In the movies, the end of a relationship for a woman is usually commemorated with tears and ice cream amongst friends, while poignant, heartbreaking music plays on repeat in the background. Later (depending on how long the movie is), those same women are generally found around a bonfire (graciously provided by the ex’s personal effects), sipping wine and listening to songs about women’s empowerment.
While all of us could relate in some way, there are other important actions you should take at the end of a marriage to ensure you’re able to move forward in your life, in the best way possible. I, for one, believe the emotional element of a divorce is as much an issue that needs attention as child custody or property division. However, the emotions are always going to be there, and they will grow and change over time (see above movie depiction). By prioritizing certain tasks at the inception of your divorce case, you could set yourself up to achieve a successful outcome. I urge you, before you light that bonfire, to think about the following from the perspective of a divorce attorney:
- Immediately before or the very beginning of the divorce process is sometimes the most pertinent time to gather information. Often, once the filing is initiated, court orders granting one party exclusive use of the marital home may be put into place. In this scenario, the party not living in the home will no longer have unfettered access to the information inside. It’s important to have the best possible understanding of your marital finances, including assets and debts, and that information could easily be found in the joint statements that you keep in your home files. Having even the most recent statement of your assets and liabilities gives your attorney a huge benefit in assisting you in your property division, without having to spend a lot of your money getting that information through other means.
- Run a credit report. There have been so many times that a client comes to my office without a clear financial picture of what debt items she is responsible for. Regardless of what is decided in your divorce matter concerning the allocation of debt (who pays what), if you are a named party on a liability and that debt is not being paid, the company has every right to come after you for recourse. Knowing what debt is in your name is the first step to protecting yourself from a potential future financial mess. Many Internet sites offer free credit reports and, additionally, you have the right to receive one free report each year directly from the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). Take advantage of this right—and you’ll be happy that you did.
- Know what is in your joint bank accounts, and have an idea of what normal, everyday activity looks like with those accounts. This goes hand in hand with the first item above. Often, one party is generally in charge of the family’s finances, and, surprisingly, this frequently means the other party has no idea what typical account activity looks like. Having an idea of what monies go in and out of your accounts in an average month could assist your attorney in determining whether any marital funds are being squandered during the divorce proceedings. Know where your accounts are being held, have an idea of the balance of those accounts at the time of the divorce filing, and educate yourself on the monthly expenses of your household.
From what I’ve experienced while on the front line with my clients, the end of a marriage will cause you to run through the gamut of emotions. It will take time, and you have every right to embrace and experience your feelings, every step of the way. Going in, you have to know that some days will be better than others. That’s OK. I promise you that you will make it out the other side, and you will be able to move forward with your life. Keep that future in mind while you’re arming yourself with the above information. Knowledge is power, and—believe it or not—one astonishing side effect of this is that you will discover you are more powerful than you ever thought possible. I’ve seen it firsthand.
So, go. Turn up that radio, crack open a pint of your favorite Ben and Jerry’s, and start reviewing that credit report. Your friends are waiting.
Written by: Michele Giordano is a family law attorney at Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge's Grand Rapids office, where she focuses her practice on divorce, post-divorce, custody, guardianship, and adoption. She could be reached directly at [email protected] or 616-458-8308. Photo: stock.xchng