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159 - 7 Steps to Take Before Filing for Divorce Image

02/21/2020 3:00 pm

Proper preparation for your divorce case is critical. It helps improve your chances of a positive outcome, reduces surprises along the way, and can save you thousands in attorney’s fees. In this show, Leh and Todd discuss 7 steps to take before you file for divorce.

Transcript

Leh Meriwether:

Welcome everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. We are the hosts of the Divorce Team Radio, sponsored by Meriwether and Tharp. Here you'll learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis. And from time to time, even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at AtlantaDivorceTeam.com. All right, Todd.

Todd Orston:

Hi, Leh.

Leh Meriwether:

Hi, Todd. All right, we ready to get practical?

Todd Orston:

No.

Leh Meriwether:

Dang it. What am I-

Todd Orston:

I want to get really practical.

Leh Meriwether:

Oh, okay.

Todd Orston:

See, I'm taking it to another level, Leh, I wish you would try and keep up.

Leh Meriwether:

I never know where you're going.

Todd Orston:

Neither do I.

Leh Meriwether:

At least I'm not alone. Oh, so last week we talked about the four questions for you to ask before filing for divorce. I know the point was to make sure hey, maybe you realize that you can save your marriage or it's worth saving. Or you find out I'm not really prepared for this divorce, I don't understand our finances well enough or I haven't thought through the parenting plan well enough. So you have to educate yourself more. So today we're going to get practical or really practical, as Todd says it. And we're going to talk about seven steps to take before filing divorce. So you've asked yourself your questions, you've decided that yes, I want to move forward with a divorce. So we're going to talk about the seven things you should do before even filing, if you can. This is in the best case scenario. Not saying ... This is not a situation ... Well even if, I guess you could go through these steps even if the other side files first. But the seven steps, should we just?

Todd Orston:

I think you should stop talking and we should just jump right in. You can say-

Leh Meriwether:

I was thinking about laying them out, but ...

Todd Orston:

You can say the seven steps a few more times and-

Leh Meriwether:

I was going to lay them out. But let's just ... We'll just go one at a time.

Todd Orston:

All right, perfect.

Leh Meriwether:

All right, so the first one ...

Todd Orston:

Educate yourself about divorce and the legal process. All right, so in other words, educate yourself both legally and emotionally.

Leh Meriwether:

I was checking to make sure you knew what the first step was.

Todd Orston:

Oh, I'm with you. I'm like nine steps ahead of you I think.

Leh Meriwether:

Are you sure about that?

Todd Orston:

I have educated myself legally and emotionally.

Leh Meriwether:

So, one of the things, by educating yourself you familiarize yourself with the divorce process. And here's one big advantage is, it helps to eliminate shocks or surprises. The other advantage is that you can save money. Because as lawyers, we're going to answer your questions, but we charge by the hour. So if you ask what we might consider to us is a routine question, not routine to you, but routine to us, we're still going to charge you for that. And it's going to drive up your costs. But for instance, our website, if you were in Georgia ... Well, and we have a Florida website too that's loaded with information. But the one here in Georgia has 5,000 pages on it. You start reading that website, that's really going to get you caught up to speed on divorce law.

Todd Orston:

In today's day and age, and especially, and I am patting us on the back in terms of Meriwether and Tharp because we do have a website with 5,000 plus pages of information and videos and transcripts and you name it. And we do the radio show and we do free consults. For us, information is so important. And we give a lot of information out for free. And not all attorneys do. And I'm not throwing stones, I'm just saying that's how we approach it. Because the analogy I sometimes use is if you are working at a company and you have a big presentation or a big sales pitch or whatever, do you walk in cold? You don't. You prepare. You go into that meeting prepared so that you can do the best job possible.

Todd Orston:

Why would you spend that kind of time on something related to your work, but not on something as significant as a divorce? You need to educate yourself. And in today's day and age, there's so much free information out there. But you have to question the source.

Leh Meriwether:

Right.

Todd Orston:

Okay? I'm not saying that, as much as I love our website, jokes aside, I'm not going to sit here and say we are the only website out there, that has information for free. But going to Billy Bob's the best darn legal advice in the world, and clearly not an attorney, that's not where you should get your information. So choose wisely the source of your information.

Leh Meriwether:

And make sure, some of these sites are national sites. So you may go to them and-

Todd Orston:

And it's general in nature as opposed to Georgia specific, or whatever state you're in.

Leh Meriwether:

Right. So start off with that. You can listen to podcasts, like our show. One of the things we recommend is hiring a counselor. Because you don't want to just educate yourself legally, but emotionally. They can also help you make a self assessment, make sure that if you have trigger points that you work on those trigger points. Because the last thing you want to do is let someone pull your trigger or flip your trigger and you unload on them in the middle of the divorce and next thing you know you've got World War III going on and your divorce went from a simple $2,500 uncontested divorce to a $100,000 contested divorce.

Todd Orston:

Yep. Yeah. You have to be very careful and you don't want to go into the situation blind. Also, there are attorneys. If you're not ready or even if you're not able to retain an attorney, pay for a consultation. We do free telephone consultations. But that doesn't involve just pulling out a bunch of documents and spending two, three, four hours with an attorney. But you can do a paid consultation with attorneys and that, I'm telling you right now, that is an imperative. Every day it seems, maybe not every day, but every week I have people call. And I just spoke with somebody yesterday again, where it was, "I reached an agreement directly with my spouse and we just filed everything and I'm reading it over. And you know what? I don't think this is fair. What can I do about it?"

Leh Meriwether:

Oh, boy.

Todd Orston:

And the answer is nothing.

Leh Meriwether:

Yeah.

Todd Orston:

You can try. I mean, we went through, I went through the steps that you can try. But the chance of success is like 2% based on those facts. So unfortunately if you don't educate yourself, it also puts you in a position where you could make major mistakes that have longterm negative impact on you.

Leh Meriwether:

I think following these steps, though, sets you up for success. Because you don't want to just jump into a consult. I mean, unless you just got served or something. Because sometimes the quality of information you get from the lawyer has to do with the quality of questions you ask that lawyer. They could be the most brilliant lawyer on the planet, but if you ask bad questions, you're not going to get great information. So if you start with reading, listening to podcasts, then you can come up with even better questions, then schedule the consultation so you can get more specific information for your situation.

Leh Meriwether:

Another option out there is divorce coaching. We see that's something that's growing, we interviewed Karen McMann, founder of the Journey Beyond Divorce, I think that was Episode 141. She's a divorce coach, she helps walk you through. And a lot of it's non-legal, it's the emotional component. But maybe you look into hiring a divorce coach. It's getting yourself prepared legally and emotionally. Because those two are very closely tied together.

Leh Meriwether:

Okay, number two, secure your documents. So you want to collect and maintain copies or records of important information, like financial, personal and insurance related information. Separate property information, if you came into the marriage with a 401K, you need to go get that statement, the statement that you had right before you got married.

Todd Orston:

And let me jump on that for a moment. I hope every marriage stays healthy and people stay happy and they never have to get a divorce. We have people who come to us, and unfortunately they've been together for a year. We have people who unfortunately have been together for 30 years. Banks change, institutions shut down, documents disappear or the banks stop maintaining those documents after a period of time. You need to be thinking about this, and don't think about it in the context of a divorce. Because then it's like, "Well I don't want to do this because I'm happy and my relationship is healthy and I don't want to think about divorce." Don't think of it in those terms. If you came into a marriage with some separate property, then basically what you need to do is make sure you have those documents, and you put them somewhere safe. Because if the breakdown in the relationship occurs 10, 15, 20, 25 years later, you're not going to be able to go to the small town bank, or even a big bank-

Leh Meriwether:

That got bought out five banks ago.

Todd Orston:

That's right. They're not going to be able to find those statements, which means you don't have a separate property claim. Because it all comes down to what can you prove? So yeah, secure the documents and if you're not, I'm talking about if you're not going through a divorce. If you are going through a divorce, that's one of the first things you should do. And oftentimes if you are the person initiating, that's one of the conversations we have right off the bat. Before we file, before they even know this is coming, make sure the documents are ... that you collect them, that you have them in your possession, even if you have copies. Because the minute that we go down this path and the other party knows, it is not uncommon for those documents to just disappear.

Leh Meriwether:

Disappear, yep. I'm going to give you a link to our website that has a really long list, we're going to hit some of the highlights up next. But the website is MTLawOffice.com/Information-Gathering. So, MTLawOffice.com/Information-Gathering. So, that has a huge list of things you should start gathering right away. We won't go through everything on there because that would take up a couple shows. But we're going to hit some highlights when we come back.

Leh Meriwether:

I just wanted to let you know that if you ever wanted to listen to the show live, you can listen at 1:00 AM on Monday mornings on WSB. So you can always check us out there as well.

Todd Orston:

Better than like counting sheep, I guess. Right?

Leh Meriwether:

That's right.

Todd Orston:

You can turn on the show and we'll help you fall asleep.

Leh Meriwether:

There you go.

Todd Orston:

I'll talk very softly.

Leh Meriwether:

Welcome back, this is Leh and Todd on Divorce Team Radio, sponsored by Meriwether and Tharp. Hey, if you want to go back and read parts of this show or maybe you couldn't catch the link I just gave in the last segment for where you can get a whole list of documents you should secure.

Todd Orston:

You okay over there?

Leh Meriwether:

Yeah.

Todd Orston:

That's what happens when you hit the bottle during the break.

Leh Meriwether:

Just a few shots of whiskey. No, I'm just kidding. No, so we have transcripts on the website. You can go to DivorceTeamRadio.com and get the transcript and get the link to our website, which was MTLawOffice.com/Information-Gathering. And that's a big list. We're going to hit some of the highlights here in this segment. But then we're going to keep going with the steps that you should be taking prior to filing for divorce, if you can. So the first one was educate yourself.

Leh Meriwether:

The second one is secure your documents. Because we've seen all too many times, things disappear. If there is cash sitting in a safe in your house, take pictures of the cash. Maybe even put it in a bank account. Although, that could cause a problem with the IRS. So at least document the cash in a safe. I mean, we had a case like that. We have these bizarre cases, the list keeps getting longer every year. Because we have, it seems like something new happens. But secure any information that shows any separate property you had before you got married. Depending on the state you're in, that can have a big impact on your case. Secure most recent checking account statements, tax returns for the last three years, recent paycheck stubs.

Leh Meriwether:

Here's the other thing, the more information that you can gather and give to your lawyer, the better information that the lawyer can give you as far as what this case might look like for child support purposes or alimony or equitable division. So try to get most recent mortgage statement. If there had been a recent appraisal on the house, go ahead and get that.

Todd Orston:

And a lot of these documents, very quickly, your attorney can get them, if they're new. I was already talking about something that may be 10, 15 years old, and then it becomes more challenging. But if you're talking about we need 12 months of bank records, if you don't have easy access to them either through the bank, a branch or online, can we get them? Absolutely. Is it going to cost more money if an attorney has to do the work to gather the documents? Absolutely. So, another reason for us telling you these things is because not only can you get the best advice from the attorney possible, but you are allowing the attorney to do the work as efficiently as possible. And that's going to ultimately save you money.

Leh Meriwether:

So if there's issues regarding the children, you may want to grab the passports. If there's a concern that there might be a flight risk, grab the passports, grab the social security cards for you and the kids. If there may be a custody fight, you want to go ahead and get school records, compile school records, academic reports, disciplinary records, any evidence that you went to the parent teacher conferences and your spouse didn't. Your life insurance policy, homeowners insurance policy, your automobile insurance policy. The lawyer might not look at that, but you need to go ahead and gather all that so you can do a domestic relations financial affidavit that you're going to have to do, so that you can start separating things.

Todd Orston:

And by the way, you have the right to it. So even if it's an account in your spouse's name and it's maintained at the house, there's a filing cabinet. Just because it's in their name doesn't mean you don't have a right to it. I'm saying that because I don't want people to think, "Well, I don't know, am I allowed to take it?" Because I've had people ask that, "Am I allowed to take the documents?" "Am I allowed to copy them or even take the originals and hold onto them?" And the answer is, you do have that right. You're not committing a crime, you're not doing anything improper. Do not take them and destroy, that's going to make you look bad. But securing the documents, which is what we're talking about, so that they are secure, you know that they are available for your review, the other party's review, a judge's review, that is absolutely within your right.

Leh Meriwether:

I think there would be two exceptions to that [inaudible 00:15:53] documents. One is if there's a business and your name is not on that business and technically those documents belong to the business, your lawyer can get access to them.

Todd Orston:

That's right.

Leh Meriwether:

The other thing is, perhaps someone keeps their financial records on their laptop, but the laptop isn't theirs personally, it's the company for which they work. That's not your family's laptop. There may be personal information on it, but it is not owned by you or him or she or whoever's laptop it is. Don't suddenly grab the laptop and start trying to get access to it.

Todd Orston:

And that's a different ... That's a whole show we could have. Because then you're 100% right. If it's a work computer that he also or she also uses as a home computer, if you have access to it on a daily basis-

Leh Meriwether:

That's a different story.

Todd Orston:

That's a different story. Even though it was a work computer, it's sort of doing double duty.

Leh Meriwether:

So I guess probably the safe thing to do is gather everything you can.

Todd Orston:

That's right.

Leh Meriwether:

Look at our list, gather everything you can, and then ask a lawyer about anything that's questionable.

Todd Orston:

That's right.

Leh Meriwether:

All right. Speaking of talking to your lawyer, the number three step is secure your communication. You want to protect sensitive information. So if you've been sharing a computer with your spouse, so there's your email on there, if you have common passwords or credential to computer files, you need to go change all the passwords. You may need to get a new email address altogether. We often recommend that, go out and get a brand new perhaps Gmail address or something like that. If you're living in the same house, you may need to get a PO box so that your lawyer can ... Most of the time lawyers don't mail anything anymore, we're emailing them. But every once in a while you may need to mail something or perhaps you have sensitive information coming to the house and both of you live there. Get a PO box for it to go to.

Todd Orston:

Yeah, and then regarding digital documents and information, put it into an account in the cloud. You have duplicate, replicate that data. Because I can't tell you how many times people have come to me and they're like, "Oh, I've been recording some conversations." And it's legal here in Georgia if it's done a certain way. So, "Oh, I have all these telephone calls with the other spouse that I recorded. And they said some crazy things." And it's like, "Okay, well where are those recordings?" "Oh, well he or she got my phone and erased everything." And, "Oh, okay. Well, that doesn't help us." "Oh yeah, and I have things on my computer." "Okay, where are those?" "Well, he or she erased everything."

Leh Meriwether:

Which we've seen happen before.

Todd Orston:

It happens. And once it's gone, for the ... We can try to salvage it, but usually it's gone. And therefore, basically if there's information like that, get it off of your phone. Or at least duplicate it, put it into some cloud account or go get another hard drive, put it onto the hard drive, hide the hard drive and secure that information.

Leh Meriwether:

Now just because you hide it, if it's asked for in discovery, you're going to have to disclose it.

Todd Orston:

Yep.

Leh Meriwether:

But the point is-

Todd Orston:

But it's there.

Leh Meriwether:

So it doesn't disappear. Now, I'm glad you brought up cloud sharing.

Todd Orston:

You're welcome.

Leh Meriwether:

Because what I've seen happen before is, let's say for instance iTunes, I'll use that as an example because I'm most familiar with it. A lot of times people have a family account. So everything's shared in the cloud and while you may have changed your password on your email address, those emails, if they're going to your phone or your iPad, can still be saved in the cloud and the other side can get access to them or pictures. So let's say you took this great photo and you think it's proof positive of some alcohol issues or hidden bottles. Well, if it's in the cloud now, they can delete it. So it can be deleted off your phone because you are still connected. You have to set up a brand new iTunes account, completely separate from the family. Because you don't want to give them access. You don't want them to go in there and delete it.

Leh Meriwether:

Or, we saw one time that the husband had set up an account and given their children an iPad. And he was communicating with his mistress on his phone. Well, the text messages were also coming to the children's iPad. So the wife got access to all this evidence of his adultery. Instead of spending quality time with the kids, he was actually communicating with his mistress. And it upset the children. Because they're reading the text messages. And by the way, I couldn't say what was in these text messages on the air, because they were-

Todd Orston:

They were explicit.

Leh Meriwether:

They were explicit. So, you've got to secure information. You have to break away cloud accounts. If you're going to put things in the cloud, create a separate cloud account that you've never used before.

Todd Orston:

Yeah, so we're hitting it from both sides. Information that you want private, make sure it's private. Information that you just don't want to disappear, secure it, copy it, put it someplace where even if they are an internet, a web hacker as their profession, okay? If you put it onto a hard drive and you unplug the hard drive and you put it somewhere and it's safe-

Leh Meriwether:

Give it to your lawyer.

Todd Orston:

Right. Then it's going to be safe. Make sure that you secure the information that you want shown. I've seen, I had one where something similar happened and the client was communicating with another attorney. And basically strategy, you name it, and later found out that all those emails were being read by the other party.

Leh Meriwether:

Yeah.

Todd Orston:

So, you have to make sure that your communications are secure.

Leh Meriwether:

So, last point about passwords. Passwords include not just your phone and your computer, but also all social media accounts. Anything where you have to use a password, go change it across the board. And make sure it's something that there's no way your spouse could get. Because even though it may be an invasion of your privacy, still, let's try to avoid all that stuff. And up next, we're going to talk about, continue to go through the steps you need to take before filing for a divorce.

Leh Meriwether:

Hey everyone, you're listening to our podcast. But, you have alternatives. You have choices. You can listen to us live also at 1:00 AM on Monday morning on WSB. If you're enjoying the show, we would love it if you could go rate us in iTunes or wherever you may be listening to it. Give us a five star rating and tell us why you like the show.

Leh Meriwether:

Welcome back to Divorce Team Radio, this is Leh and Todd and ... And? Todd, that was your cue.

Todd Orston:

Oh, and ... I'm very smart. No.

Leh Meriwether:

I thought you were quick on your feet.

Todd Orston:

No, but I thought you were just ... I wasn't even up on my feet yet. I was waiting for you to finish your whole little intro thing. Great. Look what you did. Now I'm embarrassed.

Leh Meriwether:

Finally. All right, today we're talking about the seven steps to take before filing for divorce. We're getting practical here, we're talking about little things that often people don't think about. We see it time and time again, there had been a family iTunes accounts, I'm most familiar with that one. I know that they've got the same thing with Android and that sort of thing.

Todd Orston:

Like you don't want everyone to know about your Celine Dion crush. So I understand, you want to secure that information. Make sure it's safe.

Leh Meriwether:

Oh boy, yeah. If you missed any of the prior segments-

Todd Orston:

Phantom of the Opera. I mean, it's just ... Never mind.

Leh Meriwether:

If you missed the first two segments, you can always go to DivorceTeamRadio.com to listen to them or read them, because the show is transcribed. All right, so we left off with securing your communication. Now we're going to talk about securing assets and liabilities.

Todd Orston:

So important. So, so, so, so important, jokes aside. When you are thinking about the process or as you're heading into a divorce, you need to be thinking that unfortunately what is there could tomorrow not be there. So you need to make sure ... I've seen, I had one case where they had an account with about $260,000, $270,000 in it. The other party got their hands on it, transferred it into an account in their own name. The court allowed that party to maintain the account and use it for normal expenses. By the time the divorce was finalized, there was only about $60,000 or $70,000 left in the account.

Todd Orston:

So, basically you have to understand that oftentimes, it just depends on the attorney, the advice that somebody will get is to, at the very least, if the attorney is saying the right things, I think. If they're acting in a responsible way, it's not transfer everything out of the other party's name and leave them high and dry. But taking a lot of these assets and moving them into places where you know they're secure. The way I put it is it's a lot easier to transfer things back, meaning you know it's secure and it's not going to be wasted and we can make some of that available for spending and use by the other party. It's a lot better and easier to do that, than the other party gets their hands on it and maybe a week or a month later you find out those assets are gone.

Leh Meriwether:

Yep. So you may want to consult with an attorney. We're speaking about basically Georgia and Florida law. I want to make sure that before you do that, there may be some nuance in another state if you're not listening to this in Georgia.

Todd Orston:

Absolutely.

Leh Meriwether:

Just double check with a lawyer that there's no laws that may prevent that. Because here in Georgia ... Most states, it's joint property. Even if your name's not on it, it's joint property. Obviously if your name's not on a bank account, you're not going to get access to it. And again, going back to the exception I talked about earlier, if there is a business-

Todd Orston:

That's different.

Leh Meriwether:

... that your name's not on, then you can't just take that money out. So just keep that in mind. We're talking about accounts you have access to. Another thing you should do is get your credit report. Because we've seen cases where someone didn't know that their spouse has obtained credit in their name and it created a problem. There was $40,000 in credit card debt they were completely unaware of prior to the divorce. So get your credit report. Find out where you're sitting on certain things.

Todd Orston:

And it's so easy.

Leh Meriwether:

Yeah.

Todd Orston:

It is very easy to run or have run your credit. So there really is no excuse. I usually tell people it's a great first step. Just because you probably haven't checked, most people. I mean, there's some people who regularly check their credit. Most people don't. So it's a good first step so you understand what kind of assets and debts, or debts rather, you're really dealing with. But like you, I've had cases where there were big surprises. And all of a sudden you're going into it thinking, "Oh we don't use credit cards. It's fantastic. We're debt free." And then all of a sudden you run the credit and it's like, "Uh, why do I have $50,000 in debt?"

Leh Meriwether:

And, "Where's this tax lien coming from?"

Todd Orston:

Yeah, right. So it's like, "Ugh, well I thought my spouse was supposed to be paying those things." And here we are with liens and credit card debt and all of that. So protect your finances by doing the homework necessary to understand what the finances look like.

Leh Meriwether:

You may need to also sever financial ties between you and your spouse. The timing of that may depend on the nature of your case. I would suggest talking to a lawyer before you start doing certain things. But if you know you're heading towards a divorce, I would get a separate bank account and a separate bank all together. Because I have seen, they're not supposed to do this, but I saw a case several times, where the person created a new bank account with the same bank. And the bank manager knew they were married, and what happened was the husband drained his bank account. And then the bank took the money from our client's bank account to replenish it, which they shouldn't have done. But in the meantime, she had a bunch of checks bounce because she thought she had a couple thousand dollars in there, but he went on a spending spree and they pulled it over. She eventually got her money back, but it created a huge hassle.

Leh Meriwether:

So, set up a separate bank account. Again, depending on where you are with things. If you're worried your spouse may suddenly just take everything, you may need to set up your auto deposit. So don't have it necessarily go back into that same bank account, have it start going into a new bank account. And then you transfer money over to that bank account so there's money there to pay the bills and you don't panic your spouse. But the advantage is that you control that process now, when that money goes in.

Leh Meriwether:

Here's another thing, don't alter, transfer, assign or make a gift of any marital assets that are titled in both you or your spouse name. Seek the advice of a divorce attorney before taking any of those steps even concerning separate property. Transferring assets, and we're not talking about moving money, cash from one bank account to another. We're talking about, "Hey, will you hold onto these 10 bars of silver or gold, pending our divorce? Because I think she forgot about them," or he forgot about them.

Todd Orston:

Or even paying off all of those quote unquote loans that you had to your parents or your brother or sister or uncle or whatever, and now all of a sudden all of the accounts are drained and you're like, "No, those were debts." And there's no promissory notes, there's no nothing. Here's the thing, it's going to come back and bite you. All right? At some point you're going to be standing in front of a judge and more than likely the opposing party's not just going to roll over and accept that. And then it's going to look like you engaged in bad fraudulent, also defiant behavior, in defiance of standing orders and the rules of court. So basically understand, that kind of behavior, I understand what you're trying to accomplish. I want that money for myself when this case is all said and done. But courts see this all the time and they punish that kind of behavior all the time. So be very careful.

Todd Orston:

And securing it is one thing. Wasting it, giving it away, throwing property out, those types of things with a halfway decent, I'm not even going to go so far as to say good, but a halfway decent attorney on the other side, you're going to get caught. And it's going to be held against you.

Leh Meriwether:

And speaking of waste, don't try to ... Avoid accumulating new or additional debt. I mean, it's one thing to, you had to get a credit card to pay your attorney's fees. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about, "Well my car was already five years old and it had 60,000 miles on it, so I went out and bought an $80,000 Hummer." Do they still make those? I haven't seen one in a long time. But that was a case I had a long time ago, where the person went out and bought a very expensive, it may have been $100,000. This was back when they first came out.

Todd Orston:

Practical.

Leh Meriwether:

Very practical, yeah. Not to mention the gas mileage.

Todd Orston:

Yeah. One mile per gallon or something like that.

Leh Meriwether:

Something like that. Yeah, so avoid things like that. Because that also can come back to bite you. And when we're talking about secure, if you're worried something may disappear, secure it so it doesn't. You don't make things disappear, but have a good, firm understanding of where everything is and what your liabilities are, what your assets are, where the statements are so you can give those to your lawyer.

Todd Orston:

All right, so the next one, I know we're just going to be able to touch on it before the next break, is planning for the parenting future.

Leh Meriwether:

Yep.

Todd Orston:

All right? And obviously, I mean although finances are incredibly important, I always like to say the children are the most important part of any divorce case.

Leh Meriwether:

Yep.

Todd Orston:

All right? So what we're really talking about there is you don't just go into this without giving some thought to the fact that what is at one point a single family and two parents who are, to whatever degree, getting along, now you are two separate homes. Two separate schedules. There's a parenting time schedule, visitation, if you will. That has to be put in place. And the children need to, it needs to work for them. So when we're talking about planning for the parenting future, that's what we're talking about.

Leh Meriwether:

Yeah. Begin with the end in mind, that's usually what I say. Begin with the end in mind. And from a practical level, think of what a month in the life of a single divorced mom or single divorced dad looks like during the school year, during the summer, put it on a calendar. When we come back we're going to continue to talk about how to plan for the parenting future.

Leh Meriwether:

I just wanted to let you know that if you ever wanted to listen to the show live, you can listen at 1:00 AM on Monday mornings on WSB. So you can always check us out there as well.

Todd Orston:

Better than counting sheep I guess, right?

Leh Meriwether:

That's right.

Todd Orston:

You can turn on the show and we'll help you fall asleep.

Leh Meriwether:

There you go.

Todd Orston:

I'll talk very softly.

Leh Meriwether:

Welcome back everyone. This is Leh and Todd, your hosts for Divorce Team Radio, sponsored by Meriwether and Tharp. So today we're talking about the seven steps to take before filing for divorce. You're setting yourself up for success and you're setting yourself up hopefully to save money in attorney's fees and to make this process a lot more amicable. Where we left off, we were talking about planning for the parenting future.

Leh Meriwether:

Now, getting practical, pull out a calendar. Use a desktop calendar or a flip calendar. I like paper calendars because you can flip back and forth very easily. Map out what it may look like during the school year, during holidays. Think through it like now you're divorced, what's this really going to look like? How difficult might this be? How much do I need the other parent to be involved? What's the best way to communicate? Maybe you research the parenting portals out there so that you can better communicate, better keep your information accessed, stay active in the lives of your children. That'll help make the transition easier. If there's a potential for a custody battle, it'll put you in a better place too. And I'm not saying suddenly become super mom or super dad, I'm talking about just stay active. Stay active in their lives.

Todd Orston:

Yeah, and this is not an issue that you need to ... It's not an exercise you need to engage in alone. All right? That is something, in a perfect world, if you unfortunately know you're going through with a divorce, sitting down with the other party and saying, "Okay, you're going to be living over there and I'm going to be living over here and the kids are going to be coming back and forth and they have soccer and cheerleading and bowling," whatever it is they do. "How are we doing to do this?" "Oh, and by the way, I was a stay-at-home mom, now I'm going to have to go out and get a job. So now instead of being available at all times, you're going to have to be leaving work a little more often. I'm going to need help there. And I'm going to have to work, therefore I'm not always available." There are a lot of variables that really should be, in a perfect world, discussed between you and the other parent.

Todd Orston:

But, at the very least, you should be sitting down thinking about what your reality is going to look like post-divorce. And by post, I mean the minute you go down that path and then you separate and all of that. When things start to change and the norm is not two parties assisting one another in raising these kids, you need to engage in that exercise so that you don't over-promise. That you're like, "Oh, I can do X, Y, Z." And then it's like no, you can't. You need help. You may need babysitters. You may need other things. But you won't know unless you sit down and really give this some though.

Leh Meriwether:

And that's a good point too. Because if the kids are really young and you realize ... I'm giving a preface to the next one, but financial assessment is the next step. So these kind of play together. You realize that, "Oh my gosh, I'm going to need daycare." And that comes into play when it comes to child support. So when you do this assessment, you're in a better place to ... We'll get to that last step. But you're setting yourself up, again, for success to have an amicable divorce and something that's as fair as you can make it. Though, I don't want to leave this part out. If you think it's going to be a contested case, if there's issues on the other side where you think it's not a good idea for the children to be with the other parent on a primary basis, then you should start journaling things. And keep it somewhere where they can't find it. Facts, times, dates, events surrounding your marriage, the children, the divorce. Because this evidence could be helpful to your attorney when representing you.

Leh Meriwether:

And also, like I said, make sure it's in a secure place where they can't find it. It could be you're tracking down records of all the parent teacher conferences where he or she didn't show up, pediatrician reports that show that you scheduled the doctors' appointments, you were the one that showed up to those, those kind of things. Maybe you've been separated for six months and nobody's filed yet and the other parent keeps saying, "I'm going to visit, I'm going to visit, I'm going to visit," and then they never visit. You keep track of all those things. You never know what your attorney may use to help with the case.

Todd Orston:

All right, you brought this up, so let's talk about planning or basically doing the financial assessment, okay?

Leh Meriwether:

Step number six.

Todd Orston:

Yep. So, what are you talking about when you mention a financial assessment?

Leh Meriwether:

So, you need to make a projected budget. You're going to need a budget of where you are right now, like how much everything's costing. But you also need to think of a projected budget. "All right, I know we're going to get a divorce. I want to try to stay in this same school district." What's available to rent? What's available to buy? What's the price range? What might my mortgage look like? So, if you've done the previous part of the securing your documents and assets and liabilities, you should have a decent understanding of how much equity you have in the house. So if you sell the house, you may get $50,000, $100,000 out that you can use as a down payment on the next house. So you're projecting, "Okay, I'm going to need to pay a mortgage and electricity. What are those bills going to cost?" So you may need to talk to a lawyer about what child support might look like.

Todd Orston:

And by the way, when you're engaging in this exercise, be reasonable. All right? If you know that now you have two, like we were talking about before, you have two homes, two sets of expenses, everything is now doubled in terms of cost. And you're like, "Well I want to move into an apartment and it's $3,200 a month and it's got all the whistles and bells." If that's not something that would reasonably be within your budget probably as a couple and now this is what you're saying you want, but it's not truly possible, then you're wasting your time. You have to go into this with eyes wide open as to what would be reasonable and unreasonable.

Todd Orston:

Because I can tell you one thing, for the most part you stand in front of a judge and they're looking at your respective financial statements and they see that there's not enough money for a $3,200 house or whatever it is, the court's not going to order anything like that. So you're going to have to be reasonable in your expectations and your desires in terms of what your future life is going to look like.

Leh Meriwether:

And research alternative healthcare options. So, maybe if you were on your spouse's healthcare, health insurance. There will be COBRA, but that costs money. It can be very expensive. So you're going to have to have other health insurance, you're going to need to research that. Maybe you are the primary bread winner, so now you know you're probably going to have to pay some child support, there may be some alimony in the picture. You need to figure out what that might be. Because your life's about to change. You're going to have to be ... You potentially may be having to write checks every month to your ex-spouse to cover certain expenses. So whether you are the ... Doesn't matter which spouse you are, you've got to make this financial assessment. What will life look like next year after we're divorced? What bills am I going to have to pay? And include child support in there, alimony. And you can include that in the calculation if you're the one who's going to be receiving support.

Todd Orston:

Yeah. And just so you understand, I had a case very quickly where someone did not engage in this behavior. And this is just one of many where this person called me after the fact and said, basically, "I'm overextended." And they represented themselves and they entered into an agreement. And they were trying to be ... To their credit, they were trying to be generous. And their obligations included non-modifiable support and college expenses and all of these things. And then they're looking at me going, "I can't do this. So I need to go back and modify." And then I looked at the terms and I was like, "You can't. You specifically agreed it's not going to be modifiable." So I know that's a whole other issue, but the point is if he had gone into it eyes wide open, had done these financial statements or it's called-

Leh Meriwether:

[crosstalk 00:42:32]

Todd Orston:

... financial statement. Where you can show a budget and get a real idea post-support what your money's going to look like that you can use to live your own life. If you don't do that, you're going to make a mistake, end of story. And it could be a very serious financial mistake.

Leh Meriwether:

So, one thing to do, we interviewed Beau Varnadoe, he is a certified divorce financial analyst. And they're usually pretty reasonable with their hourly rates, a lot of times they're less expensive than a lawyer. You can go back and listen to him, he was episode 82. But you may want to engage the service of someone like that. They've been through the process as far as they understand what you need to get a grip on. And they may help you do that analysis before you enter an agreement that you can't get out of and you wind up living in a cardboard box. I've seen some not quite that extreme, but pretty close.

Leh Meriwether:

Which leads us to step seven. Once you have all these things in place, then consider talking to your spouse.

Todd Orston:

If you can. If they are open to it, if they are reasonable. If they're not so caught up in the emotion that they can't have a reasonable, rational conversation with you, then fine, you can't do it. In a perfect world though, I've seen some of the best agreements come about because the parties could actually talk.

Leh Meriwether:

Yeah. So here's the important ... So, let's say you have two spouses that can talk. They get along fine. And the person says, "Oh yeah," they're trying to be generous. And they say, "Oh yeah, I'll enter that. Yeah, that sounds great, I'll help you out there. Oh, this'll be great." And then after they've had the conversation they sit down and do the math and they go, "Oh gosh, I can't do this." So they got to go back to their spouse and say, "I can't pay that much support." Or come back and say, "I need a lot more support." And now all of a sudden there's some animosity between the two of you. Because they're like, "Oh, well you just don't want to honor your agreement." So avoid that bad blood, go through these steps one through six. And then if you can, go through step seven. And you will set yourself up for an amicable divorce. Hey everyone, that about wraps up this show. Thanks so much for listening.

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