Make no mistake about it, divorce is hard. Even if you and your spouse expect to have an amicable dissolution, the emotional and financial challenges that come with divorce can make it one of the most difficult things you’ll ever go through in your life.
Many people are blindsided by divorce and haven’t taken the necessary steps to ready themselves for the reality of the proceedings. However there are a few key things you can do before starting down the road to divorce to empower yourself and put yourself in the most favorable position possible.
1. Know your finances. It’s important to have access to financial records during the divorce process. I counsel my clients to obtain general, if not detailed, knowledge of their assets, debts, income, and expenses prior to filing for divorce. The most helpful scenario is when a client has gathered detailed financial information from other sources, such as contacting a business manager to acquire financial statements or calling an accountant to get their tax returns. Ultimately, the more information a client can put together beforehand, the easier it is at the onset because we’re able to immediately start crafting a strategic plan for him or her.
2. Get your affairs in order. It’s important to be proactive about updating estate plans, signing wills, refinancing an asset and taking care of other financial transactions before pursuing a divorce. In California and some other states, once you file for divorce automatic temporary restraining orders go into effect, meaning you may not be able to complete these transactions.
3. Set money aside. It’s common to keep an emergency fund to pay for living expenses in case you lose your job and the same holds true for divorce. People should set aside a similar amount of liquid money especially if you have less control over the finances, because your spouse may cut you off when you file. On a side note, if you have concerns about your spouse taking valuables from your home, such as jewelry or important documents, you should keep those assets in a safety deposit box or have someone else who you trust hold onto them for you.
4. Keep a journal. When custody is at stake, keeping a journal can help demonstrate to the court your level of involvement with your children, and also a spouse’s lack of involvement. This journal may include relevant emails and text messages, as well as calendars showing activities you were present for and events your spouse missed. It’s critical for non-custodial parents to show that they are involved in their children’s lives — that they have been at school events, doctor visits, and birthday parties, and that they know teachers’ names and their children’s curriculum. Without this history of involvement before filing, it’s going to be much harder to prove your behavior in order to increase your time with your children.
5. Avoid social media. Social media has become powerful evidence in divorce cases. I advise clients to refrain from posting compromising material such as sharing about drinking or partying. Everything you do through social media outlets is discoverable and if you go back and delete incriminating posts right before filing, you could be destroying evidence — which is illegal. Venting about your spouse through social media is also a no-no, as these posts may also be used during the proceedings.
6. See a therapist. When you’re going through a divorce, it helps to have a safe and confidential haven where you can express yourself. And you can be assured that what you talk about with your therapist is protected and cannot be introduced as evidence in court. People often joke that you have to be a therapist to do my job. While I’m always there for my clients, trained mental health professionals can be of real assistance, helping you feel more confident and in control during this difficult process.
Lisa Helfend Meyer is certified as a Specialist in Family Law by the Board of Legal Specialization of the State Bar of California.