Preparing for divorce: There are several key things you should do before you apply for a divorce which will put you in a better position to tackle the legal and financial challenges of divorce. Here are some of the most important steps to take before applying for a divorce.
Preparing for divorce – what should you consider doing before you tell your spouse you want a divorce?
1. Get a grip on the finances
If you haven’t always been fully aware of the household’s financial situation, now is the time to really investigate and understand your position. To get a full picture of your finances, you’ll need access to detailed information about your assets, debts, income and expenses. Some of this information might be easily obtained from your accountant if you have one, or from your payslips and tax returns. But other aspects of your finances, such as information about investments and the like, might have been outside your ambit in the marriage. Spend the time researching your financial situation now, before you announce your divorce, in case your spouse decides to hide or remove information once a divorce is on the cards. It will also be helpful to obtain a copy of your current credit report at this stage.
2. Ensure you have liquidity
It’s permissible, and advisable, to open a new bank account that’s in your name only and have your income diverted to that. You need ready access to cash of your own as well as a way to track your spending so that you can later more easily determine what was spent by whom and on what. Note that you can’t transfer any marital assets into this new account, which includes any money you earnt during the relationship.
3. Put your affairs in order
Once you decide to divorce, update your beneficiaries in wills and estate plans, superannuation and insurances to reflect your wishes. Given the fact that the divorce could take some time to finalise, taking care of administrative matters like this will ensure things are in place as soon as you have decided to part from your spouse.
4. Inventory your assets and debts and gather documentation
During a divorce and property settlement, you’ll need access to all kinds of documents and records proving details of assets and liabilities of the marriage. Before you announce you intend to apply for divorce, make sure you gather all the critical documents you’ll need. Some spouses react very badly to divorce news and can try to make it difficult for you to access such information so the best time to try to collect information is before you announce your intent. If you can’t access important documents or information, you’ll still be able to seek it through the discovery process. But this takes time and comes with legal fees. It’s best to try to obtain the information beforehand, when you might be able to easily make copies or printouts.
5. Create an emergency fund
Even if you have your own bank account already set up, it’s a good idea to start early on to build a little emergency fund, particularly if you have had less control over the finances and if family violence is a factor.
6. Put valuables in safekeeping
If you are worried ex will remove valuables from the home once they become aware of an impending divorce, consider removing your valuables (for instance, jewellery, important documents and so on) and storing them in a safety deposit box or with trusted others.
7. Keep a diary
If you share children with your soon-to-be-ex, then as soon as you can when you’ve started considering divorce, begin keeping a parenting journal. This can assist you in the future should your matter end up in litigation. If you take the time now to document your involvement with the children—and your ex’s lack of involvement—this can really help a court to make an assessment of your contribution to parenting and child-raising. If you are the more involved parent, a diary recording parental involvement in activities, events and tasks can help a court determine what the status quo is on parenting in your family. And the courts tend to prefer to maintain consistency for children, at least on a temporary basis initially if there is no reason not to. So whether you have emails, texts, calendar entries or any other documentation around your parenting, keep it all to help form an objective record. And if you are the non-custodial parent, but are still wholly involved in your children’s life—a diary can help show how you were involved for school events, medical appointments, birthday parties and the like.
8. Work out what your living situation will be
Consider if you want to keep living in the same house as your ex during the divorce, or if you will want to move out, or perhaps if you will want your ex to move out. If you spend some time thinking about your goals for your living situation before announcing your divorce plans, then you’ll have some realistic suggestions at the ready for when the time is right to put things into action.
To clarify a common misconception, the family home forms part of a couple’s shared asset pool, and is included in the schedule of assets and liabilities, regardless of whose name it may be in or who is the one who moved out. In other words, just because you have moved out of the family home does not mean you have less of a claim to it in the property settlement. (You might like to also read our blog on working out what to do with the family home.)
9. Change your postal address and set up new email
It’s wise to set up a post office box if you and your ex will still be sharing the same home. In future, any sensitive mail you get (such as documents from your family lawyer) won’t risk being intercepted by your spouse.
Similarly, it’s a good idea to set up a new free email account to use exclusively in relation to your divorce—in case you are uncertain about the complete security of your online accounts in your shared home.
10. Stay off social media
These days social media posts can easily become evidence in court proceedings—everything is discoverable so keep a close look at your social media to ensure any image of you presented is consistent with the image you present in court. So always ensure you don’t share things that could be used against you, like excessive photos of partying or drinking or flashy new purchases when you claim you are in financial hardship, and so on. And of course, avoid any venting that involves badmouthing your ex.
11. Get on social media
On the other hand, it could be you who finds valuable information if you observe your ex’s social media. This may be information about events that can assist with building a timeline or corroborating statements, it might be photos that depict certain behaviours, or posts about attitudes or even court proceedings. It is likely that your spouse will switch all their accounts to private once they are aware of your divorce plans, so make the most of any prior visibility you may have.
12. Prepare for post-divorce life
In order to be able to negotiate your financial settlement, you’ll need to know what your expenses will be post-divorce. If you don’t already have a budget, this is the time to start to working on a post-separation one. It’s important that you are able to track your income and your expenses so that you get a realistic idea of what it actually will take to run your new household.
In terms of future income, you may be eligible for Government income support or other assistance payments through Centrelink depending on your future circumstances and level of hardship. Now is a good time to contact Centrelink to explore what income assistance options may be available to you.
13. Hire an experienced family lawyer
Sounding out your situation with a family lawyer early on is always a good idea so that you can ensure you have a fair divorce. You’ll be able to begin negotiations armed with knowledge about your legal rights and responsibilities as well as strategies for how to build your property settlement or parenting case. Make sure you choose a family lawyer who is experienced in your areas of concern–you might also like to read our blog on how to choose a family lawyer.
14. Think about seeing a therapist
Help yourself through the difficult process of divorce by finding a counsellor early on. Having a safe, confidential, non-judgmental space to express your emotions is invaluable when experiencing feelings of grief, loss, anger and anxiety. A therapist will help you find ways to manage your emotions so that they don’t interfere with the resolution of your divorce.
15. Be sure
Finally, before you take the step of letting your spouse know that you want a divorce, make sure you are completely certain it is what you want. Have you truly explored all your avenues for reconciliation, such as marriage counselling? Knowing you did what you could to save the marriage can help you to feel less guilt and allow you to let go and move forward.
Need legal help for your divorce? Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.