Top Five Things to Do Before Filing for Divorce (or Your Spouse Does)

Cropped shot of a woman filling out paperwork at home - Fremstad Law

Filing for divorce is a life-altering event. You may have taken months, or even years, to make the decision to file. Or you may have been blindsided by a spouse presenting you with divorce papers. No matter what your circumstances, there are a few things you should know and do at the outset of your divorce case—or earlier, if possible. Here are the top five things to do before filing for divorce in North Dakota or Minnesota. 

Gather Essential Documents.

Maybe your spouse will be cooperative in the divorce, or maybe he or she will make things as difficult as possible. While we certainly hope your divorce will be amicable, you should probably count on your relationship with your spouse being more challenging than you expected. 

One of the things you will need, and have a right to, in your divorce, are documents relating to your marital assets. Your attorney can certainly request these during the divorce process. However, you may find it easier to lay your hands on documents like tax returns, your spouse’s pay stubs, retirement and investment account statements, etc. before the divorce process begins. 

These documents are relevant not only to property division but also to issues like alimony and child support. Gathering documents as early in the process as possible will help your attorney negotiate or fight for a better outcome for you. (Getting the documents yourself rather than having your attorney chase them down can also save you legal fees.)

Decide Whether or Not to Move Out.

The atmosphere may be tense and stressful in the house before plans for a divorce are announced. It could be downright explosive afterwards. Should you stay? Should you move out? The answer depends on the specifics of your situation. 

If you believe you or your children could be in danger if you remain in the household, you may have no choice but to relocate somewhere else. If safety is not an issue, there may be a couple of compelling reasons to stay. Staying in the home may mean more time with your children. Courts generally prefer to minimize disruption to children’s lives, so when it comes time to issue an order regarding custody and parenting time, staying in the house could possibly get you a more favorable arrangement.

Also, from a purely economic standpoint, maintaining one household is less expensive than maintaining two; staying put could conserve your resources for an eventual move. That said, living in a home with your estranged spouse can be very uncomfortable; you may decide it’s worth the extra expense to move out, but you should probably mull over your options with an attorney first. 

Preserve Marital Assets.

Speaking of resources, let’s talk about marital assets. There may be a temptation to spend or hide assets in anticipation of a divorce. That is, to put it mildly, a bad idea. As mentioned above, you and your spouse have the right to each other’s financial information in the divorce process. If it is discovered that you hid, wasted, or misappropriated marital assets, the consequences in your divorce case could be severe. 

That doesn’t mean that you cannot plan and prepare for your own needs. Before filing for divorce you may want to pay off debt and retain an attorney, for example. Just don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want to have to explain to a judge, because you might have to. 

Watch Your Mouth. 

There are no “Miranda rights” for divorcing couples, but you should remember: anything you say or do can be held against you. So avoid giving your spouse ammunition to use against you in the divorce, particularly in a custody battle. Control your temper, and remain civil. It may help to ask yourself before dealing with your spouse, “What would a divorce judge think if they overheard this conversation?” Not only will a little forethought prevent you from saying something your spouse could later use against you, but it may help keep conflict in your divorce from escalating. 

“Watch your mouth” also means “watch your fingertips”—as in, be extraordinarily careful what you post on social media, or what others post about you. Don’t rely on privacy settings to conceal what you say, or images of you doing something you don’t want a judge to see. If it’s out there, assume it WILL be found and used against you. If you can do it, it’s best to get off social media altogether during your divorce.

Consult With an Experienced Divorce Attorney.

This might be unsurprising advice, coming as it does from a law firm blog. But it also happens to be good advice. As the old proverb says, “Well begun is half done.” It means that if you start an undertaking the right way, you will have fewer problems completing it and will get a better result. An experienced family law attorney can help you avoid making costly mistakes from the outset of your divorce, and will give you advice customized to your situation. With a divorce, once conflict escalates, it is very difficult to walk back. A skilled attorney can advocate for your interests without unnecessarily ramping up conflict.

If your spouse is the one who has filed for divorce, it is even more critical to speak with a good family law attorney immediately. You have only a short time in which to respond to a complaint for divorce. Failing to do so on time, or doing so incorrectly, can cause serious problems for you in your divorce.

We invite you to contact Fremstad Law to schedule a consultation with an experienced North Dakota and Minnesota family law attorney. 

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