So, you’ve made the decision to separate or your spouse has told you that he or she wants to separate. What next? What should you be doing? There are a few important things that you can do to make your separation and divorce simpler.
First, and most important, get organized. I can’t stress this enough. Get your financial records together. Collect bank statements, records of financial accounts, tax returns, mortgage statements, credit card account information, and documentation on property you own. Organize it by year. Make copies. Take pictures of the contents of your house. There is a lot of disclosure that your attorney is going to need from you and the more organized you are, the less time you and your lawyer will have to spend chasing down these records.
Second, be mindful of preserving evidence. Save everything. Not many people actually want to go to Court, but you may end up there anyway. If you have saved the emails, text messages, photos and other things that show what sort of behavior your spouse has engaged in, you will be increasing your chances of success. Make sure you turn these things over to your attorney. I was recently in Court trying a child custody case. The Defendant was testifying, claiming all my client’s allegations about her poor treatment of their children were false and that my client was really the bad guy. During her testimony, my client whispered to me that she was lying and he had dozens of emails that contradicted what she was saying. “Great” I told him, “But you never gave them to me.” As a result, the Judge believed her and not him, and he had nothing to prove she was lying during her testimony. Remember, if you don’t give this information to your lawyer before you go to Court, then it might as well not exist.
Third, put things in writing and take pictures. Email is a wonderful tool and makes wonderful evidence. If your spouse is refusing to let you see the children, communicate with him or her in email. Let the other parent refuse in writing. Once you’ve got that, it becomes awfully hard to deny. The same thing goes with photographs. You want to show that your spouse ripped the light fixtures out of the ceiling and vandalized the inside of the house when he left? A photo goes a long way toward convincing the Judge just how much damage was done.
Fourth, and this applies most of all to custody cases, keep a log. Get a notebook and make notes on when you do custody exchanges, problems with exchanges or with the children, troubling behavior by the other spouse. This can be invaluable in creating a clear timeline and showing patterns of bad behavior.
The more organized you are, the easier it will be for your attorney to prepare your case and the cheaper it will be. Keep in mind that attorneys are not magicians and Judges are not mind readers. The more documentation you have to back up your story, the greater your chance of success. And, most importantly, remember that if you haven’t given all your great evidence to your lawyer to put in front of a Judge, then it might as well not exist at all. So, get organized.