As a divorce attorney in White Plains, Westchester County, New York, I feel it is very important for individuals considering adivorce to be properly prepared. Good preparation and a basic understanding of the divorce process is essential to protecting your rights, children and financial future.
My top ten ways to prepare for a divorce action in New York are:
1. Gather Financial Documents - In every divorce action both contested anduncontested maintaining financial records is very important. As a divorce lawyer I ask my clients to retrieve at least three years of all bank statements, credit card statements, tax returns, retirement statements, mortgage statements, loan information and other financial documents. I provide my clients with a comprehensive list of documents to gather at our first meeting to give us a head start in preparing the case.
Financial information is even more important when you are not familiar with the financials of the marriage. It is common that one spouse pays all the bills and maintains the bank accounts so it is absolutely necessary to determine what accounts exist and get as many records as possible. I always advise to check the mail and keep a close watch for any mailings that would identify any financial accounts.
2.Save cash – Keep as much cash on hand as possible. Divorce expenses can increase quickly including lawyer's fees, court fees, expert fees and therapist bills. Also, expenses for children and a new household can increase rapidly. The goal is to have enough cash on hand to support yourself during the divorce action.
3. Protect Your Children – Child custody (physical and legal) with visitation rights is always a primary issue in a divorce action.
To protect your children it is highly advisable that you do not discuss any aspect of the divorce in front of your children or with your children. Using children as pawns or speaking negatively about the other parent is taken very seriously by the courts and should be avoided.
If issues involving the children are not resolved, the court will assign the children at attorney and that attorney will speak on behalf of the children in court. In most instances the parents are required to pay the legal fees for the children's attorney.
To obtain custody there are steps you can take to get custody of your children including becoming familiar with your child's health, safety, welfare and educational needs.
4. Hire a Good Lawyer – Of course you want to hire the best divorce lawyer you can afford especially if you have substantial assets and children to protect.
When dealing with an attorney it is wise to have a mutual understanding with your attorney about how your divorce case will proceed and the legal strategy you want to employ. Beware of the "take no prisoners" divorce attorney. Those type of attorneys typically demand outrageous fees, use fear to manipulate clients and will churn legal bills until both spouses are broke.
A reasonable divorce lawyer with a positive outlook and clearly identified goals can resolve your case quickly to save you money and lessen the emotional stress of the process.
5.Don't sign anything or verbally agree to something without speaking to a divorce lawyer – Always consult with a lawyer. Do not use the same lawyer as your spouse. Even if you consider your divorce "easy". It is unethical for a lawyer to represent both you and your spouse.
6. Change your will and health care proxy – If you have a will and a health care proxy consult with an attorney about revising those documents. Usually your spouse is listed as a beneficiary in a will and as the person designated to make health care decisions should you fall ill and not be able to make your own decisions. Once the divorce process is started it is easy to overlook these important legal documents.
7.Inventory Personal Property – In a divorce action even personal property in your home is subject to distribution. Important items such as collectables, jewelry, family heirlooms, artwork and other items should be listed especially if you know, after the divorce, you want an item of personal property. Sometimes it helps to take photographs in case an item "goes missing".
8. Become a Private Person – Get a P.O. Box, change the passwords to your computer accounts, delete anything embarrassing or anything that could be used against you from your social media, open your own bank accounts, get your own credit cards and safe deposit box.
9. Stay Positive and Focused – A divorce could be the most stressful time in a person life. Understand that a divorce is a step by step process and because of the complexities a divorce will not happen overnight. Don't let emotions get in the way of a well thought out strategic goals to allow everything to go as smooth as possible.
10. Review and Know the NYS Automatic Orders – In New York State once a divorce action is filed the Plaintiff is automatically under the restrictions of the Court's automatic orders. Once the Defendant is served with the divorce action the defendant becomes restricted by the Court's automatic orders. Any violation of these orders can be grounds for contempt of court and of course will not impress the Judge assigned to your case. The NYS Automatic Orders are as follows:
Once a judgment of divorce is signed in this action, both you and your spouse may or may not continue to be eligible for coverage under each other's health insurance plan, depending on the terms of the plan; and that pursuant to Domestic Relations Law Section 236, Part B, Section 2, as added by Chapter 72, of the Laws of 2009, both you and your spouse (the parties) are bound by the following AUTOMATIC ORDERS, which shall remain in full force and effect during the pendency of the action unless terminated, modified or amended by further order of the court or upon written agreement between the parties:
(1) Neither party shall transfer, encumber, assign, remove, withdraw or in any way dispose of, without the consent of the other party in writing, or by order of the court, any property (including, but not limited to, real estate, personal property, cash accounts, stocks, mutual funds, bank accounts, cars and boats) individually or jointly held by the parties, except in the usual course of business, for customary and usual household expenses or for reasonable attorney's fees in connection with this action.
(2) Neither party shall transfer, encumber, assign, remove, withdraw or in any way dispose of any tax deferred funds, stocks or other assets held in any individual retirement accounts, 401K accounts, profit sharing plans, Keogh accounts, or any other pension or retirement account, and the parties shall further refrain from applying for or requesting the payment of retirement benefits or annuity payments of any kind, without the consent of the other party in writing, or upon further order of the court; except that any party who is already in pay status may continue to receive such payments thereunder.
(3) Neither party shall incur unreasonable debts hereunder, including, but not limited to further borrowing against any credit line secured by the family residence, further encumbrancing any assets, or unreasonably using credit cards or cash advances against credit cards, except in the usual course of business or for customary or usual household expenses, or for reasonable attorney's fees in connection with this action.
(4) Neither party shall cause the other party or the children of the marriage to be removed from any existing medical, hospital and dental insurance coverage, and each party shall maintain the existing medical, hospital and dental insurance coverage in full force and effect.
(5) Neither party shall change the beneficiaries of any existing life insurance policies and each party shall maintain the existing life insurance, automobile insurance, homeowners and renters insurance policies in full force and effect.
As you can see from this divorce blog, the key is all in preparation. Beware alot depends on your spouse and how difficult they want to make the process but good preparation will be your best defense against a difficult spouse.
Divorce is very common in the United States. Some 2.8 million divorces occur each year.
At Proto, Sachs & Brown, LLP our attorneys understand the divorce process. We take the time to explain the legal process to you, listen to your concerns, answer your questions and offer you advice to achieve your goals.
If you are considering a divorce call our office for a free divorce consultation. (914) 946-4808.