If you are in a position where divorce seems like a likely option, thinking about the entire process can be daunting and overwhelming. Making the decision is often difficult enough, let alone facing all the legal obstacles that often pop up during a divorce case.
A divorce case handled improperly can have a severe impact on the lives of you and your children. Whether or not you think you can come to agreement with your soon-to-be ex-spouse on all divorce-related issues, you don't want to be in a vulnerable position. Divorce often brings out the worst in people. It is crucial to retain quality legal representation and to prepare for a divorce to the best of your ability.
The precautionary steps listed in this article can help you become organized in preparation for divorce and be ready for any obstacles you might face.
1. Understand the Difference Between Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce
There are two main types of divorce:
- Uncontested Divorce are divorce cases where the two parties agree on the terms of a divorce. If both parties agree to every issue, then the divorce process is fairly simple.
- Contested Divorce, on the other hand, is when the parties cannot agree on all the terms of a divorce, whether that be child support, maintenance, division of assets, or parental responsibility.
In reflecting on your relationship with your spouse, you may have a feeling whether or not your divorce case will be contested. It is much easier to predict a contested divorce than an uncontested divorce. Until you and your partner speak with an experienced Illinois divorce attorney, you probably haven't considered all that is involved in your case. If your gut is already telling you there going to be issues, then you definitely need to plan ahead and take action prior to filing for divorce.
Below are a number of steps to take prior to filing a divorce, which will put you at your best advantage. If you anticipate an uncontested divorce, it may still be a good idea to consider and take many of these steps — to provide a stable post-divorce life for yourself and to act as backup if divorce doesn't pan out as smoothly as anticipated.
2. Open a New Bank Account and Organize Financial Assets
Open an independent bank account
Opening an independent checking account can ensure you'll have access to funds throughout your divorce when you need them, and it cancels out the risk of being cut off from your financial source when you most need it.
Don't use the same bank as your joint marital accounts
You might consider opening your new checking and savings accounts at a bank where you don't share a joint account with your spouse. This minimizes the chances of overlap between accounts which may alert your spouse of impending divorce before you are ready for them to know.
Link your new checking and savings accounts
Furthermore, it is helpful to have your checking and savings accounts linked, so you can easily access your savings when you need them.
In divorce cases, there may be a time when you need immediate access to money from your savings. Having a lock on your savings account or putting your savings in a CD (even if they do have better interest rates) can prevent you from accessing funds when you need them.
3. Set up a credit card
Much like setting up independent bank accounts, you should also consider applying for a credit card while still married. Having a credit card provides a line of credit you can use if needed during your divorce, and it also gives you a chance to establish or strengthen your credit score.
Oftentimes, it is difficult for someone with little or no income to gain access to credit without a strong credit history. Depending on your situation, you may have a better chance of being approved for a credit card using your marital income and credit history than on your own.
If you do not have strong credit or little to no income, setting up a credit card can be more complicated than setting up a bank account, which is why it is important to apply sooner than later.
4. Save Money
Divorce is expensive. On top of legal fees, the income you and your spouse currently have to support one household will soon need to support two separate households. Having an abundance of funds in your checking and savings will allow you to cover these necessary legal fees and living expenses.
The last position you want to end up in is at a financial disadvantage to your spouse during a messy divorce, where a lack of available funds can sometimes affect the outcome of your case.
As divorce attorneys, we recommend saving enough money that you could survive for 6 months without any additional income. This is obviously a difficult thing to do, and not possible in many circumstances, but the idea is to have enough funds at your disposal to combat anything the divorce may throw at you.
5. Organize Your File Cabinet
This can include any range of documents from credit reports to tax returns to your 401k. These documents will need to be produced while dividing up the marital assets during a divorce.
Some documents you might want include:
- Credit reports
- 401Ks, IRAs, and other retirement plans
- Wills or beneficiaries
- Real estate and other properties
Financial reports, including bank statements and tax returns, are important when determining maintenance and many financial details in a divorce. A credit report is usually necessary when setting up independent accounts for yourself or opening a credit card.
These documents are easier to get ahold of before the divorce process. It is a good idea to make sure all your household and financial documents are sorted and organized before filing for divorce. In general, if there is documentation for anything related to your finances, assets, or marriage, it's better to have it than to not and realize you need it later.
6. Update your beneficiaries and wills
If you are planning to divorce your spouse, chances are you won't want them as a beneficiary for your living will or insurance policies. Once you start the process by filing for divorce, it will be difficult to change your beneficiaries until after the divorce is finalized. If you haven't already, you should consider who you want to name as the new beneficiary should anything happen to you.
It's also important to note that simply updating a will does not cover all your bases. Even if your will says otherwise, your ex-spouse could still be entitled to your 401k, IRAs, life insurance, or a variety of other policies and plans unless you fill out the necessary paperwork for each plan you intend to change beneficiaries.
If you and your spouse share a financial advisor or an insurance company, you may need to take additional steps to make sure they are not notified of their removal as a beneficiary until you are ready to tell them. If you are not sure what to do, give us a call. Our divorce lawyers are seasoned professionals who have helped many people in similar situations protect their family and financial interests.
7. Take Inventory of ALL Marital and Non-Marital Property
First thing's first. It is important to understand the difference between marital and non-marital property.
All property acquired by the parties during a marriage is considered marital property. There are a few exceptions, however, the vast majority of property is subject to equitable distribution upon divorce regardless of which person's name is on the title, who has the receipt, etc…
In general, non-marital property is any property or asset that is not subject to equitable distribution during dissolution of marriage. This encompasses two different types of non-marital property:
- Property that was acquired by one party prior to being legally married, and
- separate property that one party acquires during your marriage, such as an inheritance solely designated to that person and not the other party, or gifts given specifically to one party in the marriage.
While non-marital property is not subject to equitable distribution during divorce in Illinois, items and property are often moved around and lost or misplaced during the process of relocating. This is a common occurrence in contested divorce cases. It is a good idea to take inventory and photo documentation of anything you consider your personal property before filing for divorce. Doing so will help you keep track of your property and provide you with photo evidence of non-marital assets if you ever need it.
8. Find an Experienced Divorce Lawyer
Last but not least, you should hire an experienced, knowledgeable Illinois divorce lawyer to protect your family and financial interests. Not only can a good divorce lawyer make sure you get a fair shake in your divorce, they will also assist you with preparing for divorce and covering all your bases when completing the steps listed above. Whether or not your Illinois divorce case includes contested issues, an experienced divorce lawyer can assess the situation and provide the information you need to make good decisions for yourself and your family.
Contact the DuPage County Divorce Lawyers at Dolci & Weiland
Dolci & Weiland divorce attorneys have been practicing divorce law in DuPage County, Illinois for over 26 years. Our divorce lawyers are prepared to offer top-tier legal assistance and help you with all of your divorce needs. To speak to a lawyer and schedule a consultation, contact us at (630) 261-9098.