12 Mar 2012
Divorcing can be one of the most difficult times in a person’s life. The divorce procedure has been well documented as one of the highest known factors for incurring stress. This is because divorce combines a multitude of well known, high-stress situations, such as breaking up with a partner, re-location, major changes to the family structure, and new financial burdens.
We understand how difficult the divorce procedure can be and have devised a thorough checklist to ensure the last thing you have to worry about is whether you have forgotten something important.
If you are currently going through a divorce, feel free to grab a pen and paper and go through each item on this checklist to assess where you currently are in the process. Include any comments, ideas, and questions you might have. If you feel that you have a lot you are unsure of or worried about, ask one our divorce attorneys about it. You may be surprised at how much you have to learn, and how much easier the process can be if you have an ally and advocate on your side.
This list is by no means “all inclusive”, but it will give you a great start to understanding the requirements of your future divorce. The good news is that no matter if you choose to pursue a traditional contested divorce, or a no-fault uncontested divorce, this checklist can help you get started with the process.
Custody and Access of Children
- Legal Custody. Will there be joint or sole legal custody?
- Routine Access Schedule: Where will the children be on a given day?
- Vacation Access Schedule: How many weeks of uninterrupted vacation time with the children?
- Holiday Access Schedule: Who will the children celebrate with in a given year? What are they currently used to?
- School Breaks: Where will the children spend their vacation time?
- Telephone Contact: What will the rules concerning communication with the children by phone?
- Transportation: Who will transport the children for parenting time exchanges?
- Best Interest of the Child: With all of these factors, which is the best for the children, not necessarily you or your spouse?
Child Support, Income Tax and Other Child Expenses
- Basic Child Support: How much does it cost to support the children? What do the Maryland Child Support Guidelines say the child support should be?
- Medical/Dental Child Support: Who will insure the children?
- Child Care Support: How much will each parent pay for daycare?
- Security for Support: Should one or both parents secure life insurance for the benefit of the children?
- Income Tax Exemptions: Who claims the children on their income taxes?
- Spousal Maintenance/Alimony: How much and for how long will one spouse need support before he or she can become self supporting?
Property, Pre-Separation Debts and More
- Medical Insurance: Will each party cover his or her own insurance?
- Marital Property: What is a fair and equitable way to value and divide marital property?
- Non-Marital Property: What is considered non-marital property? Does the holder of a non-marital interest retain that interest without inquiry?
- Pre and Post Separation Debts: How is the marital debt divided?
- Fees and Costs: Will one party pay attorneys’ fees and court costs, or will each be responsible for his or her own fees and costs?
- Name Change: Does either spouse wish to change their name?
- Ongoing Conflicts: Will the parties agree to mediate?
- Documents: Do each agree to execute all paperwork necessary to transfer property interests?
- Non-Disclosure: Does the court retain the ability to re-open the case?
Implementing positive steps before you finally decide to take the big leap into divorce proceedings can help save you and your spouse time, effort, and a lot of stress in the long run. Additionally, knowing what steps to take and how to handle the matter in a responsible and considerate fashion will help prepare you both mentally and physically for the upcoming months.
Here are 10 proactive steps you can take to make the process less stressful:
1.Mutuality in the decision to divorce. Perhaps the most common source of conflict in a divorce is when both spouses haveNOT agreed to the divorce. Ideally, the decision is arrived at together or at least accepted by both of you. Unless you are intend to plan a surprise attack or sudden departure (which is a good way to start a war, not a divorce), take time to work on mutual acceptance of the divorce before making any drastic changes.
2.Have sensitive mail sent somewhere private. Seeing your spouse’s attempts to sign up for a new credit card or rent an apartment, or correspondences from his or her attorney would stir up emotion in anyone. Save both of you the extra pain and stress by having your mail sent to your office, a friend’s address, or get a mailbox at a local mail service center that allows 24 hour access.
3.Knowledge is power. Much of the divorce process is dividing up property and deciding who gets what. Know ahead of time where you and your spouse have bank accounts, life insurance policies, mutual funds, certificates of deposit, any other instruments of finance, and important documents such as social security cards,passports, birth and stock certificates, the details of pensions, 401 (k) accounts, and other employee benefits. Know the location of and have access to safe deposit boxes. The quicker you can each provide the necessary documentation, the quicker the process will go.
4.Records. Along with knowing where the above documents are, having your own copies of everything will prevent having to request such documents directly from your spouse in order to proceed in your case and allow your attorney to inspect them. While you have the chance, make photocopies of every family financial record you can find. If you used one, visit the family accountant and get copies of tax returns and records for the past several years.
5.Open a bank account in your name. As much as you may try to keep a divorce amicable, inevitably there will be disagreements about what to do with your financial assets. Both parties may feel entitled to joint bank accounts, and it only takes one party to clear out an account, leaving the other party without enough funds to pay the bills. Prevent this possibility by opening an account in your name, and do not deposit any more of your own money into a joint account, even if you transfer that into your own name.
6.Start building new credit. If you have been married for a long time, your credit score is likely based nearly entirely on all jointly held accounts. It is a good idea to start establishing credit in your own name, so apply for a credit card in your name only and start using it. You may need to take on some extra expenses, such as buying new furniture or getting a new cellphone, so a credit card will also help you take on these extra costs. Don’t be surprised if a spouse petitions for joint accounts to be frozen, pending equitable distribution in a divorce, so having your own credit card ready to go will prevent compounding stress brought on by this move. It is a good idea to cancel all jointly held credit cards as soon as separation takes place to prevent disagreements about who is responsible for the credit card debt accumulated after the separation, but make sure that you alert your spouse if you intend to make changes to the credit card to prevent unnecessary fighting.
7.Pay as many bills as possible. Prior to separation, pay as many bills as possible. If you and your spouse end up disagreeing over who should pay what bill, you both could end up with bad credit or one of you could end up living in a dark house. Pay bills ahead of time so that you don’t have to worry about it later.
8.Social Security. Request a personal earnings and benefits statement (PEBES FORM SSA-7004) for yourself and one for your spouse from the Social Security Administration. One day you might be able to collect on your spouse’s record, but after divorce you may not be able to access the information. Protect yourself and get the information which you can.
9.Safeguard heirlooms and liquid assets. Seek appraisals for artwork, antiques, and other collectibles. Be certain that your name is recorded on the house deed or apartment lease prior to separation and the filing of divorce. Make sure you revoke any powers of attorney your spouse may have and ask brokerage firms to check for identification before your name is signed to anything
10.Look after your health-care needs. If your health insurance is based on a family plan, make sure you visit your doctor for a routine checkup, annual OB/GYN exam, vision testing, or dental cleaning and x-rays. Most insurance policies will remain intact for a few months during divorce proceedings, but then you may have to obtain your own insurance plan after the divorce is finalized. This may mean having to find new doctors, higher co-pays, and higher premiums, so take advantage of your coverage while you have it.
However you decide to proceed, we hope you do so in a way which will allow the process of getting a divorce to run as smoothly as possible. If you are in doubt about taking on these steps on your own or require further information regarding family law in Maryland including divorce, please contact one of our local, professional attorneys who will be more than happy to offer further advice or information. We have experience in both uncontested and contested divorces, and take pride in being both your ally and advocate throughout your divorce proceedings.