We Americans love lots of things. We love to fall in love, we love to get married, we “love” to get divorced, and we love to move. Almost all of us fall in love (at the very least with our pets), almost all of us get married, almost half of us who get married get divorced, and almost half of us born in one state end up living in another. When our country was formed none of this was true. Marriage was near universal, divorce was unheard of, and most people stayed put.
State rights, one of our nation’s founding principles, made sense back then. It makes far less sense today. But your state of residence determines all kinds of things. These include the penalties for crimes you commit, how much you pay in taxes, how much you can collect in welfare, what you can leave your children when you die, where you can buy beer, whether you can smoke pot, whether you can readily get an abortion, and the list goes on.
One of the biggest issues some married couples face when they move across state lines is how they will fare if they get divorced. (And, again, almost half will untie the knot.) The answer may be far better or far worse depending on the state and even the county in which you reside. I say “may,” because if you reach an amicable settlement, that settlement may be legally approved no matter where you live. But if you have a contested divorce and end up leaving it up to a judge, she’ll likely apply state or county guidelines that can be very different depending on the state or country. Indeed, since only a few states and counties in the country have formal guidelines, the guidelines are mostly those set by the local judge. These judges are, of course, influenced primarily by what other judges in their locality and state are doing.
Why ‘brutal’ divorce laws must change in MerrillChecklist: Issues To Discuss With Your Divorce Attorney Download article as a PDF Divorce is complicated - legally, financially, and emotionally. Dividing up property a couple has acquired throughout their marriage (also known as marital property) can be one of the most contentious aspects of divorce. Luckily, divorce attorneys can help alleviate some of your legal and financial stresses by advocating for a division of property that works in your favor. If you have decided to retain a divorce attorney, you can help save your attorney time (and save yourself some money) by gathering important legal and financial documents together before meeting with your attorney. Doing this ahead of time gives your attorney an immediate and useful overview of the property and assets likely to be at issue in your case. Most importantly, it allows the two of you to work together to secure your short and long-term interests. The checklists below can give you and idea of what topics and documents come up in discussions with a divorce attorney. Be Prepared to Discuss Issues Relating to Children ____ Child support ____ Child custody, legal ____ Child custody, physical ____ Visitation with non-custodial parent ____ Grandparent visitation ____ Visitation with stepchildren ____ Health insurance for children ____ Dental insurance for children ____ Uninsured health care costs ____ College education ____ Residence in the marital homestead ____ Beneficiaries of life insurance policies ____ Claiming children as dependents for income tax purposes ____ Religious upbringing of children Property Issues ____ Equity in homestead ____ Other real property ____ Home furnishings ____ Business assets ____ Professional practices ____ Professional degrees ____ Retirement benefits (pensions, IRAs, 401(k) plans) ____ Motor vehicles ____ Recreational vehicles ____ Personal property ____ Savings accounts ____ Stocks, bonds, and funds ____ Compensation for contributions as homemaker ____ Hidden assets ____ Debts Spousal Support Issues ____ Entitlement to support ____ How much? ____ How long? ____ Continued health care coverage through COBRA Other Issues ____ Domestic violence ____ Order for protection ____ Child abuse ____ Parental kidnapping ____ Restoration of maiden name ____ Post-divorce nonfinancial support ____ Attorney's fees and expenses Documents to Have Ready ____ Individual and business income tax returns for the past three to five years (federal, state, and local); ____ Proof of your current income; ____ Proof of your spouse's current income; ____ Prenuptial agreement; ____ Separation agreement; ____ Bank statements; ____ Certificates of deposit; ____ Pension statements; ____ Retirement account statements; ____ Trusts; ____ Stock portfolios; ____ Stock options; ____ Mortgages; ____ Property tax statements; ____ Credit card statements; ____ Loan documents; ____ Utility bills; ____ Other bills (e.g. school tuition, unreimbursed medical bills, music lessons for children, etc.); ____ Monthly budget worksheet; ____ Completed financial statements; ____ Employment contracts; ____ Benefits statements; ____ Life insurance policies; ____ Health insurance policies; ____ Homeowner's insurance policies; ____ Automobile insurance policies; ____ Personal property appraisals; ____ Real property appraisals; ____ List of personal property (including home furnishings, jewelry, artwork, computers, home office equipment, clothing and furs, etc.); ____ List of property owned by each spouse prior to marriage; ____ List of property acquired by each spouse individually by gift or inheritance during the marriage; ____ List of contents of safety deposit boxes; ____ Wills; ____ Living wills; ____ Powers of attorney; ____ Durable powers of attorney; and ____ Advance health care directives. As you can see, the above list extensive -- yet, it is not exhaustive. Every divorce is different since every couple enters and leaves a marriage under different circumstances and with different assets. Therefore, to ensure no property is overlooked, it is always a good idea to have an open and frank conversation with your attorney regarding all of the property and assets relevant to your case. More Information For more information on marital property division, free to check out FindLaw's section on divorce and property. If you have more general questions, you may want to check out FindLaw's divorce section. Finally, if you do not yet have one, consider retaining a local divorce attorney. Request a Free Case Review with a Divorce Attorney The legal issues involved in a divorce are numerous and complex. Finding a trustworthy and competent attorney is key. You must also muster the diligence and courage to collect and to share all your private financial information with your divorce attorney. A great place to start is to immediately see an experienced divorce attorney for a free initial case evaluation to begin the process.
Medical Bills Are the Biggest Cause of US Bankruptcies: StudyJeff Landers , CONTRIBUTOR I write for women going through financially complex divorces. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. Heidi Klum & Seal: Getty Images via @daylife I am not in favor of dirty tricks during divorce. However, pretending they never happen doesn’t do anyone any good, either. Divorcing women need to understand the full range of tactics some husbands use, and they need to be proactive –not reactive --as they work to secure the best possible divorce settlement. To that end, if you are contemplating divorce, you need to know about a tactic I see quite often in financially complex divorce cases: “Conflicting out” all the top divorce lawyers By “conflicting out” certain attorneys, your husband can make it difficult for you to hire the lawyer that’s best for you. Here’s how it works: He makes appointments with all the top lawyers in your area. Then, he meets with each one –but only for a short time. All he needs to do during those meeting is share enough information to create an attorney-client relationship. Once he does, that particular attorney will be prohibited from representing you. Of course, your husband doesn’t actually have to hire any of these attorneys. The entire goal with this tactic is to “conflict out” attorneys so they cannot be hired by you. Celebrities frequently use this strategy –and men aren’t the only ones that do. In fact, Heidi Klum made headlines earlier this year for divorce attorney “shopping” in Los Angeles. Of course, Heidi simply may have been interviewing divorce attorneys to find the most qualified and the one she would be most comfortable with – a perfectly legitimate endeavor. The lesson here is simple. Don’t procrastinate when hiring a divorce attorney. If you do, you could miss out on the opportunity to retain a great lawyer! What are some other tactics used by husbands during a divorce? Don’t get me wrong. Not all divorces are bitter battles. Some are relatively amicable, and the vast majority are settled outside the courts. However, at Bedrock Divorce Advisors we've seen quite a few underhanded financial and legal tactics employed by husbands or their divorce teams. Many husbands will also: Stall and delay. By repeatedly rescheduling court hearings and/or filing excessive motions and requests for evidence, a husband can drive up his wife’s legal costs and stretch out the time during which she must cover living expenses. In these cases, the husband is hoping she'll run out of money and be forced to agree to his settlement offer, which is often extremely unfavorable to her. Exert pressure to proceed too quickly. A husband who wants his wife to agree to a “quick” settlement may have something to hide. For instance, very early in the process, the husband’s attorney may send over a settlement proposal for the wife to review and counter. Usually, this means the husband just wants to get the divorce over and done with quickly, and he wants his wife to settle for what appears to be a reasonable offer. The problem, of course, is that in many cases, she has not received all the discovery documents requested, so she doesn’t have complete knowledge about key financial matters, such as marital assets, income sources, expenses, what they owe and what's owed them. Rushing to get a settlement is especially sneaky if the husband has been busy hiding assets and/or income and now he is trying to get her to agree to a 50-50 split of only a portion of their total assets! Deny access to financial resources. Unfortunately, many married women do not take a hands-on approach to the family finances. During a divorce, a husband can use her lack of knowledge to his advantage. He can ensure that only he can access family funds, cut off his wife's credit cards, move funds out of family accounts, etc. Actions like these can leave his wife without the money necessary to buy groceries, much less hire the right divorce team to represent her…while he hires an excellent team to represent him. This is especially problematic for abused women who live in constant fear of harm—to themselves and/or their children. Hide assets. As I have discussed at length in earlier blog posts (see 21 Signs That Your Husband May Be Hiding Marital Assets During Your Divorce and Divorcing Women: Here’s Where Husbands Typically Hide Assets), hiding assets during a divorce is sneaky, unethical and illegal –but it happens much more frequently than most women expect. Fail to pay court-ordered support or refuse to relinquish assets. Husbands who don’t follow court orders are breaking the law –and they force their wives to try to extract the promised payments at considerable legal cost long after the divorce is over. What’s more, all this financial and legal wrangling is terribly time-consuming. Some women have to take time off from work to deal with these issues, and that can put their jobs in jeopardy. Sadly, many family courts do a poor job enforcing such orders, even when a woman follows its requirements to the letter, and even for a well-meaning judge, deception on the part of an ex-husband can be difficult to decipher or prove. Because there are so many different dirty tricks, I recommend that women maintain their own emergency fund in a separate bank account, even if divorce has never entered their minds. If you are contemplating divorce, make sure you start organizing your personal finances and important documents under the guidance of a qualified divorce financial strategist. During the divorce, you’ll need to Think Financially, Not Emotionally® so you can keep your finances intact while planning for a secure financial future.