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 a divorce, I can tell you that most divorcing people 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 believe that being organized is the most important thing for you to watch during your divorce. However, many people who go through divorces tend to let essential areas of their life fall into disrepair, and they use 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 homemade 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 not to 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 significant 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 nicely.
In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, I wanted to share some perspective on an 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 better organizing your life in particular areas related to divorce.
One size does not fit all.
You do not lead the same life as I do. I don’t show the same energy 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 critical aspects of why an 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 significant 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 them 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 them. 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 it 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 what 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 several other people who also need their help. As a result, your problems are not in the front of your attorney’s mind at all times. If they have 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 usually 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. It would help if you did this work. The clients who are the best at doing so are usually the ones already taking steps to be organized.
A simple, expandable folder that allows you to label each section so you know what goes where is an excellent place to start. I would point you towards the computer to organize your documents, but not everything is digital in our day and age. You likely have some tax returns, bank statements, investment statements, or other documents in hard copies in your home. All you need to do is take a couple of hours and put these all together in the same place. Yes, this will take you away from other more enjoyable activities, 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 buying an expandable folder and a highlighter. You need to take the next step and figure out what you need to do in your divorce to get across the finish line. I’ve found that if you set up a to-do list and begin to check off boxes, you will become more organized and develop a sense of momentum because you are accomplishing some mini-goals.
The first thing you need to do when you are considering a divorce is to meet with a family law attorney to discuss your options. It would help if you did 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, you should ask the lawyer what they need from you if you decide to move forward with your case. Their response will likely be a list of documents that we have already gone over today. Financial records 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.
Suppose primary custody of your child will be an issue in your case. In that case, you need to collect school records for your child to show what their grades have been, how many absences your child has accumulated, and a description 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 email your attorney what your 401(k) balance is and never actually take a look at the investment. It will help if you 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 you can make fair settlement offers when it comes time to negotiate on this subject.
Get an idea of what is in your house- in case something goes missing.
It would not be impossible for something to go “missing” from your house during a divorce. If you are remaining in the place and your spouse leaves, they may take an item or two that you considered being 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 wrong 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. Ensure that if you have particular pieces of property that are rare or valuable or have a sentimental value, they are photographed. The quality of the photos needs 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 missing an item 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 website you log in regularly. This could be email accounts, social media, etc. It would be bad enough if your spouse were able to log in to your email accounts and could read your mail, but what if he also logged into the 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 when someone attempts to log in to these websites.
It is much easier to prevent your spouse from gaining access to these websites than to hold him accountable for doing so after the fact. There is no “undo” button for this area of your life. Be intentional about how you secure your online information, and you will benefit greatly from having done so.
Questions about the 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 an excellent opportunity for you to ask questions and 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.