How to Prepare for a Divorce in Florida
If you’ve read our discussion on divorce in Florida, you know that the process can be both complicated and time-consuming. And all too often, the legal system is intimidating and confusing for people who are not used to dealing with it every day. But there are a number of things that you can do to prepare for a successful outcome to your divorce case and to stay organized along the way.
Hire an Attorney
Lawyers aren’t cheap. We get it. Even in an uncontested divorce case, an experienced and qualified South Florida divorce attorney might cost you a couple of thousand dollars. But retaining an attorney early in the case is an investment in your future and your family’s future. There is absolutely no substitute for the advice and guidance that a trained South Florida divorce attorney can provide.
Know the Numbers
It’s important to know what you own and what you owe. One mistake that people make is not being familiar enough with their own financial situations before a divorce is filed. Sometimes this is because the other spouse is secretive or untruthful and, in those cases, your lawyer will know how to get the information that you need. But many times, you just have to keep your eyes open and ask questions. For example, by reviewing tax returns, bank account and credit card statements regularly, you will get a better idea of where both you and your spouse stand financially. This can also help you better predict how much money you will need to support yourself on your own.
Get Separate Accounts
If you and your spouse use joint bank accounts, it might be a good idea to consider changing that. Depending on your circumstances, it can be extremely risky to continue depositing your income into an account that your spouse can access. A better idea may be to open a separate bank account for your deposits. If necessary, you can transfer just enough funds into the joint account to pay household bills from month to month.
Document Your Assets
The court in a divorce case has a duty to identify marital assets and to divide them between the parties. But what if your spouse starts removing valuables from the home or disposing of property before the court has a chance to do its job? One thing you can do to protect yourself is to take photographs or videos of your possessions including household items, jewelry, and vehicles. It can also be helpful to have your property appraised when appropriate. That could mean less guesswork for the court later on if the property goes missing during your divorce.
Gather Your Paperwork
Here is a checklist of documents that you will be required to disclose early in your case. The sooner you begin gathering them, the more time your attorney will have to review them with you and to identify potential issues with your case. If you are thinking about a divorce or going through one now, and you have not already done so, you should start putting these documents together now. Both you and your attorney will be glad that you did.
- Tax Returns: All federal and state income tax returns, gift tax returns, and intangible property tax returns filed by you or on your behalf for the past 3 years. IRS form W-2, 1099, and K-1 for the past year, if the income tax return for that year has not been prepared.
- Pay Stubs: Pay stubs or other evidence of earned income for the 3 months.
- Income Statements: A statement identifying the amount and source of all income received during the past 3 months if not reflected on the pay stubs produced.
- Loan Documents: All loan applications and financial statements prepared or used within the 12 months, whether for the purpose of obtaining or attempting to obtain credit or for any other purpose.
- Deeds and Promissory Notes: All deeds within the last 3 years, all promissory notes within the last 12 months
- Financial Accounts: All periodic statement from the last 3 months for all checking accounts, and from the last 12 months for all other accounts (for example, savings accounts, money market funds, certificates of deposit, etc.), regardless of whether or not the account has been closed, including those held in your name individually, in your name jointly with any other person or entity, in your name as trustee or guardian for any other person, or in someone else’s name on your behalf.
- Brokerage Accounts: All brokerage account statements in which either you or your spouse held within the last 12 months or holds an interest including those held in your name individually, and your name jointly with any person or entity, in your name as trustee or guardian for any other person, or in some else’s name on your behalf.
- Retirement Accounts: The most recent statement for any profit sharing, retirement, deferred compensation, or pension plan (for example, IRA, 401(k), 403(b), SEP, KEOGH, or other similar account) in which you are a participant or an alternate payee and the summary plan description for any retirement, profit sharing, or pension plan in which you are a participant or an alternate payee. (The summary plan description must be furnished to you on request by the plan administrator as required by 29 U.S.C. 1024(b)(4)).
- Insurance Policies: The declarations page, the last periodic statement, and the certificate for any group insurance for all life insurance policies insuring your life or the life of your spouse, and all current health and dental insurance cards covering either you or your spouse and/or your dependent children.
- Corporate Tax Returns: Corporate, partnership, and trust tax returns for the last 3 tax years if you have an ownership or interest in a corporation, partnership or trust greater than or equal to 30%.
- Debts: All promissory notes for the last 12 months, all credit card and charge account statement and other records showing your indebtedness as of the date of filing this action for the last 3 month, and all present lease agreements, whether owed in your name, individually, in your name jointly with any other person or entity, in your name as trustee or guardian for any other person, or in someone else’s name on your behalf.
- Marital Agreements: All written premarital or marital agreements entered into at any time between you and your spouse, whether before or during the marriage. Additionally, in any modification proceeding, you must serve all written agreements entered into between you and your former spouse at any time since the order to be modified was entered.
- Documents Reflecting a Special Interest in Property: All documents and tangible evidence supporting any claim you might have of special equity or non-marital status of an asset or debt for the time period form the date of acquisition of the asset or debt to the date of production or from the date of marriage, if based on premarital acquisition.
- Alimony and Child Support Orders: Any court orders directing you to pay or receive spousal or child support.
These are just a few of the steps that you can take now to begin planning for your divorce.