Going through a divorce can be messy and overwhelming. It’s easy to lose track of what’s happening, what has already been done, and what still needs to be tackled. That’s why it’s smart to create a checklist. Writing down tasks, and the dates they are completed will help the person going through a divorce to keep on track, avoid missing details, and gain peace of mind that they’re not overlooking important parts of the process.
If you or someone you know is considering divorce, share this checklist to help them stay on track.
Get Started by Gathering Documents Before Filing for Divorce
Dividing up property, assets, and debt is a difficult task, and it’s often the most contentious part of a divorce proceeding. Before rulings can be made on the divided property, the courts will need thorough financial and legal documentation. Providing a clear picture of marital finances helps a judge get a holistic picture of marital assets and may also affect how spousal and child support is awarded.
Having thorough, organized documentation early in the process helps avoid delay tactics such as blocking requests for information. When gathering documentation, it’s wise to make two copies of all important legal and financial documents–one for the divorce attorney and one to store in a location that is inaccessible to the spouse, such as a safe deposit box or trusted relative’s home.
Which documents should be collected? Here’s a list of documents needed in most divorce cases:
- Federal, state, and local tax returns from the past five years for both spouses
- Proof of current income, such as pay stubs or employment contracts, for both spouses
- Bank statements for checking, savings, certificates of deposit, and money market accounts
- Statements for retirement accounts, IRAs, or pension accounts for both spouses
- Statements for both spouses outlining details of employer benefits, including health and life insurance, retirement accounts, dividends, profit-sharing, stock options, and use of company vehicle
- Documentation of investments
- Mortgage documents and property tax statements
- Credit card statements
- Documentation for all loans
- Utility bill statements
- Documentation for recurring bills, such as tuition, daycare, and memberships
- Life insurance policies
- Detailed monthly budget
This is a good time to check wills, retirement accounts, and life insurance policies and change the beneficiaries when needed.
Document Your Personal Property
The laws for divorce differ from state to state. Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state, which means that the courts will divide marital property in a way that they consider fair, which means that each spouse may not get an equal share of assets.
Property that is acquired during the marriage, including real estate, businesses, life insurance, retirement plans, bank accounts, vehicles, art, furniture, jewelry, home goods, and even sporting equipment is considered marital property. Courts factor in a range of considerations when deciding on distribution, including age, health, earning power, the contributions of a spouse to help train or educate the other in their career, and guardianship of minor children.
Pennsylvania does not consider personal, or separate, property acquired before the marriage or after the separation to be marital property. That means that a spouse may keep personal property, including an inheritance, sentimental family gifts, or any other items acquired outside the marriage, including a woman’s engagement ring.
To protect their property, a person going through a divorces should inventory personal property and marital property at the beginning of the divorce process. It’s wise to incorporate video or photos to document possession. Documenting property may provide needed evidence in the event an item mysteriously disappears during a heated divorce process. For people who are concerned about irreplaceable items with sentimental value that are not marital property, such as photos and family heirlooms, it may be wise to remove them from the home and store them in a safe location.
Create Separate Bank Accounts
Many couples have shared bank accounts. However, each spouse should open a new bank account at a new bank. Ideally, this new account will contain enough cash to cover a few months of expenses and spending money as a safety net in case a spouse cancels credit cards or unexpectedly removes funds from an account.
Check Your Credit
Divorced couples are often surprised to find that some bills have gone unpaid. That’s why it’s wise to pull a credit report to get a complete picture of all unpaid bills and to inventory all credit cards, mortgages, and loans made in both names.
Once the divorce is final, pull another credit report to check that no joint accounts or joint credit remain.
Divorce Means it’s Time to Change Your Passwords
In the digital age, our lives are full of passwords for email, internet, bank accounts, credit card accounts, social media, phones, laptops, insurance payments, mortgage payments, online shopping accounts, and more. While changing all these passwords may seem tedious, it’s necessary to protect privacy. Just as importantly, changing passwords will guard against efforts to sabotage social media accounts, track browser history, make purchases, move funds around, or make unwanted purchases.
Each spouse should take time to install or change passwords and PINs for personal bank accounts, computers, smartphones, tablets, social media accounts, apps that show location, and voice-activated phone, text, and email functions in vehicles. When possible, they should change the password using a device that the other spouse can’t access for additional security. It’s also smart to change security questions using information that the spouse can’t easily guess.
In cases of shared computers or other devices, transfer any important information to a new personal device and permanently delete it from the shared device. However, it’s important to note that a divorce lawyer should be consulted before changing passwords and log-in credentials to joint bank accounts.
Remember to also guard the privacy of postal mail. A spouse is entitled to open mail addressed to both parties, but it’s not smart to allow them access to correspondence from divorce lawyers, creditors, or bank statements for private accounts. To play it safe, it’s wise to open a P.O. Box and redirect mail delivery.
Secure Health Care Prior to Divorce
Divorce means spouses can no longer share an employer’s healthcare plan. That means that it’s time to seek a health insurance alternative. When timing allows, it’s smart to research health insurance options, including employer plans, getting a job with insurance benefits, or self-insuring.
For those still on their spouse’s plan during a divorce, this is the time to take care of routine checkups and shots, dental visits, prescriptions, and any other medical procedures that can be taken care of now instead of later.
Think Through Custody
Once a parent decides to pursue a divorce, they can start thinking through shared custody arrangements. This is the time to consider which parent will have primary physical and legal custody of the children and how parents will split custody. It may be time to create visitation schedules, how to handle holidays and birthdays, what happens during vacations, babysitting, and more. An experienced divorce attorney can help negotiate and finalize a custody agreement that is fair to both parties and serves the best interests of the children.
Get Legal Help Early
At the Law Offices of Going and Plank in downtown Lancaster, we handle the divorce process with compassion, take the time to find out what’s important to each client, and fight for a fair settlement. Call us today at 717-392-4131 to schedule a consultation.
Want to find out more about Robert M. Going, Jr.? Read these articles and blogs:
Or click here to discover an even wider range of legal topics in our legal blog.