If you have decided that divorce is right for you, you will need to take immediate steps to protect you, your children and your assets. Here are the first three steps to take to get things started in the right direction:
Step One: Protect Yourself & Your Children
1. Get a TPO if You Need One.
If you are in an abusive marriage, have recently been threatened by your spouse or have reason to fear for the safety of you or your children, consider getting a Temporary Protective Order (TPO).
A TPO can help protect you from a spouse who is abusing, threatening or harassing you. The order will require your spouse to stay away for you, your home and your work and will prohibit the abusive spouse (male or female) from contacting you in any way. The TPO can also prevent your spouse from contacting the children or require limited or supervised contact with the children is they are at risk. The Judge can also order other kinds of relief in the TPO, such as temporary custody, support and possession of vehicles.
TPOs can be obtained at no cost and without a lawyer. For general information on how to obtain a TPO, you can call the clerk of the Superior Court in the County where your spouse resides. Most counties have volunteers to help you complete the TPO paperwork and go before the Judge.
If you need a TPO, be sure to gather any evidence of abuse or threats and take that with you to share with the Judge when you get to Court. This may include photographs of injuries or damages to property, threatening text messages or emails, phone logs showing a pattern of harassing phone calls, or recorded conversations when threats were made. If the TPO is granted, your spouse will be served by the Sheriff (not arrested) and will be required to immediately leave the marital home. A hearing will be scheduled within thirty days and the Judge will have an opportunity to hear testimony and review evidence presented by you and your spouse to decide whether to extend the TPO for 12 months. To read a general description of the TPO process and information on how to obtain a TPO in Cobb County, Georgia, click on the link that follows: The TPO Process in Georgia .
Keep in mind that an abusive spouse may have geo location trackers activated on the cellphones or gps devices used by other family members or may share a family computer that gives them access to your email. Before contacting the court or a lawyer, be sure to disable such software or devices to protect yourself.
Step Two: Map Out Your Survival Strategy
2. Get Into Survival Mode.
Getting into survival mode means setting aside resources you need to survive your divorce.
Everybody reacts to divorce differently. Some spouses can continue to live in the same household, come to an informal agreement on the payment of bills and continue to conduct themselves civilly while a divorce is going on. Other spouses clean out bank accounts, close credit cards and refuse to pay bills once they even suspect divorce is imminent. Even if you think you know how your spouse will react to the divorce, it is better to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Make sure you have a survival strategy in place for the first three to six months of the divorce. If possible, set aside money to provide for yourself and your children in case of emergency. If you can open a new bank account, do so. If you don't have your own credit card, you may want to apply for one immediately before there is a sudden change in your financial situation. If you have to borrow from family or friends, line up your resources before you are in an emergency or dire situation.
Once you have the necessary resources in place to survive, begin gathering the information and documents you will inevitably need for the divorce. The more information and documentation you have at the start of your divorce, the better equipped you will be in the divorce process and the fewer resources you will expend to get the answers you need.
Some of the documents you should have before you file for divorce include:
· Account numbers and statements for every bank, credit card, brokerage, investment, retirement & 401k account for you and your spouse;
· Tax Returns, W-2s, 1099s and paystubs for you and your spouse; and
· Copies of all household and regular monthly bills for utilities, rent or mortgage, health, auto and other insurance, phone service, cable tv, grocery bills and school and extracurricular activities for any minor children.
You will need all of this information in order for the Court to equitably divide the marital assets and determine any child support or alimony amounts. If you have a spouse intent on hiding assets, you may have to spend lot of time searching for the information you will need. Plan ahead and make copies of as many documents as you can to avoid the time and expense of assembling the same information during the litigation. The more information you have, the better off you will be.
Getting into survival mode means you also need to plan how you will take care of yourself, your children and your household once the divorce begins. Do you need to make alternative or back up child care arrangements with friends, family members or neighbors? Do you need to talk to your employer to let them know what is going on and request flex time at work? Do you need to temporarily move out of the marital home to be n a safe, non-combative environment? Think about the best course of action for your own personal needs and put as many plans into place as possible before you file for divorce.
Step Three: Educate Yourself & Interview Legal Counsel
3. Get to Work.
Divorce can be expensive with or without legal counsel. You must be smart, focused and determined to educate yourself as to how to navigate a divorce without legal counsel if you are doing to go it alone. If you aren't prepared to do that, hire a lawyer.
Decide if you can adequately protect your interest if you try to do-it-yourself or if you will need representation. If you aren't prepared to spend long hours learning what you need to know to handle your own divorce, then don't go down that path. You need to be fully vested in educating yourself on divorce process and procedures if you want to educate yourself. A good rule of thumb is if your spouse “lawyer's up,” you better do the same if you don't want to get taken to the cleaners.
If you do need legal counsel, try to make a wise choice by interviewing at least two lawyers and choosing the one you feel most comfortable with who is the most knowledgeable and professional. For more information, see 5 Tips for Choosing A Divorce Lawyer.
Divorce is very personal and requires extensive interaction with your legal counsel. Make sure you connect with your lawyer from the start or you may end going through one of the most trying experiences in your lifetime with someone who is unable or unwilling to provide you with the knowledge, support and expertise you need to.
Finally, keep in mind that divorce is not something you step into because you suddenly get frustrated or upset with your spouse or meet someone new that you find attractive. Every marriage takes work to be successful and you want to make sure you have exhausted all hope of reconciliation before getting to divorce. Even “friendly divorces “ are challenging, expensive, emotionally wrought and difficult on you, your spouse and family and friends. Being educated means you are prepared, organized and ready to move forward mentally, emotionally and financially before you file for divorce.
If you are ready to move forward, click on the Schedule Now button at the top of this page to schedule a no charge phone consultation or in person meeting and/or submit your online Client Intake Form to begin the process. Please download, fill out the form and email it to us or print out the completed form and bring it with you to your first meeting at The Cherry Law Firm, PC.