10 Strategic Things to Do Before You File for Divorce in New York

What happens during your divorce is determinative to the outcome of the case, of course, but what you do BEFORE you actually file for divorce is particularly crucial. A few steps will position you strategically so that you are more likely to get the results you want from your case.

  1. Gather financial information. Before you let your spouse know you are going to file for divorce, take the time to gather as many financial records as you can find. Look for paper statements, titles, pay stubs, tax returns, profit and loss statements, deeds, bills, and certificates. If you have digital access to online accounts, download everything you can find. In particular, try to access items from your spouse’s business.

    It is important to do all of this now because your spouse may hide documents or restrict access to online accounts. Your attorney will eventually be able to get access, but it will cost time and money. The more information you can have upfront, the better positioned you will be.

  2. Gather evidence of household expenses. Find statements and bills that show your monthly household expenses, such as mortgage or rent, utilities, credit card bills, loan payments, household employee costs, children’s expenses, and more. Having this information ready to go allows you to apply for temporary spousal support immediately if you need it. It also allows you to estimate a monthly budget so that you can determine if your income will be enough to cover all of your costs.

  3. Set some savings aside. If all of your money is in joint accounts, set aside no more than half of those funds in a separate account so that you have cash on hand in the months after you file. Your spouse could freeze the joint accounts or withdraw or transfer all of it, leaving you with no liquidity to pay your bills or your attorney fees. Be sure to document what you withdraw. These are marital assets and will have to be accounted for to the court. It is also a good idea to open a credit card in your name alone so that if your spouse freezes joint accounts, you will have credit available.

  4. Educate yourself. Learn everything you can about all of the assets, businesses, and debts that you, your spouse, or both of you are responsible for. The better versed you are, the more easily you will be able to convey the information to your attorney. You also will have a better understanding of which assets and debts are involved in the divorce, and what a reasonable outcome would be for your circumstances.

  5. Isolate separate property. If there are assets you brought into the marriage or some you received during the marriage via inheritance, gift, or personal injury lawsuit, locate those assets. If possible, make sure they are in your sole name. At the very least, create a list of these assets and their values, as well as the dates you accrued them.

  6. Document parenting. If you and your spouse share children, begin to keep a calendar that shows when you spend time with the children and when your spouse spends time with the children. Document all the parenting responsibilities you undertake every day, such as transporting the children to school or activities, helping the children with homework, taking them to medical appointments, dispensing medication, feeding them, eating with them, exercising with them, watching TV with them, bathing and care of young children, and more.

    The goal is to create a record that shows you are the primary parent who takes the most active role in your children’s lives so that you can show the court you should have temporary and permanent custody. Be sure to also document concerns you have about the other parent’s abilities as a parent with details about specific incidents.

  7. Stay off social media. While social media is often a place where people find support as they are going through a divorce, it’s not smart to post much on social media before or during a divorce. Do not post anything that indicates you’re spending a lot of money, such as a post showing shopping or shopping bags, or even Amazon boxes arriving. Do not document your outfit, your jewelry, or your beauty routine. All of that could be used to show your household budget is inflated to cover frivolous spending.

    Avoid posting restaurant meals, lavish travel, golf games, or hobbies like sailing for the same reason. If you have children, do not post anything about drinking, using any kind of drug (legal or not), spending time away from home, long hours at work, or anything that paints your child in a negative light. Also, avoid posting negative things about your spouse as this can create resentment and anger, which can motivate your spouse to seek more in the divorce or to drag the process out. It is also a good idea to go back through your social media pages and remove past items that may cause concerns, just to be safe.

  8. Interview top divorce lawyers. Quietly make appointments to interview the top divorce attorneys in your area. This will allow you to determine who is going to represent you so that you are ready to move things along. Interviewing several of the top attorneys also prevents your spouse from being able to hire those firms at all. If they meet with you, even if you don’t hire them, they will have a conflict and will be unable to work for your spouse.

  9. Find a therapist. Divorce is an emotionally challenging time, and many people find it helpful to have a therapist help them through the process. Therapy is a good investment since it gives you a safe place to work through your emotions and helps you make the right decisions for your divorce. Finding a therapist now will allow you to get started on the work you need to do and will make the entire process easier. It also establishes this as an ongoing monthly expense for your household.

  10. Make a list of must-haves. List all of your assets so you can see what items there are to divide. Then create a list of things you feel you absolutely must get in the divorce. This can help you think strategically as you move through the divorce, and it gives you a clear goal. It also helps you clarify your position for your attorney.