California Divorce Preparation Checklist
It is personal: Know what you value as a person and what you need most.
An oft-repeated rule dictates that you know where you’re going before you get on the road. Now that you are facing a new kind of life, you need to spend time re-evaluating what is important to you before you get stuck in a heap of divorce law. After all, if you’re trying to get the best possible settlement, you need to know what that means to you.
In addition, if emotion slips back into your negotiations, you may find yourself spending money, energy, and time on something you don’t really want. Do you value your home above the fancy car the two of you bought six months ago? How much money will you need for education for your kids in the future? What safeguards will you need if you become ill?
Make a list of the non-negotiables, even if you have to give it a neutral title such as “What I value most.” Look at it before any contact regarding the divorce to keep yourself on track.
Exploit the benefits of being organized.
Now that you’ve taken stock of what you value and what you need, how much money or other assets do you own that can get you close to meeting those needs? Create a master list on a spreadsheet documenting each account or asset and its value. Get help from your accountant or financial advisor if needed.
Note on the spreadsheet who currently owns each asset. Document which assets are in your name alone, which are in your spouse’s name, and which are joint accounts. It isn’t unusual for one spouse to be unaware of some of these details; call the bank, investment company, or whatever entity is pertinent and ask questions to get the information you need.
Inventory your tax, real estate, personal property, and income.
Along with the spreadsheet discussed above, start a file of each asset and account, complete with recent statements and other correspondence. Included in this are bank statements, investment account statements, tax forms, and anything of a financial nature that you and your spouse signed in the recent past.
The judge will want proof of any information you provide, so ask around and get documentation for everything. A digital file for each is fine, but a duplicate saved in another spot or a hard-copy file protects you if you get locked out of an account. That way, you’ll be able to provide all the documentation a judge or divorce lawyer may ask for.
Set up accounts in your name for liquid assets.
Many couples have joint checking accounts. Both have access to such accounts, and that’s probably not a good idea during a divorce. Set up an account in your name only, and deposit your paycheck or other income there for the time being. Keep good records of the money. If you and your spouse are on amicable terms, explain what you’re doing and work together to pay incoming bills that affect the family. Doing this will protect your credit rating and benefit both of you in the long run.
Although it may be tempting, don’t raid the joint account and leave nothing for your ex-spouse. Judge what you will need and take enough to pay your bills until proceedings evolve. After all, you don’t want to be left penniless and be forced to get an emergency court hearing to get temporary alimony or child support.
Know your state’s divorce laws.
No matter what your best friend, boss, neighbor, or barber says, you need to know what the divorce laws actually are in your state. If your state is a community property state, all assets will be split 50/50. In non-community property states, the “assets of the debtor spouse are separate from the other spouse unless both spouses are indebted to the same creditor.”
This makes a huge difference in how you proceed in your settlement talks. Needless to say, it’s best to know this before you begin any discussion on division of assets. Once you acquire one, your divorce attorney can fill you in on the pertinent details and what they mean for you.
Gather your forces.
You will need a financial adviser who is on your side and can explain things clearly. Share your goals with this person so they don’t have to guess what is most important to you.
Divorce law advice is available from a myriad of sources—everything from the “top” divorce attorney in your community to legal services that provide forms that you complete yourself. Neither is the best way; it only matters that you trust the legal advice and other assistance you choose.
Divorce Done Right
You can alleviate some of the stress of a divorce by being prepared. Take some time to define your goals and then create an expert team, including a divorce attorney, financial adviser, and others who can assist you throughout the process. This will bring peace of mind to a process that is cataclysmic for most people. You may not get everything, but you can get the best settlement possible for you so you can enjoy whatever the future has in store.