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What to consider prior to filing for divorce?

As a family law attorney in Fort Lauderdale, I have many friends who ask me…“What should I consider prior to filing for divorce?”

As such, I have listed a few things to consider if a divorce or separation from your spouse is imminent.

Consult with an Attorney

Although you may be able to file for divorce on your own (uncontested divorce), it is almost always in your best interest to consult with an experienced divorce attorney prior to filing for divorce or entering into any written agreements with your spouse.  A divorce is one of the most important financial (and stressful) decisions a person will make during their lifetime.   The financial consequences alone can be life-altering.  Even if you “think” you and your spouse can resolve the divorce amicably, issues always arise – especially if children are involved.   Do not be pennywise and pound foolish – make sure you have proper legal counsel to advise you on the law and protect your interests.

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Speak with a Mental Health Professional

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Filing for divorce can be extremely stressful on you and your family (especially your children). It is important to be mentally prepared for the process. A mental health professional can help you navigate through the range of emotions you will experience through a divorce. A mental health professional can also help you become self-sufficient, recommend relaxation outlets, and most importantly, counsel you on how to deal and interact with your children and soon to be former spouse. As always, you should refrain from badmouthing your spouse in front of and/or to the children.  Even though it may difficult, you should always encourage a loving relationship between the children and your spouse.

Make Copies and Take Inventory

Make copies of all your financial information (i.e. tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, brokerage accounts, etc.) Once your spouse gets wind of an imminent “divorce”, access to these items may suddenly disappear, along with monies in the account. Additionally, take careful inventory of any safety deposit boxes valuables (such as jewelry) or “cash saved in the cookie jar”. Financial entitlement is a common sticking point in a divorce. This can become especially tricky when one party is self-employed, owns a business, or earns a significant portion of his/her income in cash or in-kind bartering. The more information at your lawyer’s disposal the better chances you have of receiving temporary support, recovering any money fraudulently transferred (if any), and eventually receive your proper entitlement.

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Marital Home

Do not move out of the marital home before speaking with an experienced divorce attorney. You do not have to leave the marital home during a divorce, unless there is a domestic violence incident or an injunction is entered. Once you move out of the marital home, you may have a difficult time moving back in and if you have children there may be an issue with the time sharing. In the event you or your children are the victim of domestic abuse, there may be other options at your disposal, such as an injunction against domestic violence which is commonly referred to as a “restraining order.” That being said, you and your children’s safety should always remain the top priority.

Start Saving and Building Credit

Divorces can be expensive. If your spouse moves out of the marital home, you may be left paying the bills (i.e. mortgage, electric, utilities, etc.) if and until the Court awards you temporary support. An experienced divorce attorney will be able to determine the likelihood of the Court awarding you temporary support from your spouse. Also, your lawyer will require a retainer to begin working on your case. If you are considering moving out of the marital home, you will need money for rent, a security deposit, and common household items, such as a bed. Additionally, you should obtain a credit card in your name only. If your credit is poor, begin to pay down outstanding bills and improve your credit rating. Your spouse may refuse to pay for anything without a Court Order. Plan for the worst – make sure you have a financial cushion at your disposal.

Remove Personal Items

Remove all personal items from the marital residence which cannot be monetarily replaced to a secure location.   Such items may include photos, videos, and family heirlooms. You can always buy a new television, but you cannot replace your grandmother’s antique vase.

Remember, you may want to accomplish these steps prior to discussing a possible divorce with your spouse. Once a divorce is “on the table”, these steps become much more difficult to accomplish. Completing these steps prior to divorce will inevitably save you a tremendous amount of time, stress, and aggravation in the months ahead and possibly ensure you and your children’s financial future.

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