If you are contemplating a divorce or are concerned that your spouse may be preparing to file to dissolve your marriage, preparing now can help make the process less stressful and potentially quite a bit smoother. If you have concerns, it is never too early to start planning. And if you are thinking about meeting with a divorce attorney, taking certain steps prior to your appointment can help you get the most out of your initial consultation.
This checklist is by no means exhaustive, and some of the items listed may not apply to you. However, most spouses will find at least portions of it helpful as it covers many of the preliminary considerations involved in preparing to go through a divorce in Florida.
Create an Inventory of Your Physical and Financial Assets
Virtually all divorces involve at least some aspect of property distribution. In Florida, assets that either spouse acquires during the marriage are generally considered “marital assets” that are subject to distribution in the event of a divorce. Florida adheres to the principle of “equitable distribution,” which means that spouses must divide their assets in a way that is fair; this does not necessarily mean splitting them 50/50.
In order to gain a complete picture of the assets that will be on the table in your divorce, take the time to compile a list that is as comprehensive as possible. Include both physical and financial assets, such as:
- Real estate
- Vehicles and boats
- Jewelry, tools, electronics and other items of personal property
- Artwork and other collections
- Bank and investment accounts
- Retirement accounts and pensions
- Privately-held businesses
- Life insurance policies
Create a List of Debts
In addition to preparing a list of assets, prepare a list of debts as well. This includes debts that are secured by personal or real property (such as mortgages and car loans) as well as unsecured liabilities (such as student loans and credit card debt). If you or your spouse owns a business, separately make note of any debts that are in the business’s name.
Create a List of Digital Assets and Online Accounts
Digital assets are increasingly playing a central role in the divorce process. This includes everything from social media profiles to iTunes and other digital storage platform accounts. These assets may also be subject to equitable distribution in your divorce. In any event, you will want to make sure you have access (and your spouse doesn’t) to make any changes to privacy settings that may be necessary.
Identify Assets and Debts That Are “Separate”
While marital assets are generally subject to equitable distribution in a divorce, “separate” assets are not. Separate assets typically include assets acquired during the marriage as well as assets acquired through certain specified means during the marriage (e.g., through gift or inheritance). Once you compile a list of assets, do your best to denote which assets you believe may qualify as your (or your spouse’s) separate property. It will be necessary to confirm that you have done this correctly. But regardless, this is an important starting point for determining which assets you may need to try to protect in your divorce.
Collect Your Income and Tax Records
If you or your spouse will seek spousal support (or “alimony”) or if you have children (in which case your divorce will necessarily involve a determination of child support), you will need copies of your income and tax records. While the standards for calculating alimony and child support are very different, both involve an element of determining each spouse’s respective financial position (or, in appropriate cases, earning potential).
Start Thinking about Your Priorities
Negotiating an amicable divorce is about compromise. Both spouses will have priorities, and both will need to make certain concessions in order to reach a settlement on mutually-agreeable terms. In order to make informed decisions as your divorce progresses, it will be important to be clear about your list of priorities. Which marital assets do you most want to keep? Are you willing to give up certain assets in order to obtain (or avoid paying) alimony? What are your goals with regard to custody or visitation? These are just a few of the questions you will need to carefully consider.
Think about Your Spouse’s Priorities, Too
As you think about your priorities, try to anticipate your spouse’s priorities as well. Where are you most likely to run into conflicts? What priorities of his or hers can you leverage to your advantage? By thinking about potential scenarios, you can develop a plan that you will be ready to execute if and when the time comes.
Consider Your Children’s Best Interests
If you have children, establishing custody and visitation will involve developing a parenting plan that reflects your children’s best interests. These “best interests” are established by Florida law, and they take into consideration factors such as the parents’ respective capabilities to provide a stable home environment, the parents’ respective work schedules, and the children’s educational and social needs. As you think about the relationship you hope to maintain with your children after your divorce, think about how you can use Florida’s “best interests” factors to your advantage.
Learn More about Collaborative Law and Mediation
While some divorces end up in court, most are resolved informally through mediation or the collaborative law process. To learn more about each of these alternatives to high-conflict divorce litigation, you can read:
- Collaborative Law: A Non-Adversarial Approach to Resolving Family Law Matters
- Litigation, Collaborative Divorce, or Mediation?
Prepare a List of Questions
Finally, we’re sure you have lots of questions. To make sure you get as many answers as possible, prepare a list to bring with you to your initial consultation.
Request a Confidential Initial Divorce Consultation in Jacksonville, FL
At Beller & Bustamante, P.L., we provide experienced, compassionate, and personalized legal representation for divorcing spouses in Jacksonville, FL. If you have questions and would like to speak with an attorney, we encourage you to call 904-288-4414 or contact us online for a confidential initial consultation.