Now that it’s almost mid-December, a lot of unhappy spouses are planning for their January divorces. In many cases, people have family vacations planned around the holidays or they just want to put their divorce off until the first of the New Year.
If you’re serious about filing for divorce in January, there’s still a lot that you can do to prepare yourself for the divorce ahead. If you’ll be home with the kids over the holidays, or if work will be slower than usual because of the holidays, now may be a great time to get organized and mentally prepared for the next six months or so, when your divorce is processing through the courts.
Here’s how to get your divorce started off right:
1. Educate yourself on the law.
The first thing you want to do is learn your rights and responsibilities under the law. A lot of the frustration and stress of divorce has to do with people not understanding the law. Also, when people don’t know the law, they can make more mistakes, even before the divorce is started.
These are the areas to get familiar with:
- Child support,
- Child custody,
- Spousal support,
- Domestic violence (where applicable),
- California’s property division laws,
- How businesses are divided,
- Learn about how California is a “community property state” and what this means, and
- Learn about California being a no-fault divorce state and what this has to do with marital misconduct.
2. Get organized.
We’re talking about your finances. If you’re not sure what all accounts you and your spouse have open, we recommend running a copy of both of your credit reports. Next, gather all the documentation for your taxes and financial accounts and make copies of everything. This includes bank accounts, credit cards, mortgage loans, investments, retirement accounts, auto loans, CDs, stocks and bonds, real estate, etc.
If you are the “out spouse,” meaning a spouse who does not handle the finances and who does not have access to the financial accounts, be sure to tell your attorney at your first meeting. Let your lawyer know that you are in the dark about your finances and that you are not entirely sure of what your assets are.
3. Don’t hide assets.
One of the first things people do when they decide to get a divorce is start moving money, transferring property, dissolving businesses, and otherwise hiding assets. This is NOT a savvy asset protection policy. California is a community property state, meaning you and your spouse own all marital property equally.
If you engage in shady activities, it will not help your divorce and it can turn the judge against you. Instead of taking matters into your own hands, seek the advice of a divorce attorney. Your lawyer can help you craft the best asset protection strategies.
4. Think about the house.
If you own a house with your spouse, now is a good time to think about what’s going to happen to that asset. Are you going to stay? Can you qualify for a mortgage in your name alone? Will your spouse buy you out or vice versa? Should you sell it and split the proceeds? Or, is it a liability and are you upside-down on it? In many cases, it makes the most sense for the spouses to sell the house and split the proceeds down the middle or exchange another asset.
5. Think about the kids.
If you have minor children with your spouse, you’ll have to think about child custody. Will one of you have the children most of the time with the other parent paying child support? Or, will you work out a joint custody agreement where you both have the children for equal amounts of time? If you are both honest, loving parents and domestic violence is not a concern, it may be in your children’s best interests to establish a Parenting Plan where both of you are actively engaged in the children’s lives.
6. Start planning for life after divorce.
Life after divorce will probably look a lot different than it does now. For some spouses, the change is more dramatic than it is for others. If you have been out of the workforce for some time or if you’ll have to pay child or spousal support, you may need to focus on increasing your income. In fact, many divorced spouses find themselves in situations where they need to seek and create more income opportunities.
If this describes you, it’s wise to start putting the wheels in motion now. If for example, you’ll be looking for a higher-paying job, starting a trade or technical school, or earning your Master’s Degree, now is the time to start preparing for the next step. This could mean updating your LinkedIn profile, applying to a college, signing up for online classes, or simply getting back in shape or updating your professional wardrobe.
7. Strive for a collaborative divorce if possible.
The single best way to drive the costs of a divorce down is to take a collaborative approach.This means to treat your spouse with dignity and respect and to work together to achieve an amicable, cost-effective divorce. If you have kids together, this is crucial. The opposite of a collaborative divorce is a contested one, and that’s no fun.
When couples are fighting and they cannot work together to reach a fair marital settlement agreement, such cases often end up in divorce court. Litigated divorces take a lot longer and they cost more in legal and court fees, which essentially drain the marital estate. Most people would rather pocket that money than spend it on litigation.
Sometimes though, there is no choice but to go to trial. If your spouse is physically abusive, refuses to cooperate, is constantly insulting you, calling you names and making your life miserable, a collaborative divorce may be off the table. In that case, you need a skilled divorce attorney by your side.
Suggested Reading: Changes to Spousal Support Laws
If you’re looking for a skilled and compassionate Los Angeles divorce lawyer, contact our firm to meet with a member of our legal team for free.