Marriage ending? Preplanning can help smooth the way

One of the most stressful in life is said to be a divorce.  It will not be easy, but pre-planning and taking some steps before you pull the trigger on the divorce will help lower the stress level.

Know what you (both) own and owe.

What you own:

Inventory your assets.  Include bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, antiques, collections, motor vehicles, real estate, guns, and anything else of real value.  Do not get hung up on household goods and furniture (unless the piece is an antique) as used household goods and furniture have a very small value in the real world.  For each item estimate (do a good faith estimate for now):

  • the value of the asset
  • indicate when the asset was acquired
  • describe what funds were used to acquire the assets, such as were the funds inherited or gifted, or in the possession of either spouse before the marriage
  • determine if there is money owed against the property and if so how much.

It is easier to inventory your assets before you split up.  Make copies of any documentation that backs up your data.

What you owe:

It is a good idea check your credit report.  Like assets, it is easier to determine what you owe before you split.  Running a credit report can be an eye opening experience, especially if your spouse has opened credit accounts without your knowledge and listed you as a creditor.  No, they are not supposed to do that, but it does happen.

Make a list of all of your debts and include:

  • The current balance of the debt
  • What the debt was for
  • The monthly payment on the debt
  • When the debt was incurred.

Be sure to include student loans, including student loans incurred by your spouse during the marriage.  Yep, those may be community debts.

Determine whether your income taxes have been paid up to date.

This can be an ugly surprise if you have let your spouse handle the taxes.  Get copies of your last 5 years income tax returns.  If a return has not been filed, sit down with your accountant pronto and determine how to minimize the damage.  Failure to file and failure to pay can lead to significant penalties and interest.

Copy all of your important papers and keep them in  place that will always be accessible to you.

Keep a copy of all of your important papers in a place outside of your marital residence.  Safe deposit boxes work well.  Be sure to gather:

  • Tax returns
  • Mortgage and loan documents
  • Bank records
  • Titles and deeds
  • Investment and bank account records

If an emergency requires you to walk away in the middle of the night, you won’t have time to scramble around to get your documents.  It may be months before you are able to get copies through the divorce process.

Put aside money for the process.

Divorce can be an expensive project.  Most experienced divorce lawyers will require a substantial retainer before taking on your case.  There are no contingent fee (only pay if we win) cases in family law.  The more complex or bitter the divorce, the more it will cost.  In addition to the attorney fees, there will be court fees and there maybe expert witness fees, appraiser expenses and court reporter fees.

Make a budget.

Two people can live together cheaper than two people living separate.  Assume you will get no funds from your spouse for six months.  How are you going to live pending a court order or resolution?  You will need rent, food, transportation costs, etc.  The last thing you want to do is to have to settle your support or property division on terms that are not fair because you are desperate for money.

Change your passwords and logins.

All of them:

  • Email
  • Social Media
  • Lock screen on your phone
  • Websites
  • Your computer.

While you are at it, back up your hard drive to the cloud, copy the files or make a clone and make sure you will have access to your documents and data if your spouse grabs the computer and runs.

Don’t wait until the last minute to hire a lawyer.

It is good insurance to sit down with an attorney to preplan.  Things to cover with the attorney:

  • Ask them to educate you on what property and debts are divided
  • Have them explain the process to your so you know what to expect when and if you actually proceed
  • Discuss costs and fees so you can plan ahead
  • Be honest with the attorney about the facts and circumstances of the case.  If you are not honest, you may get bad advice because the attorney is unaware of the real facts.


Don’t risk a disaster.  Instead, hire an experienced family law lawyer to protect your interests.  Shelley Goff at Goff and Goff Attorneys has been practicing family law for 28 years.  Call us. We can help you navigate the divorce process as smoothly as possible.  318-255-1760.