Divorce is more than an emotional uncoupling. It is a legal one. It involves a host of logistical concerns - from where you are going to live to how you’re going to split all the expenses you used to share. But while it can be cumbersome to consider things like this when all you want is for it to be over, it is imperative that you take it one element at a time to avoid missteps that could cost you dearly - and serve only to lengthen your entanglements.
Here, our Freehold divorce lawyers offer our best advice on 7 things to do before filing for divorce in New Jersey. Keep in mind: Every marriage, separation and divorce is different, so there isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach that will work for everyone. The following are what we have found have worked best for the majority of our family law clients.
- Hire a good divorce lawyer. There is no doubt that if you can settle your differences with your spouse without litigation, you can save yourself a lot of time, expense (and more than a few headaches). But even if you choose a collaborative process like mediation, it is wise to have a legal advocate on your side to be sure you are not overlooking something of consequence that could have an impact down the road. You also benefit from an attorney who is prepared to go to court if necessary. You may agree on everything except parenting time or alimony. A good divorce lawyer can help ensure you are only litigating those matters that need to be litigated, rather than giving up significant control to the court on matters that do not require judicial input.
- Have a good sense of your finances. Per NJ Rev Stat § 2A:34-23.1, New Jersey is an equitable distribution state. That means that marital property (and debts) will be divided up between you in the way that is the most fair. But what are marital assets? Sometimes, these are obvious. Your shared home, certain financial accounts, vehicles, etc. - these will be divided equitably (though not necessarily equally). But some things might be less clear (property you had prior to marriage, pension plans, artwork, etc.). You want to be able to negotiate from a sound position, and that means having a very clear sense of where you - and your soon-to-be-ex - stand financially. Figure out what you have, what your income is, what you owe, what items are in whose name, what your credit standing is, etc. Your attorney can help you identify what documents will be the most helpful.
- Start carving out your own credit. Lots of people have a rough go of it striking out on their own after divorce because they do not have their own credit. They have been sharing their spouse’s credit for years, and now they suddenly cannot get a loan for a car or a home. Building up your own credit is something you should begin doing as soon as possible. Start by simply putting a credit card in your own name, making small purchases and faithfully paying them off.
- Close your joint credit accounts. While you are at it, start untangling your shared debt. If the sum is relatively inconsequential, consider making the joint decision to pay it off and close those accounts. Keep in mind that no matter what is decided in the divorce settlement, credit card companies may still put you on the hook for unpaid balances with your name on them. If nothing else, look into having those accounts frozen and notify the credit agencies of your impending divorce so they can alert you to any suspicious activity.
- Take stock of your joint financial accounts. It is not unheard of for a spouse to drain joint finances before or soon after a divorce filing. In some cases, it could be done out of pure spite. Other times, it may be out of fear or panic. But whatever the case, you will need a fair accounting to protect yourself. If you are concerned your spouse may rush to deplete your joint funds, talk to your attorney about possibly filing an injunction or taking other measures to shield your shared nest egg until it can be hashed out in court.
- Set a budget. This may be tougher than it seems at first blush. Your income may be about to drop drastically. Factor in whatever alimony and/or child support you will be paying. (If you will be the recipient, consider what you’ll do if the checks don’t come in as regularly as they should.) Try to build up some savings if you can. Wait to see how much your finances will be affected before making any major purchases. Consider cutting back on expenses for a while if you can too.
- Will you stay or will you go? Unless we’re talking about a situation of domestic violence, it might make the most sense to wait to move out of your shared home until the proceedings are final. If it’s safe and you can treat each other civilly, there are some reasons why it may be worth staying for a time. For one thing, a spouse who moves out may have to continue paying for a portion of the expenses associated with the maritla residence. Further, if you’re hoping to continue living in that home - especially if you have kids - it’s probably not wise to leave it. At the very least, note that this is not a decision you should make without first discussing it with your lawyer.
On a final note, experienced divorce attorneys often encourage clients, where possible, to take the high road. Be mindful of flaunting new relationships or wealth or posting publicly about anything that might be misconstrued/potentially used against you in court. This is extremely important if there is child custody matters you want to pursue.
Call Rozin|Golinder Law, LLC today at (732) 810-0034 for a free and confidential consultation.