If you are heading toward a divorce, you may be thinking about moving out of the home you share with your spouse. It some ways it seems to make sense, as you can avoid a lot of drama and start working on being independent again. However, before you pack your bags and head out you should follow these five steps:
There are a few reasons why you might want to stick it out, at least for a while. First, if you leave you’re going to lose a lot of control over what happens in the home. If it’s property that will need to be sold, you might want to stay in order to contribute to repairs or to make sure the house isn’t damaged while you’re away. Also, there may be other types of property in the house that you’ll want to make sure is preserved.
Second, if you were contributing financially to the mortgage, utilities, and other expenses related to the home, you may be required to continue to contribute to those expenses if you leave. If asked to do so, the judges here will commonly try to maintain the “status quo” of the marriage while the divorce is pending, which means each spouse will contribute to the expenses they were paying before the divorce. This includes the housing of the minor children, which the judge will likely order to remain in the marital home while the case is resolved. The kids may eventually come to live with you, but while the case is in motion they’ll most likely be in the marital home.
Third, once you leave it may be more difficult to get possession of the home at the conclusion of the divorce. All the marital property should be divided equitably and there’s no reason the property couldn’t be awarded to the spouse that moved out, but temporary situations have a way of turning into permanent arrangements.
Finally, remember that the two of you will now be supporting two households on the same income you had as a married couple. This will require sacrifices on both sides, as neither party will likely be able to maintain the standard you had as a couple.
2. Make copies of all important documents
In order to work out the value of all the assets and debts, you’re going to need documentation. Couples routinely exchange copies of documents relating to their incomes and values of property and loans, but there are a lot of lawyers who will play games with the discovery process and will do anything to delay the exchange of information. The result is your attorney will have to ask the judge to force the other side to comply with these requests. This will take more time and cause more expense.
On the other hand, you may save yourself a lot of trouble by just making copies of all the important documents before you leave. Tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, your spouse’s pay stubs, partnership agreements, property deeds, titles, etc.
3. Photograph expensive assets and property
When it comes to dividing up the property, people will frequently argue over the value of the stuff. If your spouse wants to keep it, it’s worth nothing. If you want to keep it, it suddenly becomes incredibly valuable. Worse, your spouse may try to hide the property or give it away while the divorce is pending (which would be a violation of the statutory injunction).
A few simple pictures can help when putting together an inventory of property to be divided, and may help you remember which property you want to keep. Photographs can also go a long way to demonstrating the condition, location, and value of the property.
4. Look for proof of income
I mentioned this above, but if your spouse has their own business or works side jobs, this is worth its own section. It will help if you can find any documentation related to the business. Income and expense reports, lists of assets, client lists, records of maintenance on equipment, tax forms, partnership agreements, whatever you can find. It’s less common for people to keep much of this on written ledgers, but reports from records kept on the computer are often held.
Or, there are other ways to duplicate electronic records. Talk to your lawyer for more information.
5. Choose your new location wisely
This is most important if you have children. If you are going to want overnight visitation during the week, you’ll need to be close enough that you can get the kids to school without having to wake them up too much earlier. Also, when determining the parenting schedule the court will want to maintain as much consistency in the children’s life as possible. If you move to a different school district the kids will have to change schools if you become the primary residential parent, and this could weigh against you.
Please note that there are few absolute rules in family law cases, and every situation is different. What is a good solution for someone else, may not be appropriate for you. You should talk to your attorney before making any decisions.
Also, my advice would be completely different if you are the victim of domestic violence. If your or your children’s safety is at risk you need to do whatever you need to do to protect yourself. No judge will expect you to stay if there is risk of physical injury.
If you are in a situation like this, you should consult with an attorney before you make a decision that may affect you later. Contact me so we can set up a time to discuss how I can help you.