What to do When You are Going Through a Divorce
Going through a divorce is an emotional roller coaster. There are many new challenges, and it can be difficult to know how to get through them and what to do. Your attorney can and should advise you based on your individual needs, but here are a few general suggestions that can help you navigate your way through this turbulent time.
1. Change your passwords for e-mail and social media. This is the most important thing you can do when your case begins. If your spouse is reading your e-mails because they have access to your e-mail, it will likely be too late when you finally discover the issue. If your spouse is sending e-mails from your account to him/herself, to members of their family, neighbors, etc., it will be difficult, if not impossible, to prove they did not actually come from you. For obvious reasons, if your spouse is messaging somebody as though they were you, it’s not going to help your divorce.
Even if you don’t think you have logged into a spouse’s IPAD, why risk discovering the mistake later? Change your passwords now.
Even more importantly, you may be communicating with your attorney via e-mail. This is confidential communication, and you do not want anyone else having access to this. If you suspect that your spouse may continue to have access to your accounts even after you have changed passwords, you may want to consider setting up new e-mail and social media accounts. Keeping your long-term e-mail is just not worth the risk of disclosing privileged information.
2. Call around for an attorney. You may want to ask friends or family for referrals. Find an attorney you can afford and one with which you feel comfortable. You need to be open and honest about the good and the bad of your case.
It can also be a good idea to find an attorney who practices primarily in family law, as family law has some different procedures than other types of law. There is nothing that makes our office smile more than when an attorney files a “Notice to Submit” on their motion, claiming the deadlines have passed (deadlines work differently in family law).
3. Save any communication from your spouse. If you have e-mails or texts from your spouse, you must save them. Save them whether they are helpful for your case or not. Save them as far back as you can. With texts, this can be done by taking a screen shot of your texts and saving them to another drive. Do this quickly, because if your phone breaks, dies, or gets lost, you need a back-up (you may not think this will happen to you, but it only takes one mistake to ruin the next twenty years of your life, so why risk it?).
If you can’t produce a record of the communication, it doesn’t exist.
Perhaps even more importantly, saving your messages can protect you in years to come. If, twelve months from now, your spouse claims you agreed to pay her $20,000 a year later, it would be helpful to pull out the messages and ask, “When did this happen? I don’t see any agreement.” Not only will it disprove your spouse’s statements, but it lends credibility to yourself.
Even if you sent inappropriate messages, it is better to know what those messages said, than to just know you mistakenly sent messages. Remember, information is power, even if it’s not your proudest moment.
4. Choose to take the high road. It can be so tempting to lash out and fight back when your spouse engages in nasty behavior, but it is not worth it. How well your side of the case fares may depend on your own personal behavior. It won’t matter how nasty your spouse has been if you even been a little nasty in return.
This can be a serious issue. If your spouse is constantly swearing at you, disparaging you, involving the children, etc., you should have a strong case. That can all fall apart because you sent one text message stating, “Oh yeah?! Well I showed these messages to our daughter and she’s sure mad at you!” Even if it’s not true, the court treats it as though it is. Even if you respond with “F--- you!” in a fit of anger, the court will respond by saying, “Both parties have behaved inappropriately and should stop.”
When your spouse is inappropriate to you, it helps your case legally. Don’t ruin all that good evidence by responding in kind.
5. If you have children, do not involve them in the dispute. It never helps your case. It only harms it. The court doesn’t like to hear that your eight-year-old child wants to live with you if it means you brought the subject up. It’s okay for a child to voice their wishes, but why does the child even know there is an issue? Leave them out of it. Even more importantly, your children are innocent in this matter, and they do not need to be dragged into the mud. They do not need to feel like they have to choose sides. Whenever possible, leave the children out of the dispute between you and your spouse.
If there is ever a question as to whether you should be asking or telling your child something, it may help to ask yourself whether you would feel it is appropriate for your spouse to ask the question. If you didn’t know what he/she was asking, would you be comfortable with relying on your child’s answer? If your spouse stated your child told him of the child’s desires, would you think it was appropriate? You wouldn’t want your spouse to play games using your children, so you shouldn’t do it, either.
6. Stay calm and follow the advice of your attorney. Your attorney’s advice is designed to help you. Your attorney knows the law and has your best interest in mind. Don’t go rogue and take matters into your own hands. Listen to your attorney and follow the advice you are given.
If there’s ever a question as to what action is in your best interests, wait for your attorney to provide advice. It is rare that an issue will have such immediate importance that a resolution must occur within a few hours (if you waited until the last minute to involve your attorney, there will, of course, be consequences). Give your attorney time to respond, and follow the advice.
7. Keep your private matters private. Do not air your dirty laundry in public. Do not list your grievances on social media in an effort to garner support. The world does not need to know the details of your divorce proceeding or every fault you believe your spouse possesses. It’s fine to have a few select family members or friends to whom you go for support, but personal matters such as a divorce are better being kept private.
We do not give this advice for “moral” reasons. It’s none of our business. But legally? Anything you say can and will be used against you. Your Facebook posts cannot be used for you, but they sure can be used against you. Why provide the world with information to be used against you?
On the same note, if your spouse is posting dirty laundry on social media, this can only help you legally. Just as it can only harm you to post information on social media, it can only harm your spouse, as well. Before jumping to court, ask your spouse to stop his/her actions (the court doesn’t like tattle-tales, either), and then consult with your attorney regarding the appropriate next steps.
8. Start gathering the information your attorney will need. This will include bank statements, federal and state income tax returns, records for any debts, records for ownership of vehicles or real property, information on earnings (you and your spouse), and retirement accounts.
You may never need some, or any, of these records while going through a divorce, but it can’t hurt your case to have them. Information can only help your case. Take the time now to compile these documents, so you have the information later.
9. Be realistic about your expectations. You are not going to get everything you want in your divorce. Divorces never work that way. Compromises will be necessary so that both parties can be happy. Be prepared to give and take on different issues so that your divorce does not become overly expensive or time-consuming.
10. Be honest with your attorney. Throughout this article, we have mentioned moments when it is better to be honest than to look good (save text messages, be polite in communications, etc.). This is especially true when communicating with your attorney.
Family law attorneys have seen everything. There is very little you could say that will result in us “judging” you. We have worked with affairs, domestic violence, and more. We may not (and should not) avoid all consequences for your actions, but the consequences of lying to us are almost certainly more severe. We cannot protect you if we don’t know what to expect. For example, marijuana is an illegal drug, but it’s not the worst thing you could take. If you tell us you have never taken an illegal drug, and then test “positive” on a drug test because we were adamant in court that you were clean, you are in far more trouble than if you had been honest in the first place (to start, the attorney wouldn’t be adamant you were clean, we would simply redirect attention to more important matters). Tell us the truth, and let us protect you with the correct information. Lying may seem like a temporary solution, but it will bite you in the end.