Maryland attorney James Gross, editor of the Maryland Divorce Legal Crier, has posted two useful (and gender-specific) lists of things to consider in preparing for divorce. These ideas are general and you should speak with an attorney as to the advisability of them in your case.
There are a lot of important actions that men can take to protect themselves in a divorce. Some things for you to consider regarding specific financial matters include the following.
1. Documents. Move your documents, records and other papers somewhere else, like a friend’s house or your attorney’s office. You can expect that your children’s mother will be going through your desk, briefcase, automobile, telephone records, bills, and computer, looking for financial information and other evidence to use against you.
2. Bank Accounts. Go to the bank and divide the joint bank accounts in half and deposit your half in your own name. You can also put them all in your name, but sometimes this will make the judge angry with you. However, it is often easier to give money back than to get it back. If you are the breadwinner do not put your children and their mother out in the cold without some money to get by on. This will aggravate the judge who will make you pay anyway. Make arrangements so that bills will be covered. Let your children’s mother know what you have done, but not before you have done it. You do not want her to clean out the account first.
3. Stock. Call your broker and divide any stock, bonds or mutual funds that are held jointly with your children’s mother. While this is not a taxable event, you will have to take future taxes into account if you want to be fair. Therefore, ask your broker to make sure the tax basis is equalized as well.
4. Credit Cards. You do not want to wake up one morning and discover that your children’s mother has charged $5,000 on your joint credit card on a spending spree. You may be responsible for paying part or all of that $5,000. Close all joint credit or loan accounts and notify the banks, charge cards, and others by a certified, return receipt letter that you are no longer responsible for the expenses of your children’s mother. You may ask the company to reopen an account in your own name. This is a good time to request it. Let your children’s mother know so she is not caught by surprise at the gas pump when the credit card no longer works. If your she has already started her spending spree, report the card as stolen. If she has charged her attorney fees on the card, you can dispute the charges with the company.
5. Insurance. If you cover your spouse or children on your insurance, do not drop them from the policy at least until the divorce is final. You are probably responsible for their medical bills until then anyway. Even after the divorce, the employed spouse may want to keep the spouse and children covered. If you are paying child support, a large unexpected medical expense for the child could be assessed against the noncustodial parent as additional child support. The same could happen with alimony and an ex-spouse. Federal law allows most employees to cover their spouses for up to thirty six months after a divorce for a small additional premium. However, the employer must be notified prior to the final divorce decree.
6. Expenses. Two cannot live as cheaply as one, especially if they are separated and trying to maintain two households. It is time to cut costs as much as possible. Cancel anything you do not need like extra telephone lines or cable television. If there is any personal property you do not want or need, sell it. However, do not cut off the utilities on your children and their mother without giving them plenty of notice. Make sure you can prove this notice to the court because leaving your children and their mother home without heat or light in December seldom sits well
with the judge.
7. Pensions. Retirement funds acquired during a marriage are marital assets that can be divided by the divorce court. So chances are good that your wife will share in anything you contribute now to your pension plan at work or your Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Fill out the paperwork to have your employer stop your contributions to your 401(k) account or other pension plan. Do not make contributions this year to your IRA. This will keep your spouse from getting part of it and chances are you will be needing the money soon.
8. Inventory. Make a list of everything in the house. Take pictures or video tape everything if you wish. Be sure to date your inventory. Include furniture, furnishings, appliances, clothing and jewelry. Then you will know if something turns up missing, and you will have evidence of it.
9. Valuables. Move any valuables, like collections, jewelry, artwork, firearms, cash, and heirlooms out of the house to a safe place. Anything with significant or sentimental value to you ought to be secured from your children’s mother. You are not trying to hide things. But you do not want to come home from work and find that your valuables have been sold at a yard sale.
10. Safe Deposit Box. You can establish a safe deposit box to store your valuables away from the house. If you already have a safe deposit box, and your children’s mother has access to it, you will want to remove your items and store them somewhere else. Make a list or take a picture or video tape of whatever is left in the box for proof later. The same goes for any storage unit you may have.
11. Get a Lawyer. Find a good family lawyer and set up an appointment right away. Some lawyers charge for an initial consultation and some do not. In the initial meeting, you will be able to get some good advice and strategy for your particular facts and circumstances. You will also be able to assess the attorney to see if it’s a good fit for you. During this meeting, the attorney will discuss costs with you. But be aware that any estimate by an attorney is the roughest of all guesses and depends upon what your spouse and her attorney do. Your attorney will probably tell you not to sign anything before he or she reviews it. Your attorney will also advise you about other matters you will need to consider during this change in your life, for example executing a new will and changing any powers of attorney.