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A Divorce Planning Checklist That Makes Things a Little Easier

Divorce happens when the marriage relationship fails and the parties wish to go their separate ways. It is not always a clean break especially if children are involved since both parents are obligated to support their children until age 18 or under other circumstances. In some cases, the court may order, or the parties may agree, to spousal maintenance. There is also the issue of property division that can be as contentious as a custody battle. To make things a bit easier for you, consider planning for divorce by drafting a divorce checklist. The following offers some suggestions for such a checklist.

  1. Hire a divorce lawyer. Obtain referrals from friends, relatives or other legal professionals. Family therapists or counselors can also offer referrals. If these are not available, call your county bar association. Once you have a few names, schedule free consultations to meet the attorneys and discuss fees and retainer, the lawyer’s experience and specialties, especially in the areas in dispute, and see if you can establish a rapport.
  2. Is child custody an issue? If so, make another list of your strengths and weaknesses as a parent and person and those of your spouse and draft a custody plan with a visitation schedule. Look at a sample parenting plan that your attorney can provide or which you may find online and use it as a template. Find out the criteria the court uses in awarding custody. If you think nefarious or alienating strategies will be used against you, consider how to neutralize them. Be as truthful as possible since only your attorney will see your notes. Include any arrests, convictions, bankruptcy or altercations you may have had.
  3. Property division. Make a list of the marital assets, or those which were acquired after the marriage began, and of assets that may be either such as home equity or the increased value of other assets. List your non-marital assets as well.
  4. Spousal maintenance. Will you want it or will your spouse request it? If so, list your and your spouse’s income, potential future income, education attained, desire to further education and present ability to earn an income.
  5. List your financial records and obtain copies. This includes tax returns for the past 3 years, W-2 and 1099 forms, statements of financial accounts, real estate records, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, trusts and personal property valuations. Include debts such as mortgages, loans, credit cards, student loans, and other outstanding obligations regardless of who incurred them.
  6. Check your own behavior. Do not disparage your spouse to your children and do not ask them to spy on your ex-spouse. Maintain a positive attitude when dropping off or picking up the children, be flexible in visitation and continue to communicate with your ex-partner. Do not fail to share any information regarding the children’s welfare or well-being.
  7. Are you going to trial or a hearing? If so, prepare for your testimony and cross-examination with your attorney. Have your attorney explain the issues in dispute and how the law applies to them. What are your and your ex-spouse’s weaknesses and strengths? Can you still settle before the trial or hearing? If experts are testifying, are they well-prepared? Review any reports prepared by social workers, counselors or experts with your attorney.
  8. Prepare for life after divorce. This includes financial issues such as closing joint accounts, opening new ones, changing records to reflect your new name, ensuring the Marital Settlement Agreement is filed, that all insurance policies are in effect and reviewed for changes, that title to property is transferred and all other property to be transferred has been completed.

As F. Lee Bailey, a famous trial attorney once said, the key to success is “preparation, preparation, preparation.” The most prepared side nearly always wins so planning for divorce ahead of time will give you a distinct advantage over your ex-spouse who may leave it all up to the attorney. You will want to be the one whose testimony and evidence is thought out in advance, who is not surprised by what transpires, unless it is in your favor, and who impresses upon the court your honesty, reasonableness, flexibility and ability to go forward after divorce.