As A Stay-At-Home Parent Wanting To Divorce, What Are Some Of The Most Important Things I Can Do To Prepare?
There are a number of things you should do to prepare for a divorce, as a stay-at-home-parent:
Throughout your home, you may have various devices for which your partner knows the passwords or is able to otherwise log in. Take precautions by logging out of all sensitive accounts on all devices that the other side could have access to and create new passwords that he or she won’t be able to guess. Make sure that your documents and private information are secure and not in a place that the other party can access.
Plan Your Separation Strategy
Sometimes, planning your strategy will mean you exiting the home with your children; other times, it will mean planning for court orders to remove your partner from the home. If there has been domestic violence, you should consider filing a petition for entry of a Protective Order. Entry of a protective order can give you very quick sole possession of the home, temporary custody of the children, and protection from further domestic violence.
If it is important for you to stay in the marital home pending the divorce and the other side also wishes to stay, you cannot force them out unwillingly without either a protective order or a temporary order in the divorce case. A temporary order in the divorce case can take several months to obtain. However, sometimes there are strong strategic reasons for remaining in the marital home and not abandoning it. In other circumstances, leaving the marital home is the best strategy. Knowing whether to leave or to stay is very dependent on the unique facts of your particular circumstances and should be discussed with an attorney.
Open Your Own Separate Bank Account
You should have your own account to deposit funds in for when you need them later. If you have never had a separate account, consider strongly whether to keep this account a secret until separation. Sometimes, when a partner discovers that the other side has opened a separate bank account, they view that suspiciously. Pointing your new separate account out to the other side unnecessarily may cause your partner to escalate any negative behaviors.
Eventually, you will want to take your name off of any joint accounts, so that the other side cannot withdraw or charge to those accounts and obligate you on any overdraft fees or new charges. Whether to take your name off of joint accounts or to freeze them depends on the circumstances of your case. If you are in great need of funds and your partner is the breadwinner, you want to continue to have access to those accounts. If you are the main contributor to the account and you do not want the other side accessing those funds, closing the account would normally be advisable.
Under any circumstances, do not close or take your name off of these accounts until after you have downloaded or obtained from your bank as many bank statements as possible. For joint bank accounts, talk to your attorney about how much to withdraw before you close the account or take your name off of it. In most circumstances, taking at least half of the funds just prior to filing and putting it in your separate account to keep them protected is advisable. In other circumstances, taking most of the funds is necessary. Whether you should take half of the funds or more will depend greatly on the circumstances of your case.
For all joint credit cards, once you have filed a petition, you will want to freeze or close the cards, or at least get your name off of the account. There may be exceptions to this, also, such as if a joint credit card is one of your only means of support.
Collect important papers, like children’s passports, your passport, titles to vehicles, paystubs, W2s, 1099s, social security cards, and birth certificates. You can take with you or takes photos or make copies of all financial documents, especially if the other party was the one to handle all the finances, or if your name is not on the account. You may not have easy access to that information after you and your partner separate. There are some circumstances under which copying the hard drive of a joint computer would be appropriate.
Recordings & Photos
If you don’t know which one of you is going to leave the marital home, you should videotape everything on the property and get the video to your attorney. Later, you can use the video to create a list of property. This will also document the condition and the location of the property, in case the other side claims that the items do not exist, are missing, or were badly damaged.
In the state of Utah, it is currently legal to record conversations, so long as you are part of the conversation and have knowledge that it is being recorded. Recording incidents of domestic violence, verbal abuse, disparagement of the children, and admissions of wrongdoing by the other side can be powerful evidence. It is usually inadvisable to inform the other side of the recording.
There are many recording apps that can be downloaded for free to your phone. One can try several out and make sure that they work properly and that they can back up the recordings to the cloud or to another account, so that if the phone is lost or damaged, the recordings will still be available. If there are pictures of bruising, injuries, holes in walls or other property damage, these photographs should also be preserved.
Stop posting harmful things on social media and download or print any social media posts of the other side that could be helpful to you.
Text Messages And Emails
You should backup and preserve any text messages or emails between yourself and the other side, so they are available to you when needed.
Make a list of all property, including real estate, financial accounts, and personal property. For each item of significant value, take steps to find proof of the value of it using Kelly Blue Book, Zillow, or other online tools. Anytime you find proof of the value, download it or print it. Personal property will be valued not at the purchase price amount, but the amount that you could sell it for.
For vehicles, you should include the mileage and the condition of the vehicle. For bank accounts, retirement accounts, and investment accounts, you will want to get the most current statement and also the statement closest to the date of separation. For debt, you want to get the statement closest to the date of separation and the most current statement.
Do Not Negotiate With The Other Side, Enter Into Agreements With The Other Side, Or Raise The Other Side’s Expectations Without First Obtaining Legal Advice
Sometimes, divorce or custody litigants desire to “play nice” with the other side by being conciliatory or aiming to appease the other side in an attempt to keep them calm. This is a laudable goal and can be useful. However, when it is done by raising the other side’s expectations without knowing the legal landscape or consequences, a client can easily make their case more difficult. For example, a client who is unaware of the strength of their own case might agree to give a significant concession to the other side, thereby creating an “expectation bubble” or unreasonably high expectations. This expectation bubble may cause the other side to be unreasonable and fail to recognize the strength of your case during negotiations.
Time With The Children
Spend as much time with the children as you reasonably can. Do not spend less time with them than you spent with them previously. Do not disparage the other side, engage in emotional abuse or domestic violence, alienate the children against the other side, or engage in other negative behaviors in front of the children.