Many potential clients seek our advice in terms of protecting themselves at the onset of a divorce. They fear their spouse will take radical action in response to the dissolution process.
A trip to Vegas. Missing family heirlooms. Skyrocketing credit card charges. Disappearing cash. False allegations of domestic abuse. We’ve nearly seen it all.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to protect your interests:
Personal Property: We often recommend taking a few minutes to document the contents of the marital homestead (including the garage) with a video camera. If items suddenly disappear, you will have a tangible inventory to rely upon. You are free to remove any items of sentimental value, and may choose to store them at the home of a friend or family member.
Bank Accounts: We typically suggest removing one-half of the balances resting in joint checking or savings accounts, and placing those funds into a new individual account. While the law technically allows you to withdraw the entire amount, a judge may not look favorably upon doing so. All funds will ultimately be accounted for, but an early withdrawal will protect your cashflow by preventing your spouse from taking it all.
Retirement Accounts: Most retirement accounts are named individually, and need no immediate protection. However, if you have a joint retirement, or investment, account, it probably makes sense to notify the plan administrator, or broker, of the pending divorce. Withdrawals may be temporarily suspended, or require the signature of both parties.
Credit Cards: Best to contact joint credit card providers and reduce the line of credit, if possible. If the creditor will allow, joint accounts should be closed, with new, individual, accounts opened in the name of each spouse.
Interaction: Don’t position yourself for the issuance of an order for protection or harassment restraining order. While you are free to remain in the same home as your spouse, be cautious in terms of emotional interaction with each other. Walk away if things get heated. You sacrifice nothing by doing so.
Chemical Use: If your spouse abuses alcohol or drugs, you should document any evidence of use through photos, or retrieval, of the substances and paraphernalia. Document dates by placing the day’s newspaper next to the materials you photograph.
Online Accounts: Change all e-mail and social media account passwords. Both are increasingly used against litigants through unauthorized access. As important, remove inappropriate photos or posts from sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus, and keep your ongoing uploads conservative.
Electronics: Keep your computer, tablet or smart phone away from your spouse. These items hold not only private information about you, but are likely to contain electronic correspondence to and from your attorney concerning case strategy.
Estate Planning: Many overlook the need to revisit their estate plan at the onset of divorce. A reputable estate planning lawyer can work with you to modify your will, power of attorney or health care directive. If left unaltered, your soon-to-be ex may receive more than you now wish.
Notebook: A description of specific dates, times and conduct can prove to be critical in the preparation for a custody evaluation or trial. Invest a few dollars in a small notebook to log everything that goes on in terms of parenting. You can also dedicate a section of the notebook to questions that are certain to arise throughout the divorce process. Write them down, and contact your lawyer when you have several that need answering. Getting answers to groups of questions can be more cost-effective than calling counsel every time something comes to mind.
We hope you find these tips helpful. Honestly, the best way to protect your interests involves retaining a good lawyer to represent you. Call (763) 783-5146 to arrange a consultation.