January sees a spike of divorce filings, but unless you have already discussed the prospect of divorce with your spouse, you may want to take these steps before you file for your divorce or announce your intentions. This is an especially good idea if you think your spouse may not react well to your request.
1. Collect copies of tax returns (at least 3 years), statements for IRAs and other retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, bank accounts, and credit cards. Secure them in a location away from your spouse. I did not do this and spent lots of legal fees getting the records I was entitled to have. Check the statements to be sure that there have been no unexplained withdrawals, especially that there have been no withdrawals or loans from retirement accounts.
2. Obtain your credit report. Be sure you know what joint debts and credit cards you have with your spouse. This site has some basic information about obtaining this information for you and your spouse.
3. Build up a cash reserve fund. You will need funds to live on and pay legal fees. If your spouse cancels credit cards, closes bank accounts, or takes other steps to restrict your access to money, it may put you in a bind. REMEMBER: the goal of a contentious divorce is to get the non-moneyed spouse to make a deal for less than she or he is entitled to. Making you feel desperate about money is the means to this end.
4. I am putting my law librarian hat on here: Research the divorce laws of your state to get a basic idea of what happens in dissolving a marriage of your duration/ number of children etc. Go here for links to the various state’s divorce laws as well as a summary of the main points for each state.
For Illinois, this is a good site for basic information. It is provided by an Illinois law firm that practices in the counties around Cook County. [FYI: Some folks view Cook County divorce judges as being mavericks in the world of divorce litigation, often said to favor women!]
Being an educated consumer could help mitigate legal fees and make the process smoother. For information in other states, type the phrase [your state] plus “divorce laws” into a search engine (e.g., Google or Bing). The results will include commercial and government sites, with legal overviews or articles and usually a link to the law. Note that some of the articles are written by lawyers who are trying to market their services.
(The quote marks help get a more targeted search. But remember -- just because it is on the Internet, does not mean that it is accurate or correct!)
5. If children are involved, start making a list of all the things you have done as a mother and wife. To do this for my first trial I reviewed the children’s scrapbooks and old calendars to recall all the school activities, music lessons, doctor appointments, camp stuff and all the myriad things children do these days.
6. If lifestyle will be an issue, as it was for me, start making a file to document what the marital lifestyle is. For example: To prove our luxury travel style as one aspect of our lifestyle, I took an American Express travel catalog and marked all the 4- and 5-star hotels we had stayed in. I also found photos of the French chateaus that we rented some summers and gave copies to the lawyers.
7. Also, if lifestyle will be an issue [in other words, are you claiming a certain standard of living during the marriage that should continue after the divorce], do you keep all the household expenses in Quicken or some other electronic format? This will help establish a benchmark for spousal support.
9. Familiarize yourself with mediation and collaborative divorce process and ask lawyers you interview if they practice these divorce resolution styles. Most couples do not have to resort to full-on litigation that can cost hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars, like mine did! I love my lawyers, but we did not have to send all their children through college! [Seriously, I do not mean to make light of this as I have met other women whose financial lives have been devastated by the high costs of litigation. Unfortunately, my X, who is a Chicago-based partner in one of the world’s largest law firms, seems to view litigation as a weapon. ]
10. When you start the divorce, don't let the lawyers "work the case." In other words, don't let them file motions you are certain to lose. This only makes the spouse angry and puts more money in the lawyers' pockets.
11. If you think that your spouse will react badly to your request for a divorce, do not discuss your intentions with anyone. If you share a computer with your spouse, change your password. Be careful about mentioning divorce in your emails.
12. Considering spying on your spouse’s email account? The laws in this area are tricky--Don’t!
13. Do you share an accountant with your spouse? Consider finding a new accountant when you file for a divorce. Your accountant is subject to ethical and conflict of interest rules through the AICPA, the IRS, and the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation. If your accountant doesn’t approach you for a written waiver of a conflict of interest, fire him, and consider filing a complaint with the IRS, the AICPA and the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation as the IRS rules for conflict of interest are strict.
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Filed under: Divorce Litigation in Cook County