased child support or spousal support.
Don’t Post Your Illegal Activities
This one should go without saying. But…we have to say it anyway!
At least once a week, I receive social media posts about a client’s ex, that includes the ex’s involvement in illegal activity (usually drugs).
Posting this stuff online, will undoubtedly affect your custody case.
It could also affect your freedom.
Judges routinely order drug testing.
Some judges have even been known to report litigants to law enforcement or Child Protective Services after receiving social media posts with illegal activity.
If you have to post on social media, don’t post your pill bottles, pipes and drugs. Just don’t.
Don’t Use the “Check-In” Feature
If you have to use social media don’t use the check-in feature.
If you are using the check-in feature, your ex will be able to trace your movements.
If you are supposed to be having custodial time with your children and your “check-in” identifies you out at a club, your ex will use this against you to say you aren’t spending time with the kids or even worse that you are leaving them alone to go out and party.
The check-in feature can also be dangerous if you have a restraining order against your ex because now your ex will know where you are.
Use caution and common sense and leave the check-in feature out.
Don’t Post Anything You Wouldn’t Want Your Boss or Mother to See
Social media posts live on-line. FOREVER!
That picture you took in high school of a crazy party trick or that Halloween picture where you dressed like a slutty nurse, can and will be used against you.
It is not unheard of for family law attorneys to use a dated picture to try to paint someone as a bad person or bad parent.
Even though those pictures were taken years ago, they last forever online and are easily accessible by your ex.
If your ex gets ahold of them, you could yourself having to explain to the judge that the photo was taken years ago and isn’t who you are anymore.
Try to keep the posts clean and consider before you post whether you would feel comfortable if your boss or mother saw the post.
Keep a leg up in your custody or divorce case by following the tips above. Or better yet, keep off of social media as much as possible.
Now It's Your Turn
Remember, you don’t have to do everything on this list. Just pick whatever stands out to you the most or the one you think will be the most helpful for your divorce or custody case.
Start with the easiest one first and then move on to the next.
You have the time…it’s up to you to do it.
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We'd love to hear from you. If you used one of these steps to help in your divorce or custody case, leave us a comment and let us know which one you used and how it helped your case.