Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. I am relaying things I learned during my personal experience. My recollections may not be exactly correct nor apply to your situation or complete in detail.
1. If you are contemplating separation/divorce, PLAN AHEAD and gather information BEFORE saying anything to your spouse. People can become very vindictive once the words separation and divorce are mentioned and you need to protect yourself (and your children).
2. Until you file for divorce and your spouse is served with the notice, your joint assets are not safe and your spouse can do things to make life very difficult:
– If you have money in joint savings accounts, you need to move a fair amount (one-half would make sense) to an account only you have access to so it is available when you need it. If you don’t, your spouse can empty the account at any time and you will not be able to recover the money.
– Money in your spouse’s retirement account is not “safe” from being liquidated. Your spouse could elect to partially or fully liquidate a retirement account and pay the early withdrawal penalties just to keep you from getting any of the money. Think about this.
– If you have joint credit cards, know that your spouse can go out and buy anything he/she wants and max out every credit card you have and 1/2 of that debt will be yours to pay after the divorce.
3. Legal separation in the state of Texas does not really accomplish anything; there’s not much reason to spend the money on it.
4. Make sure you have recent copies of bank statements, mortgage statements, credit card statements, and tax returns (3 years of tax returns).
5. Get a good divorce lawyer
– Borrow money if you have to and get a good lawyer. People are unpredictable but mostly you can count on them to get vindictive and greedy once the word divorce is mentioned, and even more so after you actually file for the divorce rather than just talk about it. Plan ahead and get a good lawyer right from the start.
– You have the upper hand if you file for divorce first. From the standpoint of what is best for any children, I think it’s best if the primary caregiver files first because if she does, her lawyer will write into the petition and temporary orders that she gets to stay in the home with the children and this is usually what is best for the kids. Uprooting them and moving away from home at the beginning of the process would be much more difficult than staying where things are familiar and comfortable.
– Good divorce lawyers will require a $5,000 retainer (advance payment) to take your case. You can get a free consultation from most attorneys and I suggest taking them up on this. Personality and attitude and availability matter and you won’t know if you are like-minded and on the same page until you talk to them.
– Click HERE (hyperlink) for a list of attorneys recommended to me over the past several years. These recommendations were made to me by other attorneys and friends. (Note: The attorney who handled my divorce is not on this list to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.)
6. If you change the locks on your house/apartment, your spouse can just change them again and you will go around and around changing locks. Even if your temporary orders (court orders you must abide by in between when you file for the divorce and when the divorce is finalized) include a restraining order, the people changing out the locks wont’ know about that and/or won’t care. All they verify is that the person changing the locks has an ID with that address.
7. If you don’t change the locks, expect that your spouse will be lurking around in your house when you are not home. It is very likely that your spouse will have a spare key you don’t know about and use it to check up on you. Don’t leave anything lying around that you don’t want seen.
8. Behave at all times like you are being followed and watched and filmed. Because in all likelihood, you are. MANY spouses going through divorce hire private investigators to follow their soon-to-be ex and try to get all the dirt they can get before going to court. So, don’t give them any dirt!
9. DO NOT send mean or rude or threatening voice mails, texts, or emails to your spouse. Each and every one will turn up in court and make you look bad. Be above reproach. DO NOT give your spouse ammunition he will gladly use against you.
10. DO NOT start dating. Remember, you are in the process of ending your marriage and you need to concentrate on providing a stable environment for yourself and your kids. This is not the time to get distracted with partying, socializing, or dating. Your primary obligation is to your family … Don’t forget that. You can date later, after you are divorced.
11. Talk to your kids about what is going on. Kids are smart and they know when things are tense/different even if you think you are hiding it from them. Visit the “Recommended Reading for Separated/Divorced Parents” (hyperlink) for specific book ideas.
12. Keep a log of all the times your spouse does or does not show up for scheduled visits. Documentation is critical for when you go to court to establish custody and visitation arrangements.