This blog is a continuation of the discussion of the previous blog. Sometimes I get questions from clients and potential clients who do not want to remain in the home. However, they have concerns that it may hurt them legally if they leave the home.
Everyone involved in a case is different and has their own unique facts, but the following are some things you may want to consider and do prior to making your decision or before moving out.
Step 1: Do not move out unless it is necessary
If there has been domestic violence, safety must be the highest priority and everything else a distant second. In other situations, though, the leaving spouse must recognize that moving out will have ramifications for the whole family—financially, legally, and emotionally.
Increased Financial Stress
Living together is a more cost-efficient financial arrangement than when spouses separate. When adults and children live together under one roof, resources are pooled to provide the basic necessities of food and shelter, as well as luxuries like cable television and internet access. For example, while there may be five televisions in one house, they all can share one cable connection.
Once a spouse leaves the home, resources are no longer pooled and costs are doubled. There are now two mortgages, two electric bills, and two grocery bills. In families with children, moving out also means additional transportation costs as the children are transported back and forth between homes. Parents must also now furnish two different rooms for the children. The cost of living can easily double.
Step 2: Figure out the finances
An important step to take before leaving the marital home is to understand the family’s finances. This means gathering documents related to income such as bank statements, tax returns, pay stubs, bills, and creating a budget.
Documenting Financial Information
The first step is to determine the total amount of income of both spouses. If one or both people work in salaried positions, this is fairly easy. However, figuring out how much is earned can be more difficult if the other spouse is self-employed and has fluctuating income or with income that is not clearly documented.
Documenting is an important part of the divorce process. At a point in the future, you will be asked to prepare a financial information statement that will be used by a judge when making decisions regarding child support and spousal support. It is easier to access financial documents related to income and bills while both spouses still live together, so this should be done before leaving the marital residence. Once a spouse moves out, gaining access to important documents becomes more difficult.
Step 3: Prepare for parenting apart
Moving out can have a great effect on the children. Frequently, children are kept in the dark until the last possible moment. The leaving parent needs to comfort the children during the transition and help prepare them for a possible custody battle.
Help the Children Cope
Helping to minimize the stress put on the children should be a top priority for the leaving spouse. Many divorce courts in Harris and Montgomery County, Texas require both parents to attend a 4-hour parenting class before a divorce will be granted.
Child Custody and Visitation Journal
Many divorces result in a battle over custody of the children. Often in such a battle, there are few documents or verifiable facts with respect to custody. A helpful tool in these cases can be a child custody and visitation journal.
A custody and visitation journal is where you can take notes about visitation, your child, the other parent, exchanges, etc. Many divorce lawyers have found that the outcome of a custody or visitation case depends, in large part, on the preparation that goes into it. In this regard, there are many things you can do to aid in the preparation of your case.
In addition to tracking the pickup and drop-offs of your children in your custody journal, I would encourage you to write down important information and events as they happen, so you have a chronological diary.
You can write notes about:
- Late pick-ups and drop-offs.
- Missed or canceled visits.
- Health appointments and medical information.
- Discussions with the other parent.
- Your child's mood and emotions when interacting with the other parent.
- Your child's behavior.
- Issues you want to talk about with the other parent.
- How your child is doing in school and other activities.
- Your child's milestones and development.
- Anything you want to remember.
A time chart further evidences the above-discussed information but also helps a divorce lawyer document how much time either parent is spending with the children.
This evidence (the journal/calendar/Time chart) can be used in court should custody become an issue.
Understandably, people going through a divorce are not always at their best. People going through a divorce will often say or do things that are hurtful because of the roaring emotions at play. Another way people can get themselves into trouble is online impersonation.
Step 4: Itemize the property and the debt
When it’s time to divide the property, having an accurate list of assets and debts, along with the documents that support the list, will be indispensable.
There are ways a divorce lawyer can gather this information after the leaving spouse has moved out, but it’s slower, more expensive, and can be less reliable than gathering the information before leaving.
The leaving spouse should itemize all assets on a spreadsheet, detailing the date the asset was purchased, the purchase price, and the estimated current value. This can be straightforward for assets such as a house. Other assets will be more difficult to assess.
A divorce lawyer can provide you with a helpful form for this purpose. This form is later turned into what is called an inventory and appraisement for use in court or in mediation.
Four categories of assets to consider:
- Marital residence and other real estate.
- Intangible assets, such as financial and retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, etc.
- Business interests.
- Physical assets, such as furniture, artwork, vehicles, etc.
The leaving spouse should also itemize debts on the spreadsheet, detailing the amount of principal owed, interest rate, creditor, and account numbers.
Five categories of debts to consider:
- Mortgages, equity loans, and other debts secured by real estate.
- Auto loans and other debts secured by physical assets.
- Credit cards, including store-specific cards and gas cards.
- Student loans.
- Tax liabilities.
The leaving spouse should not only itemize the assets and debts but also photocopy as many supporting records and documents as possible.
Some of the records and documents to photocopy:
- Tax returns.
- Pay stubs.
- Statements for all financial and retirement accounts.
- Statements for all loans and credit cards.
- Vehicle titles.
- Photographs of physical assets, such as china, crystal, artwork, furniture, computers, etc.
This time spent photocopying supporting records and creating a thorough itemization will seem like an overwhelming task but can also be a tremendous advantage. The itemization will also prevent additional unscrupulous and unethical behavior on the part of the other spouse, and it will save money by reducing the work to be done by a lawyer who bills for his or her time.
Step 5: Gathering Resources
The leaving spouse must gather possible financial resources before leaving the marital home in order to avoid being disadvantaged during the divorce. The primary resource in divorce is money. Divorces are expensive and running low on money can put the leaving spouse at a strategic disadvantage, forcing him or her to make poor decisions.
If the leaving spouse is the main income earner in the family this probably will not be the case. The main wage earner can control where their future paychecks are deposited and have the advantage of being in control of the main source of income. If the leaving spouse is not employed outside the home, amassing enough money to get through the divorce will be challenging.
The goal of gathering resources is to create and maintain a level playing field with the other spouse, not to leave him or her bereft. Judges take a dim view of a leaving spouse departing and leaving the other spouse destitute with no access to any money because all the bank accounts have been drained, credit cards canceled, or other such tactics.
Decisions about what and how much to take can have legal consequences and should be discussed with your lawyer to avoid making any damaging decisions.
Some resources to be gathered are:
- Earnings from paid employment.
- Furniture and children’s toys and equipment.
- Available cash and liquid financial assets.
- Credit cards and lines of credit.
Even for someone with lots of disposable income, leaving the marital residence is not the time to increase one’s standard of living. The leaving spouse should not make major purchases on expensive furniture, vacations, or vehicles. He or she should spend what is necessary and no more. Divorce puts a financial strain on everyone, and resources are best managed conservatively.
Step 6: Do Not Date
This step is simple to follow and frequently ignored. The leaving spouse should not engage in any dating activities. There is a multitude of legal reasons for this, all of which should be discussed with your lawyer. Until you are divorced, it is considered adultery and can affect the division of property in the divorce.
Step 7: Assemble the Team
After the leaving spouse has moved out, the situation can rapidly become stressful and difficult, so a leaving spouse will need trusted advisors to help him or her make the best decisions possible. Your lawyer will assist in creating a strategy for you during the divorce process. In some instances, it may also be appropriate to hire a private investigator or an accountant. Your lawyer can help the leaving spouse decide which of these team members are needed and help choose the right ones for the particular situation.
If you want to know more about what you can do, CLICK the button below to get your FREE E-book: “16 Steps to Help You Plan & Prepare for Your Texas Divorce”
If you want to know more about how to prepare, CLICK the button below to get your FREE E-book: “13 Dirty Tricks to Watch Out For in Your Texas Divorce, and How to Counter Them" Today!”
Other Articles you may be interested in:
- Should I move out of the marital home during a divorce?
- Do I have to move out of the marital home during a divorce in Spring, Texas?
- 6 Tips - On How to prepare for a Texas Divorce
- Roadmap of Basic Divorce Procedure in Texas
- Child Custody Basics in Texas
- 6 Mistakes that can Destroy Your Texas Divorce Case
- 10 Quick Tips About Parental Visitation
- Does it Matter who Files First in a Texas Divorce?
- Geographic Restrictions in Child Visitation Orders in Texas
- Common Law Marriage and Texas Divorce Guide
Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Divorce Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our divorce lawyers in Houston TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles Divorce cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.