Welcome to the Ayo & Iken legal roundtable. We tackle the toughest legal issues with down-to-earth commentary you can use from our expert panel of attorneys which spans Florida from Tampa to Orlando and Miami.
In this edition, I wanted you to begin thinking about preparing for a divorce. As you will see our attorneys maintain the worst thing you can do is be uninformed about your finances and the day-to-day lives of your children. So if you feel divorce is the last course of action, being prepared is your best protection.
I discussed some insider tips for being prepared with our attorneys including Alberto Ayo, Crystal Phillips, and Jeana Vogel in Tampa; Claudia Blackwell out of St Petersburg, Jason Ponder and Jennifer Schulte out of Orlando; and in New Port Richey, Jeremy Simons and Bruce Przepis. Here is what we discussed:
Is there anything you can do to prepare for a divorce before filing?
You need to do a diligent search on all family assets. Many times a spouse finds themself in a situation of not knowing of the family’s finance. They do not know all of the bank accounts associated with the family. And many times a spouse may not even be aware of assets including but not limited to foreign bank accounts. The bottom line is you have to become aware of what all marital finances and assets are.
We’re paper driven, we have mandatory disclosure and it’s one of the rules in effect once you file for divorce. You have to file a financial affidavit, you have to exchange with the other side tax returns, checking account records, 401K or IRA, any kind of financial documents. So it would make sense to me to start compiling those. And the other reason to do so it sometimes it’s a race to those documents because if your spouse goes to a lawyer and that lawyer is telling your spouse the same thing. So you have two people looking for the same documents. Sometimes someone gets there before the other or documents turn up missing. The other issue can be if your spouse is a spendthrift. If they are just going to spend money to get back at you because you filed for divorce and now they hate you, or you have a spouse you think is going to run up a credit card just buying ridiculous things because they are angry, you may want to protect yourself with a credit card account or try to take their name off of it. Or prevent them from accessing your accounts. For example, if you may have a retirement account or bank account that gets drained before you can get to a lawyer or get to court sometimes it disappears forever. So if divorce is imminent you need to protect yourself financially.
Make sure you have adequate and appropriate credit on credit cards for emergencies. You should also have your own bank account, and if you are typically not the one bringing home the paycheck, then you should start taking cash out and setting that aside so if the other side stops paying for things or doesn’t want to help you get an attorney, you can hire counsel to protect your interests.
What about situations with children, are there any preparations that should be done before hand?
If it’s uncontested you don’t have too much to worry about, but if it’s highly contested safety concerns for some people who might have a domestic violence injunction in place that is something to look at. You may possibly need to find a new location to live if there are anger management issues and think about a safety plan before you serve the other side.
If there are children involved, please become familiar with their teachers, become familiar with their routines because in the event of a prolonged custody battle these issues are relevant. And the parent that is most closely familiar with the child’s activities may be in a stronger position that a parent who is not. Make yourself aware of all issues with the children not limited to school, homework, after-school programs, any sports they may play, and also it’s very important to build a relationship with any teachers and healthcare professionals that may care for the child.
I tell my clients if there is a way at all to ensure that your children have sameness after a divorce starts that should be done. So if they always go to a certain restaurant on Thursdays with mom, then dad should still let mom take the kids to do that. If we can get them into family counseling that can be positive. And if say dad leaves the home to live somewhere else it’s good if the child comes home and all of the family photos aren’t smashed to bits. However possible you can make the transition more comfortable for the child that’s better because the kid is not going to understand why a parent is no longer in the house. You can’t run away with them, you can’t hide, so what you need to do is protect them and make them an integral part of the divorce. By protecting your interests, you are protecting theirs.
The biggest thing I think is trying to come to some sort of an arrangement regarding the children. The worst thing you can do is play that tug of war with the other spouse not knowing when you’re going to get your children back. The courts don’t like those games; they always want you to act in the best interest of the child. And in most cases it is in the best interest of the children to continue a relationship as normal as possible with both parents. So it takes away a lot of the arguing and a lot of the fighting. And even if they are not completely happy with whatever arrangement they made, we attorneys can work something out better for them. But if you can have some idea with your spouse about what to do with the children, I think that is ultimately the most important thing. Don’t play games. If you play games, the courts are going to hit you financially and hit you with penalties and fees for playing those games. So try to take the emotions out of it.
So is the court likely to frown upon it if you come into court and you are pretty clueless about your child’s day-to-day lives?
You have to keep in mind that the court is tasked with making a judgment on what is best for the children. And naturally it’s logical to conclude that if there is a custody struggle the parent that is more familiar with a child’s activities and the people that are in contact with the child, then that parent may be seen by the court as a positive in the child’s life, and therefore the best interest of the child would be to have more time with that parent.
That could be the case. I suggest keeping some sort of journal as to where the kids are going and taking down anything significant that happens regarding the children so that you have it documented. Another good idea is to keep a calendar of some sort if the kids are going back and forth. This is if you are separated obviously. If you are together too, if your spouse is taking off every night and your home with the kids and they are doing whatever they are doing it’s nice to be able to document it so that you can have it so you remember when it comes time to testify in court.
Any last recommendations?
I also tell people to look into a healthcare surrogate. Don’t leave your spouse a hundred percent responsible for making all medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated or something happens. I’ve had a case where a client had a severe accident and his wife – who he is in the middle of divorcing – is making all his medical decisions and keeping his family out of the hospital because she doesn’t get along with them. And there is nothing we really can do at that point. So it’s really smart if it doesn’t cost you much to change your will or do a new power of attorney. And if you don’t have that stuff to begin with and something happens and you are still married, that person gets to decide. Especially if you believe a divorce is going to a long drawn out battle, just protect yourself. It is probably one of the most heartbreaking things to see one go through and see a family go through when they don’t have access to someone because their disgruntled spouse is keeping them away from the hospital.
Sorry – I don’t mean to be too obvious about money. But lets be realistic. You are going to need money. Lots of money for legal costs, temporary living expenses, contingencies, etc. etc., etc. Start to squirrel away money. The more the better. Not that you can buy results in court with money. But you can certainly lose results for lack of money. Prepare now and things will be more comfortable later.
That wraps up today’s roundtable discussion. Be sure to look around our website for more in-depth articles on divorce, custody, and protecting your personal rights.. Meanwhile we hope to see you come back to the Ayo and Iken roundtable.
Our specialized content, video, and other informative media are based on input from Ayo and Iken team members, outside guests, former team members of Ayo and Iken, independent journalists, and subject-matter authorities. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the official position of Ayo and Iken. Attorneys that are not current team members at Ayo and Iken may be reached through their member listing on the Florida Bar website: www.flabar.org