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Planning a divorce means making your list (and checking it twice)

Those who fail to prepare are preparing to fail. That is what I tell people that are, like you, considering a divorce from their spouse. Whatever your specific circumstances are, no matter how unique they may be, just about everyone reading this blog post can follow a few steps in their initial, preparation for divorce. Especially if you are the type of person that struggles with organization and staying on task this information should be especially important for you. This preparation begins with gathering personal information in order to have it ready when you and your attorney need it. 

A checklist that will help prepare you for the initial stages of your divorce

The big thing that I tell clients who have not yet begun to collect their personal information that will be needed in their divorce is that it is worth your time to do it early rather than to wait. Things always come up in a divorce that end up taking more time than you would like. The more time you spent having to collect and organize this information during your divorce, the less time you have to commit to other, more important aspects of your case and life. If you have a couple hours to spare I would commit that time to completing the checklist we are about to go through. 

The basics of your and your spouse’s lives are needed in order to draft the Original Petition for Divorce. That means your spouse’s name (I hope you already know this one), their date of birth and Social Security number will be necessary to file for divorce in Texas. Not being able to provide this information to your attorney when he or she asks for it likely means that your cases will be delayed for a period of time while you attempt to search for it. 

Next, if you have children you will need to collect their dates of birth and social security numbers, as well. Do not make copies of their social security cards as it is a potential privacy and security issue to have their social security numbers floating around the world. Keep that information safe and put their social security cards in a safe so they do not fall into the wrong hands. 

Next, you need to confirm how long you and your spouse have been married for. Confirm that you have the date of your wedding correct. Next, you will need to figure out what date that you all separated or stopped living together as husband and wife. Texas does not have a formal legal separation status for married persons but the original petition will ask you to tell the court on what date you all separated from one another. 

Part of the process that you will need to talk to your attorney about early on is whether or not you are alleging any fault ground(s) in your original petition for divorce. Basically, are you telling the court that you are filing for divorce due to a specific reason. It could be that your spouse abandoned you and left you without any resources to live. Or, your spouse may have committed acts of violence against you. Or, your spouse may have been unfaithful within the marriage and you are citing adultery as your fault ground for divorce. 

The alternative to this would be to tell the court that discord of personalities has led you to filing for divorce. This means that you all could not get along well enough to be married any longer and that you do not anticipate getting back together. This is the most common basis for a divorce in Texas. 

Money, money, money

It is important that you are able to provide your attorney with an accurate representation of your and your spouse’s financial statuses. Community property, debts, temporary spousal support and other considerations will revolve around how much income you earn and what your state in life is as far as wealth, income and ability to pay household bills as well as other costs.

What do you earn in income? What does your spouse earn in income? What do your monthly household expenses look like with your spouse in the picture and in a post-divorce filing world? Next, I would sit down with your attorney to determine what your separate property assets and debts are, what your spouse’s most likely are (that you are aware of) and what your community property assets and debts are. Community property is divisible in the divorce so you may as well take some time now to see what you have in play and how you would like it to be divided.

Next, you should begin to pull financial statements from your financial planner or workplace 401(k) administrator to see how much you have in retirement. Your retirement accounts are potentially divisible in the divorce. Also, you should keep up to date with what your retirement accounts are invested in. Too many of us leave this up to our financial advisors and/or our spouses and we take no ownership over it. Now is as good a time as any to get your arms wrapped around where your investments are so that you can plan to maintain those investments or change them after the divorce concludes. 

Do you have insurance policies that are in place for life, accidental death/disability, long term care or other life events? Do you need to update those policies, cancel any others or update beneficiaries? Ask your attorney what you can and cannot do/change at the outset of your divorce but you can rest assured that insurance will not be at the front of your mind towards the end of your case. Better to keep an eye on it now rather than to find out after your divorce that your insurance situation needs to get a major overhaul.

Finally, I think it is a good idea to pull your credit report and take a look at what you find. Hopefully any credit accounts that are open are ones that you knew about previously. However, it sometimes happens that spouses open up credit cards and other accounts without the knowledge of the other spouse. This can put you in hot water if your name has been used on a credit card account that you were unaware of. Find out about this account now or risk finding out about it after your divorce has already concluded. 

Property issues- how to prepare for them before your divorce begins

I will typically ask new clients whether or not he or she and their spouse entered into a nuptial or pre-nuptial agreement in regard to separate and community property. If you have done so it can make your divorce much simpler. This is due to the fact that you all have already divided up most of your assets prior to the divorce. Now all that would be left to do is to incorporate the language of the agreement within your final decree of divorce. You can even attach the nuptial or prenuptial agreement as an exhibit to the original petition for divorce. 

Texas is a community property state. This means that it is presumed that any property that was acquired or purchased during the course of your marriage is owned by you and your spouse jointly. It doesn’t matter whose name appears on the title to the house or motor vehicle. It doesn’t matter whose income it was that purchased the item. It doesn’t matter if the bank account does not bear your name. If the property was acquired during the marriage or the income was earned during the marriage it is likely community property no matter what. 

Separate property is on the other side of the coin from community property. Separate property is any property that is not considered to be community property. Likely this would be property owned by you prior to your marriage or any property acquired during the marriage that was gifted solely to one spouse or was conveyed to you through the will of someone during the course of your marriage. 

An inventory and assessment is a common form in Texas divorces. Your attorney will likely give you one at the outset of your case to fill out. However, you can find them online and get a jump on it before the case ever starts. This will save you money and will keep you from having to pay your attorney/their staff to fill it out. This form asks you to fill out a list of the property that you and your spouse own- either separately or in conjunction with one another. You should list each item, which estate it belongs to and then value that property. You can start to make a mental list of what you want and what you are willing to part with. This, too, can save you time and stress later in your case. 

The other issue in relation to property that I would want to have sorted out as early as possible is to get your arms wrapped around any debts that are owed. When I asked that you pull a copy of your credit report this is what I was talking about. Make sure that you are aware of any liabilities as far as debt is concerned. Do not assume that you know each debt that is owed and how much is owed on it. Yours would not be the first divorce where one spouse learns the other has been less than honest about the financial picture of the spouses.

Issues related to children

Within each final decree of divorce is a section called a parenting plan. The parenting plan goes into great deal about issues like conservatorship (rights and duties associated with the kids), visitation, possession and child support. You may have general thoughts and feelings about how you want these issues to be treated in your divorce but I would recommend that you start to put those thoughts and feelings into a concrete plan before your divorce even begins. 

What have you envisioned as far as with whom your children are going to live with full time? You or your spouse? If you and your spouse are going to split custody of your kids, how much time are they going to spend each week with you and how much will be spent with your spouse? Is child support going to be paid if custody is going to be split? Who gets to make the final call about issues related to education and health care? What rights are held independent of the other spouse and which ones do you need to collaborate on before moving forward with a decision? 

In Texas, it is commonplace to have a geographic restriction put into practice that limits where the primary conservator and the kids can live. Many times it is the home county and any adjoining county to the home county. In other cases it is just the home county. In some cases parents decide to limit the geographic area where the kid’s primary home can be to a particular part of town or a school district that both parents are comfortable with. Start to at least think about these issues. Yes, things can change during a divorce. Yes, your spouse may not agree to any of the issues that you are concerned with. However, if you think about them now you will have time to consider alternatives to your best laid plans.

More divorce checklists will be shared with you in tomorrow’s blog post

We hope that you have found this information helpful. If you have we recommend that you join us tomorrow as we walk through more checklists and tips that can help you to save time and money in your divorce. 

If you have any questions about the material that we shared with you today please consider contacting the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultaitons six days a week here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity to answer questions and receive direct feedback about your particular circumstances. 

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