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Family Law

Tips Before the Divorce
  • Make an informed, careful decision to divorce. Regardless of the marriage being dissolved, divorce creates deep emotional feelings and trauma. Seek counseling if possible to help you make the decision and to help you through the process. Seek an attorney's advice as to whether it is more advantageous for you or your spouse to file a court action.
  • Know your reactions to the divorce and how your reactions and feelings may affect your case. Denying the possibility of divorce and, therefore, giving the other spouse everything while hoping it "goes away"; despair leading to a desire to get the whole thing over with; or other such reactions can have a long term and/or permanent effect on your emotional, financial and legal rights. The right attorney and counselor can help you work through these feelings and assist you in making proper decisions regarding divorce despite these feelings.
  • Understand and help children deal with the process. Children going through the process of divorce experience all the emotions you are experiencing plus additional emotions and concerns. Divorce for children creates feelings of self doubt, worthlessness and fear of the unknown. It is crucial to make children understand that they are not the cause of the divorce. Divorcing parents will usually have a continuing relationship with each other at least until the youngest child reaches the age of majority, if not longer. Although the legal and emotional ties between the couple are being severed, they remain parents. Just as divorcing parents can benefit from counseling and/or therapy to help themselves through their divorce, they also benefit from counseling and/or therapy to help them understand the childrens emotional needs during divorce. Many times children need counseling to deal with the grieving for their loss, their fears, possible anger and/or guilt and concerns. Attached is a bibliography of books that may be beneficial for assisting children of all ages through the divorce process.
  • Find an attorney that you feel comfortable with as representing your needs, desires and approach. Although technically individuals can represent themselves in a divorce, it is a complex and, therefore, dangerous thing for most. The system is not really set up for non-lawyers and is full of legal pitfalls for the unwary. Many of the decisions made during the divorce process are irreversible at a later date. It is important to find an attorney who you trust, feel comfortable with and who understands what your desires are during the divorce process.
  • Ask questions - You have the right to ask about fee arrangements, philosophy, background, etc. You have the right to get a copy of your fee agreement in writing specifying the fee arrangement. You have the right to have your phone calls and questions answered. You have the right to fire your attorney if you are unhappy with them although payment for their services already provided will be required. You have the right to know the progress of your case. You have the right to set the "tone" of your divorce.
  • Do financial planning before filing for divorce.

Financial Planning Recommendations For Wife
  • Review all mail which comes into your house and make a list of the sender and the return address. It is important to obtain the addresses of brokerage houses, insurance companies, credit card issuers, banks, etc.
  • Remain "in touch" with the personal finances of the marriage. Review all monthly bank statements and brokerage statements and try to make copies. Give copies of all necessary documents to your attorney to hold for safe keeping.
  • Review all tax returns and seek complete explanations as to any item which may be questioned before signing. Make copies of the tax returns (including any and all schedules).
  • Inventory and periodically review the contents of your safe deposit box. List the contents (including cash and jewelry), and make sure the safe deposit box is in joint names.
  • Familiarize yourself with your husband's business. When tax returns are being prepared, go with your husband to the accountant so that you don't get secondhand (filtered) information later.
  • Do not make major purchases (such as a boat or expensive car) or allow your husband to make major purchases for himself or on your behalf. Keep the assets of your marriage liquid and unencumbered. Don't purchase that summer home or Mercedes with the thought (hope) that it will patch up the differences between you and your husband. Patch up the marriage first, then make purchases later.
  • Do not transfer, assign, alienate, or make a gift (even to the children) of any marital asset. Maintain all assets in joint names (or your name alone, if possible).
  • If your husband has a pension plan with his employer, determine when his pension "vests". It may be important to be married at the time the pension vests to insure that you will be entitled to your fair share of that asset under Michigan law. Obtain copies of the pension and/or profit sharing plan and any yearly statement.
  • Obtain copies of any will or trust documents. Go with your husband to his attorney and directly participate in any estate planning.
  • Review and make copies of all loan documents, mortgage applications and financial statements.
  • Do not sign any documents or financial instruments in blank. Know what you are signing, keep copies, and don't' rely on your husband to fill in the blanks later.
  • Have a complete medical and dental checkup. Familiarize yourself with your husband's medical and dental plans. Make certain that you have needed medical and dental treatment prior to separation and that you are covered with medical insurance in the event of separation.
  • For the purposes of receiving any Social Security benefits to which you may be entitled when your husband retires, make certain that you are married for at least ten years. Do not separate prior to this time (or at least avoid being divorced prior to this time) if at all possible.
  • Learn where you can cut costs in the event of a separation because of the limitation of income which you may subsequently suffer.
  • Open up your own safe deposit box at another bank (other than where your husband and you may have an existing box) to store any important papers and valuables. You may also wish to open up a post office box to receive personal letters from your attorney or others.
  • Separation causes immediate economic hardship. Therefore, put away as much cash as you can. You will need to retain an attorney and will also have particular personal needs which you husband may not want to pay for. Therefore, from the weekly monies which you receive from you husband to buy groceries, allowance, or from your job, "hide" as much as you can. Keeping money in travelers checks may be a viable alternative to cash.
  • Make sure your automobile is in good working condition and that it is titled in your name or jointly (not in your husband's name alone). You will need to be mobile in order to see your attorney, go to the supermarket, go to work or out with the children.
  • Review and make copies of any and all insurance policies relating to the marital residence, furnishings or other assets; including any riders for jewelry, silverware, or other valuables. Make copies of any appraisals which may be available.
  • Don't create any additional indebtedness and don't allow your husband to do so either.
  • Develop you own lines of credit. Obtain, in your own name, gasoline credit cards, credit cards from larger department stores and national credit cards (VISA, Mastercard, American Express, etc.).
  • Keep all inheritances separate from your spouse. If an inheritance is received, don't place it in joint names.
  • Make certain that all taxes owed to the Federal government and any other taxing authorities have been paid.
  • If your spouse is about to make a job change or be elevated to another position, don't leave! Consider the fact that your spouse may have an enhanced earning capacity which could result in greater support for you (and the children) later on.
  • Don't quit work if you are working. It is important to have a sense of financial independence as well as the emotional security of having a place to go to every day.
  • Don't move out of the marital residence until you talk to your attorney (unless you are in danger) !

Financial Planning Recommendations for the Husband
  • Keep marital assets liquid and avoid encumbering marital property or making large purchases.
  • Become familiar with all of the expenses associated with maintaining the marital residence and the related needs of your wife and children. You must know where you can trim the excess out of personal and household expenses since you may have to maintain a separate residence for yourself along with the marital residence.
  • Have all important mail sent to your place of business or a friend.
  • Keep all assets in your name alone rather that in joint names in order to give you more complete control over their disposition. Do no assist your wife in helping her establish credit in her own name in order to avoid liability for those expenses incurred by her and for her sole benefit prior to the divorce.
  • Determine when your pension vests and attempt to terminate the marriage prior to the vesting.
  • Postpone bonuses and defer income until after the divorce in order to reduce your potential liability for alimony and/or support.
  • Cut back on your life-style and begin cutting expenses.
  • Do not separate or file for divorce until after you have secured your wife's signature on your joint income tax returns. Otherwise, your wife may attempt to hold her signature "hostage" for the payment of cash or other benefit with the inducement that you will save taxes by filing a joint return.
Tips During the Divorce
  • The process of divorce can, at times, appear excruciatingly slow. The timing of a divorce case varies depending on the court, judge and the specifics of the case. Your attorney can assist you in estimating the length of the proceedings and each step of same.
  • Make sure you read and understand all the legal papers filed by your attorney to make sure that they are not only accurate but also say what you want to say.
  • Make sure your settlement and the Judgment of Divorce covers or at lease considers alimony, if appropriate, child support, medical expenses and health insurance for any children, life insurance, property division, pension and retirement benefits, insurance to cover payment of support, payment of marital debts, tax returns (payment and reimbursement), claims of exemptions on IRS returns, attorney fees and COBRA benefits.
  • Advise your attorney of any abuse/fears. If you are a victim of domestic violence, physical and/or mental, mistreatment by your spouse, be sure to tell your attorney so court protection can be achieved. Do not be embarrassed - it is not your fault. Michigan law also provides for the prosecution and arrest of an abuser. If you are assaulted, (put in fear of physical injury), battered (experienced unwanted touching), explore this with your attorney and follow through with the filing of the criminal charges. There are also domestic violence agencies which can assist. If your attorney knows of the abuse, he/she can get a court order called an Injunction which stops or prohibits an abusive person (i.e. spouse) from assaulting, beating, molesting or wounding you and sometimes even prohibits entry upon your land, residence or place of employment.
Tips After the Divorce
  • Check periodically to make sure any coverage from your ex-spouse's employer (i.e. COBRA) is still in effect.
  • Seriously consider disability and life insurance.

  • Make sure your beneficiary designations on everything from life insurance to retirement benefits is correct.

  • Make sure any premiums your ex-spouse is to pay under the Judgment of Divorce are being paid.

  • Get a good accountant/tax adviser if taxes and financial matters are something you did not previously handle.

  • Find a financial advisor to help make decisions regarding any securities, stocks or other investments you were awarded in the divorce.

  • Have your previous will reviewed by an attorney or see an attorney about drafting one if you do not have same.

  • Make sure your child support is being paid through your Friend of the Court account and is current.

  • If you are the custodial parent, make sure that there is an automatic income withholding order (wage garnishment), if possible.
  • If the payor of child support is falling behind, consider, with an attorney, remedies such as seizing tax refunds, liens on property, notification to credit bureaus and finally, contempt of court which could cause a fine, jail or possibly both sanctions.

  • Document any denied visitation and see an attorney - do not deny visitation for failure to pay child support.

  • Do not deprive the children of their right to see, love and respect both parents.

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Last Updated 4/18/03

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