By Joslin Davis
After the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, there is a trend most matrimonial attorneys have become very familiar with — a post-holiday season surge in divorce filings. Marriages end for many reasons all throughout the year, but when the phone rings for a family lawyer after January 1st, the voice at the other end is often someone who is resolved to move forward with a divorce. Whether you are the spouse who wants out of the relationship or the one who might feel blindsided by the news of a filing, you should consider the following items:
1. Keep the peace.
Divorce usually sets off a firestorm of emotion for everyone involved. Do not make matters worse by inflaming your spouse with hurtful words or spiteful comments. This is especially true in custody disputes when the focus will be on what is in the best interest of the children.
2. Don’t move out of the house.
The marital home is often the biggest asset negotiated over in divorce. Unless there are issues of personal safety for you and your children, do not put yourself at a disadvantage in the settlement process by moving out of your home before you speak with a lawyer about the risks involved.
3. Maintain the status quo.
Do not make any drastic changes to your lifestyle or with your finances. If you have been planning a major trip or purchase, hold off on making any firm commitments. If you are the bread winner of the family, do not abruptly shut off the stream of income to your spouse.
4. Keep the kids out of it.
Divorce ends your relationship with your spouse; it does not end your child’s relationship with their parent. Do not make this process more difficult on your children than it already is by involving them in this process. Do not belittle, swear, or yell at your spouse in front of the kids. Keep your focus on what is in the best interest of the children and co-parent accordingly.
5. Stay off of social media.
Be careful about what you post and who can view it. Adjust your security settings so that your social media accounts are private and not accessible to the public. If you feel the need to post on social media, do not post anything you would not want a judge to read when deciding who gets custody.
6. Don’t destroy potential evidence.
Embarrassing texts and emails are never as bad as having to admit to the judge that you tried to delete them in anticipation of trial. Do not erase data, do not delete emails or social media accounts, and do not throw away anything that you think might be relevant in court. Not only is this illegal, but it prevents your lawyer from representing you effectively.
7. Prepare for an arduous process.
Although an actual divorce is quick, reaching an agreement on property division, alimony, and custody can take years. If you have young children and child support is an issue, then it may be over a decade before this process is finally over. Hopefully everything goes smoothly, but if it doesn’t, at least you are prepared.
8. Get to work.
Start collecting documents and information relevant to your relationship with your spouse and your children. Gather as much financial information as you can. Get these documents to your lawyer and let her decide whether something is important.
9. Consult with a lawyer.
Whether it is you or your spouse who wants a divorce, you need to speak with a lawyer to learn your rights and to learn about the marital dissolution process. Each state has different laws when it comes to divorce and the information you find online may be wrong or inapplicable to your particular case. A consultation with a lawyer who specializes in family law can help you understand your case and can make you aware of potential issues that may be raised or contested by your spouse in settlement negotiations.
10. Keep your lawyer in the loop.
Once you retain an attorney, use them to your advantage by providing any documents or information they request and keeping them informed of any changes involving you, your spouse, or your children. The more your lawyer knows about the facts of your case, the better.
For many spouses who waited until after the holiday season to file for a divorce, they had been patiently delaying the inevitable in order to have one last gathering together as a family. It is important to try and maintain this spirit of cooperation as you move forward with, along with many other spouses throughout the country, a very carefully timed New Year’s resolution.