Protecting yourself in a divorce requires that you maintain a businesslike focus on your objectives. Reasonable objectives in a divorce are to obtain a favorable financial agreement for yourself and protect the interests of your children. It is not reasonable or realistic for you to expect the court to punish your spouse for hurting your feelings or shattering your dreams, nor is it reasonable to expect that you will be rewarded for your years of being a "good" spouse while your husband or wife misbehaved. In most cases, courts are extremely disinterested in marital fault unless it is particularly egregious. There is a limited "pie" or pool of resources available for distribution. The court's objective is to distribute that pool efficiently and fairly.
You need to be very familiar with and have a complete understanding of your family's finances. Start by gathering all records from your home or office, including financial statements, tax returns, appraisals and loan documents and current statements showing retirement benefits such as 401(k) plans, IRAs, pension and profit-sharing plans. For closely-held businesses, get five years of corporate tax returns and/or financial statements. While all this financial information may be obtained through the legal process called discovery, once an action for divorce has been filed it may be more difficult to get the information you need. Therefore, the more documents you can gather before announcement of divorce is made, the more assurance you have that you will know the complete financial picture. Does this mean you should skulk around and see what your spouse is making, spending or owns? You bet!
Transfer money into a bank account in only your name to cover immediate living expenses and attorneys' fees. Be aware that your spouse could close all joint accounts upon your announcement of intent to proceed with divorce.
Also, prepare a detailed budget of your monthly living expenses. Keep track of what you are spending. If you can do this for weeks or months before announcing your intentions, so much the better. Alimony is based upon need and ability to pay. Use bank statements, canceled checks and credit card statements to determine your average monthly expense.
Most importantly, hire an attorney who specializes in family law matters. He knows the ropes and will make sure that you emerge with an objectively fair and reasonable arrangement.
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