If you are considering a divorce, you may feel overwhelmed at the thought of beginning the legal process. The legalities of divorce can be complex and trying to ensure that you fulfill the requirements and adequately prepare for your separation may leave you confused. In order to make the process simpler and less stressful, consider some important tasks before, during, and after the divorce.
Preparing For A Divorce: Before A Divorce
Before you start divorce proceedings, give some thought to the options you still have. Marriage counselors are not just for people who are trying to salvage a relationship; these professionals are also a valuable resource in helping you to cope and recognize the complex and layered emotions that you are likely feeling. They can provide guidance on the mental aspects of separation and help you develop strategies to move forward with confidence.
Selecting & Working With An Experienced Divorce Attorney
In Maryland, the divorce process is often fraught with legalities. Even a simple oversight or lack of specification during the process can have a large impact on the final outcome of a legal separation. For this reason, working with a divorce lawyer is critical. An attorney can help you to understand your rights during the divorce and navigate the dispute system if your marriage is not ending amicably.
Even if you and your partner are separating with no ill will, you will still need to ensure that you fill out forms and amend your accounts correctly; this is the purpose of a divorce lawyer.
Open Your Own P.O. Box
Because divorce puts a strain on even the most amicable of separated relationships, it may also be in your best interest to open a P.O. Box on your own. This will ensure that you receive all important mail from attorneys and other professionals and that you have a reachable mailing address if you no longer reside at the address that you shared with your partner.
Gathering Important Documents
As you consider the legal proceedings of a divorce, you will need to begin compiling a number of important documents that will be required throughout the process. Make sure that you have both the originals and copies of the following, where possible:
- Any wills executed during the marriage
- Prenuptial or postnuptial agreements
- Trust documents, if you have any
- Licenses, such as your driver’s license
- Copies of deeds to real property you own
- Copies of all vehicles and other personal property of major value that you own
- Copies of statements for all bank accounts, savings accounts, investment accounts and all other assets
- Documents regarding any businesses you own
- Copies of documents regarding all of your debts
- Any additional documents your divorce attorney asks you to obtain
During A Divorce
One of the most intimidating areas of separation for many people is the finances that both partners share. Even if you and your spouse did not share a bank account, many of your financial activities were influenced by each other, and it is important to compile not only finance documents from shared accounts but also individually for yourself. When compiling financial documents, consider not only bank accounts but also real estate, taxes and other assets.
Compile Banking Documents
The best place to start is with bank information and credit cards. List all the accounts and cards that you and your spouse have, both shared and independently. Obtain proof of the current balance of all accounts and cards, as well as copies of statements for as far back as you can locate them. For joint accounts, confirm that you have the correct login information.
Then, you can begin setting up for financial health after your separation. Open a new checking and savings account in your name only, and ensure that you put enough money into that account to cover your living expenses and possible emergencies for at least a few months. If you do not already have a credit card in your name, now is a good time to begin that process.
Compile Documents Of Bills
Even if your bills are paid by your spouse or you do not intend to continue living at the address where you are currently paying bills, it is important to collect all the information you have available about your current billing situation. Begin by creating a list of all the bills that you and your spouse are responsible for, regardless of who currently pays them. Obtain copies of the statements and payment histories from each of these bills for as far back as you can locate them, but at least within the last year.
In addition, ensure that your information about these bills is correct. Double-check (and secure proof) of the current balance and account numbers for relevant services, and ensure that you have accurate access information for accounts.
Compile Property Documents
One of the most important reasons to work with an attorney is to avoid creating consequences that you did not intend during your divorce, and few areas make this clearer than how you handle property that you share with your spouse. If possible, do not move out of your marital home before you secure a divorce lawyer; if you leave too early, you may spark unintended consequences like preventing you from returning to the home or impacting your alimony.
Tackling the homeownership portion of separation can be daunting because it is made up of so many types of documentation, but breaking it into smaller steps can make the process more manageable. Begin by making copies of mortgage statements, ideally from as far back as possible, but no less than from the previous six months. When you do this, obtain proof of the account number as well as all information about the mortgage itself and the bank or service provider that manages it. Do the same for your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy.
Add Proof Of Payment Documents
Next, while you are already compiling documentation about your home, shift your focus to payments. Add proof of payment from at least the previous year to your evidence package, and seek out a copy of your real estate tax bill as well. If you have any assets or lease agreements, obtain a copy of those.
Get An Appraisal For Your Home
Finally, seek out an appraisal for your residence and keep a copy of the results. Then, enter each room or area of the home one by one and take pictures of the condition and contents of each location. It is important not just to photograph the room from the entryway but also from the opposite direction, facing the entryway. This will protect you from liability for damages caused by your partner.
If you are considering moving away from the residence you shared with your spouse, remember to avoid making the move prior to speaking with an attorney. As you navigate through the divorce process, consider new locations of residence, and begin to secure a new living space. If you have children, keep in mind which school districts they will live in.
Compile Documents Of Vehicles
Like any other form of asset or debt, vehicles need to be managed during a separation. Be sure that you obtain proof of the login information and account numbers for any loans on the vehicle, as well as loan details like the service provider, interest rate, and payment history.
While you are gathering this data, include a copy of the vehicle’s title and an estimate of the automobile’s value. Take the time to acquire a declaration sheet for all auto insurance policies as well.
Compile Debt Related Documents
You may have individual debt, or you may have taken out loans with your spouse. In either case, it is important to make a list of all debts and confirm the amount owed, as well as the account numbers. If you have debt with your spouse, call the creditors and ask what you should do to protect your own interest during the separation. You may not be liable for repayment on debt that your spouse took out.
Review All Documentation Gathered
As the monumental task of compiling all of your documentation comes to an end, review what you have gathered to ensure that you have not forgotten these critical items that are easily overlooked:
- Your credit report
- Tax returns from the past three years
- W-2s (or 1099s) for the past three years, for both you and your spouse
- Paystubs from the last six months
- Policies from employment, such as disability or life insurance
- The current balance and account numbers of retirement accounts and investment accounts
- A copy of your health insurance policy
- Power of attorney documentation, if applicable
Consider What You Would Like To Keep After A Divorce
With your documents sufficiently gathered, it is time to begin considering what you would like to keep after the divorce. Make a list of all of your assets and possessions, as well as their approximate value. Determine which are the most important to you so that you have a head start on dividing your possession with your spouse if necessary.
Now is also the time to begin changing passwords to all of your accounts: email, social media, and anything else you have. Open a new email account that your spouse does not have access to and begin using that for communication going forward.
Speak With An Experienced Maryland Divorce Attorney
If a divorce is on the horizon, you can give yourself a head start on how to prepare for a divorce by following the guide in this article. However, the legal process of separation is a complex affair and working with a divorce attorney is critical to ensure that you are awarded fairly in the divorce and that you do not accidentally hurt your own case.
The experienced Maryland divorce attorneys at SIEGELLAW would be happy to guide you through this challenging time to remove some of the immense burdens and ensure that you see the most positive outcome possible. Reach out to request a consultation and discuss your situation with a skilled attorney. We can help you to create a strategy going forward that will make the difficult process of divorce a little easier and give you the support you need to begin your separated life informed and ready.