Every 13 seconds, there is a divorce in America. This number reduces to a situation that causes significant changes in the lives of divorcing spouses and their families. Here is what people should do while they are separated to begin preparing for the divorce and their life afterward.
Separation may happen when you prepare for the end of your marriage. While you should not take unilateral steps that will impact the marital estate, you can do things that will attempt to minimize your financial risk. In addition, you can pave the way for a financial life on your own.
Some of what you do during a separation should help set the tone for the best possible post-divorce relationship with your ex-spouse. You may have children who you need to co-parent. Even if your children are grown, you may still see your partner at family functions in the future. You should try to do your best so that there is no permanent bitterness that could cause a family rupture, even after the marriage is ended.
With this in mind, you should begin to treat the divorce process as a business deal that needs to be completed. Even if the end of your marriage was painful and bitter, you will want to try to transition your relationship with your ex-spouse to one that is more businesslike. This means that you should try to remove some or all of the emotion from the equation as much as possible.
One of your first steps in the separation process is to decide on a divorce attorney to represent you. What happens during your separation can affect the terms of your divorce. For example, if relations with your ex-spouse get out of hand, it could keep a court from deciding that the two parents are able to share legal custody. Much of what you do during this time needs to happen based on a strategy that you and your family law attorney devise ahead of time.
In addition, hiring a divorce lawyer early on can help take off some strain during a very stressful and emotional time. Quite frankly, you have enough on your plate right now without having to worry about the legal maneuvering that accompanies a divorce. This is why you should hire and pay an attorney. The sooner you select the right person to help you legally, the more you can focus on adjusting to your new life. Having legal help is even more crucial when you have an active custody dispute on your hands.
Your divorce process may involve negotiation and compromise to arrive at an amicable agreement that stays out of court. This requires significant work on your part before you even begin to discuss a settlement. Negotiation must be according to a plan, so you can get much of what you want. One of the important steps is to sit down with your divorce lawyer to figure out your strategy. This happens as early as the initial consultation.
Some of this involves realizing what is important to you and prioritizing it. Certain aspects of your financial situation could be deal breakers or game changers. The key is to know in advance what your bottom line is in the negotiation process and what you are trying to work toward. All of this involves forethought and several discussions with your family lawyer to realize what you want and how to make it happen. Many divorce agreements are only signed after the two parties have exchanged multiple drafts of proposed agreements and have had plenty of give and take.
One area where you need to be very concerned during the separation is joint credit accounts. You may end up legally liable for the debts that the other spouse racks up before filing for divorce if the account is in both of your names. Remember, even though you may be separated, you are still legally married during this time. Thus, any marital debts that the other spouse incurs, you may end up being responsible to pay.
In New Jersey, the cutoff date for debt is the day that the divorce complaint is filed. Before that, both spouses are responsible for any marital debt that is incurred. After that date, the spouse who runs up the debt generally is responsible to pay. There is always time between the physical separation and the filing for divorce, so you could end up at risk.
This is why one of the first things that you need to do during the separation period is to get a handle on your debt situation. Make an exhaustive list of all the accounts that you and your spouse have jointly and either take your name off of these accounts or close them. You should be proactive about this, making sure to handle this as soon as you separate. The worst thing is being stuck with debt that someone else incurs because you did not cut off an account in time.
Being separated, and ultimately divorced, is about supporting two households on the same money that previously sustained one. Invariably, there will be cutbacks and tough budgeting choices that you will need to make in order to make ends meet. It is better to know your financial situation early on in the separation process because it will prevent you from going into debt and put you in a better position to negotiate the final divorce agreement.
As soon you know that your marriage will be ending, you should sit down with a pen, paper, and a calculator to start working through a budget. While child support would be set according to child support guidelines, you need to know how the money that you would pay or receive would fit into your budget. Your resources will dictate whether and how much you need to cut back to make everything work. They will also determine your negotiating position when you go to divide any marital assets.
While you may want to take time to grieve and adjust, you also have a divorce process to undertake. While you do not need to begin negotiating the second that you separate or decide to divorce, you should resolve any outstanding disputes sooner rather than later. If you begin the negotiations, you will get an idea of any differences in positions between you and your ex-spouse. The quicker these are identified, the sooner you will be able to bridge the gap.
Some disputes can be tough to work out, and you must negotiate extensively. This takes time and patience. These issues are not always worked out overnight. Therefore, it is better not to wait too long to start your work on the divorce agreement. The quicker you are able to amicably resolve the divorce, the more stability you can provide for your children. After all, the goal is to move on from one chapter of your life and begin another.
One of the most important steps that you can take is your first phone call to a family lawyer. Contact Jeralyn Lawrence, divorce attorney at the New Jersey firm of Lawrence Law at (908) 645-1000 today. Our Red Bank and Watchung attorneys are ready to meet you online or over the phone.