Divorce is a difficult and emotional process, even if you are the one has made the decision to file. There are ways to make the process easier, less stressful, and even less expensive—and you can take these measures before you ever consult an attorney.
- Make copies of all financial documents.
Yes, your attorney can request financial records after you file, but that’s time-consuming and potentially expensive. While you have the chance, copy income tax returns, pay stubs, property deeds, and vehicle titles, and as many bank statements, investment account statements, credit card bills, retirement and pension plan statements as you can—ideally, a year’s worth. Not only will this save time and money later, it will help your attorney better advise you now.
- Don’t forget your computer.
The valuable information isn’t just on paper. If you and your spouse share a computer, have the hard drive copied. It may yield valuable financial data and other information. If you wait, some of this information could be lost forever.
- Take screenshots and print e-mails.
To the extent that you have legal access, take screenshots of your spouse’s activity on social media, particularly if it refers to behavior he or she would not want to come to light in a divorce or custody trial. Also, print out copies of emails your spouse has sent you.
- Limit (or eliminate) your own activity on social media.
No matter how secure you think your privacy settings are, don’t say anything on social media that you wouldn’t say on the stand before the judge at your divorce trial. Safer still is to shut down your social media accounts until your divorce is final.
- Meet with an estate planning attorney.
In the event that you become incapacitated in the midst of a divorce, you need to decide who you want to make health care decisions on your behalf. You may consider obtaining a living will, health care directive or power of attorney. Meeting with an estate planning attorney can assist you in deciding whether there are ways to protect yourself and also deciding how to modify those documents or create a will or trust, or a new will or trust, once the divorce is finalized.
- Take an inventory.
Arizona is a community property state, and assets are to be divided equally between divorcing spouses—but you can’t divide something that’s disappeared. Take photographs of valuable assets such as jewelry, art, antiques, or collectibles, and have them appraised if possible. In general, if an item exceeds $300 to $500 in value, make a record of it. Keep this inventory, as well as all other financial documentation you’ve gathered, in a safe place that your spouse will not access.
- Create a post-divorce budget.
Creating an accurate budget is time-consuming, tedious—and absolutely essential. Understanding your income and your expenses will help you know what you need to survive and thrive after your divorce. Having a realistic budget will not only help your attorney advocate for you on the issue of alimony, it will give you peace of mind and a sense of control over your finances.
- Keep a journal.
This is especially relevant with regard to custody issues. Since custody and parenting time are decided based on the best interests of the child, observe your spouse’s behavior. Does your spouse interact with your children? Who goes to parent-teacher conferences and doctor appointments? Does your spouse bad- mouth you to the children or fail to interact with them? Document specific incidents with date, time, and circumstances. Facts will help your case more than general assertions.
- Decide how to tell the kids.
Telling your children is one of the most emotionally difficult aspects of starting a divorce. You may want to consult with a counselor who works with children for advice before sitting down with your kids. No matter when or how you tell your children you are planning to divorce, it needs to be done with your children’s best interests in mind.
- Answer this one question…
Before you file for divorce, write down your answer to the question, “When I envision a successful outcome of this divorce, what are the things I want to happen …?” Writing your answer helps you to be specific. It’s amazing how few people consider their goals for divorce; they are so strongly motivated by what they want to move away from, that they don’t think about what they want to move toward. Identifying your goals helps you make decisions and helps your attorney understand your needs and identify the best way to obtain your goals.