In recent days there has been an explosion of news articles projecting a wave of divorce filings expected to break across the country when the COVID-19 confinement ends. Just a cursory scroll of social media provides a plethora of memes about marital discord – some are just downright funny while others are just painfully on point. There is no doubt that all of us are living in unprecedented times. Courts in New York State are (as of the date of this blog) still limited only to “essential” matters, and no new divorce actions can be filed. If you are in the process of contemplating divorce, this blog focuses on four simple things you can do now while we all wait out this quarantine:
- Compile all your financial data.
Every divorce (or virtually every divorce) in New York State requires that each party make full and complete disclosure of their finances to their spouse. The dynamics of some marriages unfold with one party handling the finances. Now is the time to ask the questions and gather information. It is important that any person contemplating divorce have an idea of all of their assets (real and personal property, retirement accounts, bank accounts) as well as their debts (mortgages, loans, credit card debt) in the name of either party. Most banks allow you to retrieve your bank statements, mortgage information and credit card statements online for up to five years. Most financial institutions have your retirement account statements online for the last quarter. Compile three months’ worth of each financial account, including credit card accounts and the last quarterly statement for any retirement account. Then, gather your tax returns. If you can’t find them or don’t want to tip your spouse off, then contact your accountant to obtain your tax returns for the last five years. Try to make copies of all of these items. Also, don’t hide or accidentally misplace any of these documents, they will need to be exchanged and no one needs the additional grief of trying to find important documents in the midst of a very stressful time. If you come to your initial consultation (either in person or virtual) with these documents in hand, you will save time and money and allow the attorney to give pointed advice and counsel.
- Secure your online footprint.
It is important that you begin to clean up your online footprint. First, you should get a new email address. This email should be for the sole purpose of communications regarding divorce and it should not be accessed on any joint computer or work-issued computer. Do not allow any of your passwords to autofill on any device. A new password should be one that your spouse will not be able to guess. Furthermore, if you use apple devices, make sure that your data is not being backed up in the cloud for your spouse to access. I cannot even begin to tell you how often I have had a client come to me with concern about their spouse’s access to their text messages and emails. Simple planning now can avoid a lot of stress later. Second, please clean up all your social media accounts. Check and re-check your privacy settings. Do not post any personal matters, feelings, emotions, and even photos on social media. Your spouse’s divorce attorney will look you up on social media. Don’t give them any ammunition.
- Research attorneys and ask for referrals.
Your relationship with your lawyer is of utmost importance. Your attorney is your voice and your advocate. Make sure that you understand how your attorney communicates, what their values and belief systems are. Ask hard questions. Seek the advice of a trusted friend or colleague and do your own research.
- Consider counseling.
Divorce is usually one of the most difficult experiences that a person will go through in their life. Certainly no one enters a marriage with the idea that it will end. At every end, there is typically a complicated web of emotions that each person will process differently. Consider attending marital counseling with your spouse before initiating divorce, especially if you have children. Marital counseling may allow you to choose the path that is right for you and your spouse and arm you with the tools to discuss divorce and the process with your children that will promote healthy emotional growth rather than emotional harm. There are many qualified mental health professionals that your divorce lawyer can refer you to.
The material in this blog is meant only to provide general information and is not a substitute nor is it legal advice to you. Readers of this article should seek specific legal advice from legal counsel of their choice. In the event that you need legal assistance, please contact Marissa Pullano at 516-393-8297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.