Clients are urged to head the following warnings when beginning divorce proceedings:
DATING. A client is not to date until the divorce is final. Many clients think it’s okay to date someone if they are separated and pursuing divorce. It’s not! It is adultery and can lead to significant consequences depending upon the state you live in. Some people think they can date once they have reached some form of agreement with their spouse, but the divorce has not been entered as of yet. It is still adultery and it can, as a practical matter, lead to a blow up in the negotiations or a revocation of the agreement. It may be too soon for the soon-to-be-ex-spouse to handle, and they may retaliate.
ABUSE. All clients going through difficult times or divorce proceedings should take steps to avoid confrontation and abuse situations. I have actually had people tell me that their spouse has started an argument and yelled, “Hit me, hit me.” The purpose of this is to get the other spouse arrested and perhaps gain some advantage. All persons in difficult marriages or divorce settings should follow a practice of avoiding arguments or confrontation. If a confrontation starts, withdraw. If withdrawal is not permitted, leave the place. If danger is eminent, call the police. Persons who fear that abuse is a possibility should forewarn local police of the problems and ask them to be on standby for a call. Abuse center numbers should be located and made accessible for immediate contact in the event of emergency. Clients experiencing emotional or physical abuse should read whatever they can on the topic, such as, The Verbally Abusive Relationship. Counseling is also recommended. If abuse occurs, go to the doctor and report what actually happened. Do not try to protect the abuser by inventing some form of accident.
COUNSELING. Everyone experiencing marital difficulty or divorce should seek the services of a marriage and family counselor. Divorce is the hardest emotional experience in life–with the exception of loss of a child–and no one should go through it without help.
CONDONATION. In states where “fault,” such as adultery, is relevant to divorce, all persons should be aware that the fault conduct can be considered forgiven if the offended spouse welcomes the offender back into the marriage after learning of the fault. Most often, sexual intercourse is considered sufficient to “resumption of the marriage.” In many states, this will constitute legal forgiveness of the fault. Some unscrupulous spouses will intentionally woo their way back into their spouses bed for the sole purpose of eliminating the fault grounds for divorce.
SOCIAL NETWORKING. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Match.com, etc. All persons should be extremely careful what they post on the internet. They should also be extremely careful how they are pictured to avoid having someone post an incriminating picture. Remember how Michael Phelps pristine image was sullied by someone with an iPhone at a party who filmed him smoking marijuana. Entire custody cases have been lost because of Facebook and other internet postings.
STD/HIV. Infidelity is so prevalent in our society that anyone having marital trouble or going through divorce should have a sexually transmitted disease test.
MEDICAL EXAM. Persons going through divorce should be careful with their health. They should regularly visit their doctor to monitor their overall health. They should also make sure they have no conditions which may be disabling and which may someday render a financial settlement or order impossible to comply with.
TEMPORARY PROTECTIVE ACTIONS. Whenever marital trouble reaches the point where the thought of divorce creeps into the picture, people should become very aware of what assets or liabilities are exposed. For example, joint savings, checking or stock accounts from which either party may remove all of the funds are at risk. What to do about this situation depends on the facts of each case. Advice from an attorney is probably appropriate. Likewise, vigilance should be had as to credit cards or lines of credit. Perhaps at some point these should be cut off. Again, action should probably not be taken without attorney assessment.
LEARN YOUR FINANCES. Divorce is a financial matter just as much as it is a family matter. People facing divorce should attune themselves to their finances and begin accumulating financial information and learning the details of their finances.
SURVEILLANCE. If a person suspects their spouse of adultery, they should say nothing about it to the spouse. Instead, they should visit an attorney and talk about whether surveillance is appropriate. Remember also, that just as you may place your spouse under surveillance or tape record certain actions (check laws on wire tapping), so can your spouse have you under surveillance. For example, I know of a case where a lady was caught in adultery by a voice activated recorder in the bedroom wherein her side of her cell phone calls was recorded.
WILLS AND BENEFICIARY DESIGNATIONS, ETC. People should be aware of their estate and beneficiary designations and take careful consideration as to when or if they want to change such things pending a dissolution of the marriage. I have seen more than one case where a former wife received life insurance proceeds over a new wife because the man forgot to change beneficiary designations. The same is true for Wills, Living Trusts, Durable Powers of Attorney and Advanced Health Care Directives.
THE COMPUTER. The home computer can be a source of evidence. E-mails, websites visited and other information may exist which can help your case. By the same token, do not put anything on the computer which might be used against you. (There are at least three federal laws protecting computer privacy so be careful of these laws.)
TAX RETURNS. Clients should take care in the filing of tax returns when there is trouble in a marriage. Joint tax returns mistakenly or fraudulently filed can result in liability to the client for something they didn’t do. Spouses may also file early and take all deductions that may have been available to the client. Clients should consult with a CPA about tax returns.
DON’T ADMIT FAULT. It is common for people who are struggling with their relationship to either speak or write that they are sorry for their failures as a spouse. I had one case which was almost completely torpedoed by my client’s well-meaning Mother who wrote a long letter of apology to her son-in-law about her daughter’s conduct. Such letters might be appropriate in human relations and in patching up differences, but they can be murderous evidence in court.
DON’T TALK ABOUT YOUR CASE. Keep your mouth shut. Tell as few people as possible. Telling even one person risks the spread of rumors. For sure, do not tell anyone about discussions you have had with your attorney. You have no idea what friend or family member will relay that information to your spouse.
DON’T LIE OR CONCEAL FROM YOUR ATTORNEY. If an attorney is aware of the worst things in your life, he or she can develop a strategy to protect you. If you conceal a dark and embarrassing secret, you leave yourself and your attorney open for disaster.
CHANGE PASSWORDS. Change access passwords on bank accounts, stock accounts, e-mail, social networking, cell phones, etc. You have no idea what your spouse may guess and you may forget you have previously told them your passwords. This will keep them from snooping, interfering or actually stealing some of your money.