Five Steps to Prepare for Divorce
Five Steps to Prepare for Divorce
Ending a a relationship is a big decision. Many people remain in merely-tolerable (or even unhealthy) relationships all of their lives to avoid making such a courageous decision. So it’s understandable that it might take someone a bit of time. But there are steps you can take before you decide to divorce, or once you realize that your relationship is not the forever-after you’d once hoped so that you are prepared in case a divorce does occur.
Here are four steps you should consider to remain safe and to make a divorce, should it happen, as smooth and painless as possible:
1. Ensure your and your children’s physical safety.
If you have a violent or anger-prone spouse, announcing a divorce or separation, or serving them with a restraining order is too often a most dangerous time. The level and intensity of domestic violence too often increases when a spouse threatens to leave or serves a restraining order. Create a safety plan, line up a support system and a safe refuge (friends, family, shelter), transportation, and a “go-bag,” so that when the time comes to leave, you and your children can do so safely. (For more information, see https://www.manhattan-law.com/domestic-violence-attorney-nyc/.)
2. Inform yourself of the family’s resources and finances.
Often when couples are together, one of them handles the finances and the other is less involved. If you sense that divorce may be on the horizon, keep your eyes and ears open, curious and interested in the family’s resources and finances. Pay attention to which banks are sending statements and, if possible learn about the assets each financial institution is holding. (Make copies of such documents if you can.) Inform yourself of your spouse’s earnings and assets. Whether you get divorced or not, you will feel empowered by knowing and understanding your family’s finances, what it’s income is, and what expenses are incurred. Make and keep copies of important personal (driver’s license, birth certificates, and passports) as well as financial documents–like deeds to properties, a current statement from each financial institution, insurance policies (life as well as property, listing the value of important jewelry and household contents), existence and contents of safe-deposit boxes–for assets as well as liabilities (debts). Store a copy in a safe location outside the reach of your spouse.
3. Be conscious of your computer/electronic security.
If you are like most people, your spouse knows the passwords to your computers and email accounts, so be careful what you send and receive there. Remember too, that your browser search history is available for review by your spouse unless you take measures to prevent or erase your search histories.
Create a separate, secure email account if you are going to inquire about issues relating to matters you don’t want your spouse to know about. Lock that separate account with a “strong password.” The best way to create a strong, unhackable password that you can easily remember is to create an acronym of your favorite song lyrics or saying. Use uppercase and lowercase letters as well as numbers. “To be or not to be, that is the question,” might therefore become “Tbon2btitq.”
4. Create–and beware of–a paper trail.
In today’s digital age, everything is permanently recorded. Be wise as well as clever, and use the permanent record to your advantage and ensure that it can’t be used against you. The lawyer’s new adage has become “Always text and email as if you will someday have to read it under the spotlight in a Courtroom full of lawyers, jurors, and a judge, all evaluating the tone and words you used.” So moderate any criticism in your written texts, emails or posts, and be more factual than argumentative. The best method for dealing with frustrating situations is to ensure that every correspondence you author adheres to the BIFF Method: That it be Brief, Informative, Firm, and Friendly. Never be argumentative or defensive. So a good email might be, “Suzy is performing in her class play on Tuesday, the 15th of next month, at two o’clock.” (Obviously, leave out the “and if you loved her you’d show up sober and on time and without your paramour like you’ve been doing ever since . . . .”)
Remember that a judge who reads your emails months or even years later might not realize the interminable and intolerable pain your spouse has put you through. They might not realize that your anger or cutting remarks were justified. It is therefore always better to remain simply factual and forthright in your written and memorialized communications (which includes recorded conversations), than being critical and argumentative.
On the other hand some issues are better documented. If you are the primary caretaker of your children, you should create a paper trail of it. If your spouse is asking you to give up your job and relinquish your career, it will be helpful to you later if you can prove that you did so at your spouse’s request. What might be relevant depends on the issues confronting you at the time of your divorce and what is “legally relevant” in your particular jurisdiction which brings us to the final point:
5. Engage a superior lawyer.
Lawyers are not interchangeable and it is never too soon to get the advice and counsel of a superior lawyer.
Because lawyering is a personal service, no two lawyers are alike. Each brings his or her own knowledge, acumen, strengths, and judgment that others won’t have. Moreover, every lawyer’s level of empathy and commitment is different. Only some have the drive and ambition to do all of the hard work that most cases require in order to achieve successful results. It is therefore important to choose the lawyer who will be right for you because you will have to work symbiotically with your lawyer, you will want a lawyer who gives you the information you need in a clear and concise, simple, understandable manner, a lawyer who will work tirelessly for you, a lawyer who won’t unnecessarily aggravate your situation and make co-parenting your children impossible, one who is a skilled negotiator that will be able to settle your case and negotiate with your spouse’s lawyer but one who is also a tough litigator, so that the other side recognizes that you are not afraid to take your case to trial and win. (I call it “powerful benevolence,” benevolence that comes from great strength and power and not from weakness and timidity. Because of my technique, a client once dubbed me The Divorce Whisperer because, she said, I had the right blend of iron fist in velvet glove to get the job done without provoking a backlash.) You will likely want a lawyer who has the nerdy-book-smarts and knows the law but also has the cool, suave people-skills and knows how to persuade people, a master chess player who knows strategy and tactics but one with warmth and empathy, caring and understanding to make you feel safe and empowered, and shepherd you through the process. (To learn how to find just such a superior lawyer here or download this free monograph onChoosing The Right Lawyer.)
For the full list of the qualities you should look for when selecting a lawyer, see:
To learn more about this or other topics relating to divorce and family law, check out our free New York Divorce Guides or call us today at (212) 964-6100!
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Of course, you will need a skilled lawyer to protect and defend you and your rights. Call our offices for a free telephone consultation and to learn how we can help you. A Manhattan Family Law Attorney at Chaim Steinberger, P.C. can give you a solid foundation for meeting your goals during divorce, legal separation, annulment, and more.