Benjamin Franklin said that failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Here are five more strategic steps to take if you are contemplating divorce.
Get Up To Speed On The Family Finances
It’s often the case that one spouse takes the lead in dealing with the family finances. If that person is you, you’re in good shape. But if that person is not you, you need to get up to speed now. Understanding debt is especially important. Ridding yourself of debt from jointly held credit cards and mortgages can be difficult. Creditors aren’t bound by divorce decrees; you can be sued for jointly incurred debt if your former spouse agrees to pay it, but doesn’t. The best plan is to pay off joint debt before proceeding with the divorce.
Be Transparent About Your Assets
Hiding assets is one way to come out ahead in a divorce. But it’s illegal, and, if your deception is discovered, you could face stiff penalties. You also will lose credibility in the eyes of the judge who is vested with the authority to make many discretionary calls in your case—including the all-important property division. The best tactic to protect yourself and your property is to do the right thing and declare all of your assets.
Build Your War Chest
First and foremost, open your own checking and saving accounts at a separate financial institution. Then save as much as you can. Divorce is expensive. If your divorce is contested, it will cost more than you think. Count on it. In addition to doing what must be done for you, your lawyer will have to respond to whatever antics your ex-spouse and his or her lawyer will pull. This is on top of the new reality of running a household on one income, rather than two. In a messy divorce, you do not want to be in a position where a lack of funds could affect the outcome of your case. You must be in a position to go the distance.
Keep a Childcare Diary
If you also have a custody dispute, you’ll benefit by keeping a detailed record of who does what with the kids. Record who takes them to their appointments and attends their schools and extracurricular activities. Support the diary entries with key documents and pictures where possible. At the same time, make copies of any police reports or drug evaluations showing why your spouse should not have custody of your children. It’s all about building a credible and documented case why you should have custody and your spouse shouldn’t. In other words, winning takes preparation.
Dress For Success
Make sure to invest in your appearance when you show up in court. It will boost your confidence, which will cause you to feel better and fare better with the judge. Dress for success. Wear neutral colored, conservative clothing and keep your accessories to a minimum. Get a haircut, ditch the holey jeans and tank tops, lose the pink hair, cover all tattoos, and shave off the whimsical facial hair. While judges are required to be impartial, they are human and can form an impression of you based on your appearance and demeanor. They most likely will be from your parents’ generation, so dress accordingly. Don’t give them a reason to be biased against you. And when in doubt, ask your lawyer for advice.
Sonya B. Coffman is a Board Certified divorce, custody, and family lawyer in Beaumont, Texas. She also is a CPA. Preparation is the cornerstone of her law practice.