Think about the most recent times of your life where you have been stressed out. What have been some of the common issues surrounding those times? Have you been busy? Have you been worried? Were you having trouble keeping everything together? I bet at least a couple of these questions caused you to answer, “yes.”
From my experience working with families going through divorce, I can tell you that most people who are divorcing would be able to answer “yes” to all three of those questions. A natural byproduct of the stress and anxiety of divorce is disorganization. With so many things to worry about during your case, keeping your life neat and orderly is probably not at the top of your priorities list.
I think that is a mistake. No, I don’t think that being organized is the most important thing for you to keep an eye on during your divorce. However, many people who go through divorces tend to let important areas of their life fall into disrepair and they use the divorce as their excuse.
This doesn’t just mean that your house is a little messier during a divorce than during other periods. I mean that parents forget to pack their child’s lunch for school and instead or forced to give the child money to purchase a lunch. Not only is the school lunch going to cost more money than the home-made version, but it will likely be unhealthier as well. The same goes for meal prep at home. If you wanted to, it would be easy to not make dinner one night in favor of stopping through the drive-thru on the way home from work.
Thinking ahead, planning and generally staying organized can be a great boost to your divorce case. I certainly have never seen a person become more organized and then have a worse outcome in their divorce because of it. While doing this will not guarantee you any particular result in your case, I think it sets you up well.
In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, I wanted to share with you some perspective on organization that I have been able to learn in my years as a family law attorney. Along the way, I will provide you with specific advice on how to better organize your life in specific areas related to divorce.
One size does not fit all
You do not lead the same life as I do. I don’t lead the same life as you do. My point in stating the obvious is that you cannot depend upon a one size fits all plan to organize your life. Some of the things that I write about in this blog post will not apply to your life at all. Other points that I make will hit close to him and you’ll move to implement those sooner rather than later. Either way, some or all of these tips will help to keep your life on track and from becoming a never-ending process of responding to problems caused, in part, by a lack of planning and organization.
Saving time and money are just a couple of the important aspects of why organization during a divorce is so important. Your stress level will already be turned way up during a divorce. Having to jump from one problem to the next will cause you to feel like a chicken with its head cut off. Not great when you have about a million things to keep together while your divorce case rolls on.
Divorce is all about checking boxes
You will quickly find out that there are steps to a divorce that everyone goes through. Filing your petition, responding to your spouse’s petition, going to mediation, responding to discovery, going to mediation again and then possibly attending a trial. These are a handful of the more notable steps in a Texas divorce. You will need to check each of these boxes before you can officially call yourself a divorced person. Thinking of your spouse as your ex-spouse on the day that you file for divorce is a mistake.
During the case, your attorney will be relying on you to supply him or her with facts, information and evidence that can be used to bolster your case. Some of this information can be transmitted verbally, i.e., through conversations with him or her. Other times your attorney will need you to turn over documents like financial statements, tax returns or other hard copy documents or electronic files. This is often a problem for many people because they are not organized. If it takes you days to locate a document or a file you are losing time. Your attorney will not have an opportunity to review the document and to utilize in the best way possible in your case.
You don’t have to be fancy to be organized
Again, don’t use your divorce as an excuse to go out and buy a bunch of stuff at Target. The truth is that you can become organized simply by becoming more intentional about the things that you do. Rather than drifting through your day you should take control of it.
For example, instead of waiting until the end of the day to read emails from your attorney, you should read and respond to them as quickly as you can. Here’s why I say that. You have the luxury of only being concerned with your divorce. Your attorney, on the other hand, has a number of other people who also need their help. As a result, your problems are not on the front of your attorney’s mind at all times. If he or she has taken the time to contact you about your case, you need to get their attention while you can.
In many cases, your attorney will be contacting you to ask for information or documents. Especially during the phase of your case called discovery, your attorney will be reliant upon you to turn over information that can then be sent to your opposing party. There is normally a thirty day time limit to collect documents, respond to questions and turn over other relevant information. Your attorney cannot look in your file cabinets for you. You need to do this work. The clients that are the best at doing so are usually the ones who are already taking steps to be organized.
A simple, expandable folder that allows you to label each section so you know what goes where is a good place to start. I would point you towards the computer to organize your documents but not everything in our day and age is digital. You likely have some tax returns, bank statements, investment statements or other documents that are in hard copies in your home. All you need to do is to take a couple hours and put these all together in the same place. Yes, this will take you away from other activities that are more enjoyable, but you will be much better prepared when it comes time for your attorney to ask you for those documents.
Create a to-do list for your divorce and review it often
All of these tips are just window-dressing if you do nothing more than buy an expandable folder and a highlighter. You actually need to take the next step and figure out what you need to do in your divorce in order to get across the finish line. I’ve found that if you set up a to-do list and begin to check off boxes that you will not only become more organized but can develop a sense of momentum because you are accomplishing some mini-goals.
I think the first thing that you need to do when you are considering a divorce is to meet with a family law attorney to discuss your options. You should not make any big decisions, including moving out of your home. Seek their advice because some decisions you make may not be for the best and they cannot be undone in many cases.
Once you have spoken with an attorney, if you decide to move forward with your case you should ask the lawyer what he or she needs from you. Their response will likely be a list of documents that we have already gone over today. Financial documents are at the top of the list. Also, if you have social media posts of your spouse, text messages, emails or other forms of communication you should turn those over to your attorney, as well.
If primary custody of your child will be an issue in your case then you need to collect school records for your child to show what their grades have been, how many absences your child has accumulated as well as a record of their behavioral problems (if any) at the school.
After that, you need to get an idea of where your finances are. It’s not good enough to simply email your attorney what your 401(k) balance is and to never actually take a look at the investment. You need to become an expert on where things stand for your family from a financial standpoint. Even if doing so does not ordinarily appeal to you, you will need to figure out your assets and debts so that when it comes time to negotiate on this subject you can make fair settlement offers.
Get an idea of what is in your house- in case something goes missing
It would not be an impossibility for something to go “missing” from your house during a divorce. If you are remaining in the house and your spouse leaves, he or she may take an item or two that you considered to be yours or at the very least part of your community estate. If that item goes and you have no way to prove it ever existed, you are in a bad position to be able to negotiate for it in your divorce.
My advice would be, sooner rather than later, to walk through your house and take photos of all the rooms. Make sure that if you have particular pieces of property that are rare or valuable or have a sentimental value, that they are photographed. The quality of the photos need to be good enough so that you can show how well each item has been maintained. Don’t put yourself in a position where you have to argue about an item gone missing because you never bothered to take photos.
Protect your information online
One of the other things I would do would be to create new usernames and passwords for any websites where you login regularly. This could be email accounts, social media, etc. It would be bad enough if your spouse were able to login to your email accounts and could read your mail, but what if he also logged into your email account that allows access to working documents between you and your lawyer? At the very least you need to take advantage of security procedures that alert you to when someone attempts to login to these websites.
It is much easier to prevent your spouse from gaining access to these websites than it is to hold him accountable for having done so after the fact. There is no “undo” button for this area of your life. Be intentional about how it is you secure your online information and you will benefit greatly from having done so.
Questions about organization and your life? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan today
If you have any questions about the material that we have just covered please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations at our office six days a week. These consultations are a great opportunity for you to ask questions and to receive feedback about your specific circumstances. We appreciate the opportunity to serve you and your family and hope to hear from you with any questions you may have.