Checklist Before You Get Divorced

Let's Untie the Knot | Checklist Before You Get Divorced

The decision to get divorced is not usually an easy one.  You may be overwhelmed by emotion and feel paralyzed by the long list of decisions you have to make.  DO NOT PANIC!  Now is the time to take a deep breath and act logically and methodically.  The actions you take before you leave will have significant implications for both the divorce process and your post-divorce life.  The following is a checklist of steps to take before you file for divorce:

 Gather your financial records:  

As soon as you know that your divorce is inevitable, start tracking your household income and expenses.  This information is critical for your attorney and later for the judge in determining child support and alimony.  Remember to include such things as food, clothing, entertainment, transportation, home maintenance, child care, etc.  Use your past bank statements to make sure you haven’t overlooked anything.  In addition, look beyond the monthly expenses to one-time expenses like replacing the refrigerator as well as future expenses such as leasing your 16-year old a car.  You should keep in mind that documents should cover your long-term history, not just your most recent transactions.  The gold standard is that documentation should cover five years’ worth of data.  You should try to gather as many of the following documents as possible:  income tax returns, employment records, bank statements and loan information, investment account statements, pension plan information, retirement savings accounts, debt records, will and trusts agreements and social security agreements.   Finally, pull your credit report so that you are aware of all of the debt that is registered in your name.  By doing so, you will avoid receiving surprise calls from creditors following your divorce.  

Open new bank accounts in your name only:

If you think that your spouse may squander money from your joint account, it is highly advisable to open a separate account.  Many attorneys advise withdrawing half the money from any joint accounts.  In addition, you can deposit any money you earn into your independent account.  With that said, it is crucial to remember that Oregon is a community property state and, as a result, any money that you took from the joint account as well as any money you earn during the course of your marriage will be considered marital property (even if you deposit it into your separate account).

 Take an inventory of all non-marital (i.e., separate) property:

In Oregon, any property acquired during the marriage is subject to equitable distribution.  For that reason, it is crucial that you take stock of all of your separate property before the divorce process begins.  Property is defined as “anything that can be bought or sold or anything that has value.”  As such, property includes your house, cars and clothing as well as pension plans, 401(k) plans, any life insurance that has value and even your business.  Separate property is anything that you owned prior to your marriage.  If you have made the decision to leave the family home prior to the divorce, it is even more important to create an inventory of all property and photograph important items.

Make any necessary purchases or sales:

In Oregon, courts automatically issue an order at the beginning of your case which prohibits you from selling, buying or otherwise encumbering or disposing of marital property.  It is not appropriate to use the marital funds to make big ticket purchases.  However, if you have a legitimate purchase or sale that has been in the works for some time, it is advisable to complete it before your divorce. 

Determine your goals for custody:

If you have children, custody is probably one of your primary concerns when deciding to get a divorce. In terms of physical custody, there are a variety of different arrangements, ranging from one parent having sole custody to both parents sharing custody, etc.  There are also a number of different ways to structure those arrangements, including switching off weeks to having custodial exchanges during the week.  In addition, a court will determine if one parent will have sole legal custody or if the parents will share joint legal custody.  The parent(s) with legal custody determines decisions relating to the health and education of the children.  You will save a significant amount of attorneys’ fees if you and your spouse are able to make any sort of headway in coming to an agreement about child custody.

Develop a support network:

A support network can serve two important functions: (1) it can be a group of friends and family who you can help you through the extremely emotional divorce process, either by listening or helping with your kids, errands, etc. and (2) it can be a group of people who are divorced and who can give you real world examples, tips and suggestions on how to navigate getting divorced and setting up your post-divorce life.  You may also want to consider getting a professional therapist, depending on the level of your emotions and the strength of your support network.  Therapists can help you to cope, and provide tips and strategies on how to deal with the wide array of emotions you will encounter.  Whatever you do, don’t try to go through this alone!  Having a strong support network allows you to make more rational decisions and sets you up for a much more successful outcome.  Remember, you are not just leaving one person; you are leaving an entire life and building a brand new one.

If you have decided to get a divorce or if your spouse has informed you that he or she wants a divorce, now is NOT the time to act quickly.  Slow down, take a deep breath and proceed logically.  You need to make sure that you are taking the necessary steps to set yourself up for the post-divorce life that you want.  You should focus on three primary objectives:  (1) securing the future you want with your children; (2) preserving your financial status and retaining all rights to make decisions regarding your money down the road; and (3) building and maintaining a strong support network so that you can make decisions that are in your best interests.  By remaining level-headed and finding a good divorce attorney who can advocate on your behalf, you increase the likelihood of creating a satisfying and secure future. 

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