When you are facing a marital separation, there are five things that you can do to protect yourself, financially and emotionally.
1. Think before acting. Imagine at all times that your kids and a family judge are watching every action and reading what you write. Anything you say or write in emails and text messages might be used as evidence. How would a family judge react to your Facebook profile? If you have a temper, consider moving out before you do something that might result in a restraining order. Don’t make any agreement without consulting a lawyer first.
2. Take concrete steps to safeguard your assets. Review your joint bank and credit card statements regularly to ensure that no unexpected withdrawals or charges have been made. You might want to divide joint accounts or close credit cards if there is no legal restriction, but check with your divorce lawyer first. It’s also a good idea to secure property that may have sentimental value, like family heirlooms, where they cannot be misplaced or damaged.
3. Gather financial records. If you keep your records organized, you will have an advantage in the divorce process and save legal fees. Make photocopies and keep them in a secure place so that you can furnish them to your divorce lawyer when asked. If you have access to your spouse’s records legally, make copies of them as well. You can obtain most documents through a legal process known as discovery, but it is cheaper to make copies yourself.
4. Contact reliable allies. Trust is one of the first casualties of divorce, so you need to find reliable allies. Consider supportive friends and family members who are able to keep your confidences and empathize with your feelings. Physical activities like exercise can reduce stress more effectively than alcohol or junk food. Hire a family lawyer that you feel comfortable with. It is very important to understand what your lawyer is saying and to be heard when you speak to your lawyer. Consider lawyers who concentrate their practice in divorce and know the nuances of this complex area of legal practice
5. Conserve resources. Creating a budget and sticking to it are always prudent measures, especially during a marital separation. When one household becomes two households, the expenses are increased but income is not. When making financial decisions, consider the effect on cash flow and liquidity. It might be better to pay joint debts out of joint income and assets instead of your separate income and assets, but check with your divorce lawyer first.
Credit where credit is credit is due: Brian C. Vertz, Esquire is the author of the original list, though I have changed a few things including the order. Brian is a well respected family law attorney from the other end of the state who has graciously allowed me to use his work.