You and your spouse have been fighting. They seem distant, and you know the communication between the two of you has been poor for a long time. You don't want a divorce, but they keep mentioning it in frustration. You're afraid your spouse is about to file for divorce and you don't want to be blindsided if you are served with papers.
So what should you do?
First, do not panic. We understand that this is one of the most significant experiences a person can go through in life. We have helped many clients navigate this stressful time and come out successfully on the other side.
Next, work through the following steps as thoroughly as you can. If you find yourself needing an attorney, these are all questions they will ask you early in the process. The more information you have when you meet with them, the more they will understand. And the more your attorney understands, the better they can help you. Your attorney will help you fight for the assets you are entitled to.
Step One: Change Passwords
The very first thing you want to prioritize is securing your digital life.
What does that mean?
Change your passwords to every single account you think there is a chance your spouse has access to:
- Phone access code
- Email accounts
- Bank accounts
- Investment accounts
- Social Media accounts
- Any other online accounts
This accomplishes two important goals: it will guarantee your privacy and protect against communications from being brought into the divorce case unnecessarily. Additionally, some people like to take the further step of creating a new email account. This ensures your spouse doesn't have access to your email messages, allows you to communicate with your lawyer privately, and saves electronic copies of important documents in a new location.
Step Two: Make A List
Right now, make a list of each and every asset and/or debt that you know about whether they are in your name, your spouse’s name, held jointly by both of you, or held jointly by one of you with another individual:
- Your house(s)
- Any vacation properties or other rental properties
- Cars and/or other vehicles
- Any businesses either of you own or invest in
- Retirement accounts
- Safe deposit boxes
- Credit card accounts
- Bank accounts
- Student loan accounts
- Car loans
- Jewelry, expensive tools, and other valuable items
This will likely be long and tedious work, but it's important to have as much information as possible. As we previously stated, your attorney will need to ask questions about all of this early in the process.
Step Three: Gather Documents
Now that you have a list of all assets and debts, it is time to start gathering what attorneys refer to as “supporting documents” for each item on the list. This means finding documents from the beginning of that asset, the current status of that asset and anything important along the way.
For your house this might mean: loan origination documents, your most recent mortgage statement and the documentation of the mortgage being sold from one company to another company along the way. Each of those give valuable information of the asset along the way. For other items this might mean a title or a deed. When you are looking at statements for funds, try to secure documents that include a full account number, not just a partial number. When you are thinking about property of value like jewelry, cars, real estate try to find appraisals of value. This is when someone other than you gives that item a value. You'll also want to find tax returns for the most recent year and recent pay stubs for both you and your spouse.
If you only can locate a digital copy, email it to your new private email account or save it somewhere private and secure. Your attorney will need all of this information so gathering it ahead of time will simplify the process if your spouse chooses to file for divorce.
Step Four: Call an Attorney
Call and speak with a knowledgeable attorney in your area who can educate you on the divorce process. That attorney will explain what you can expect and help prepare you for what will happen once you are served with divorce papers.
You don't have to wait until you have all of the documents above to speak to an attorney. In fact, we would recommend you schedule a consultation with an attorney first, then while you are waiting for that consultation you can work on the information gathering. Often, people are anxious and this 'homework' actually helps by giving them something to focus on. Our experienced divorce attorneys practice throughout the DFW area - in Dallas, Collin, Tarrant and Denton counties - and we are available to answer your questions when you are ready for help! We can be reached at 214.272.0964.