Considering divorce? 11 tips you should know before you file for divorce
If you are considering divorce, you know it’s a big step. It’s not a decision you have come to lightly, just as you didn’t go into marriage lightly. We’re sorry your marriage hasn’t worked out, and we can help you make the transition to your new life. It’s always better if a divorce can be uncontested and relatively peaceful. At SD Law we are advocates for divorce with dignity. An acrimonious divorce takes much longer to recover from than an amicable one, and is much harder on children of the marriage. However, your spouse may not share your desire for a peaceful divorce, and may want to fight things out in court, especially if they are feeling hurt or betrayed. Even if you avoid court and settle your agreement through mediation, it’s important to have a plan. You wouldn’t embark on any other major life event or activity without planning, and divorce is no different. If you’re the one initiating the divorce, you can organise certain things in advance. But even if you are reacting to your spouse’s request for a divorce, it’s still important to plan your response and be methodical in your game plan. In this article we cover 11 tips you should know if you are considering divorce.
11 steps to your new life
Some of our pointers are obvious; some you may not have thought of. We mention them all, because when emotions are charged, it can be easy to overlook the obvious.
- Get your documents in order. Start to gather your financial documents, such as bank statements and insurance policies. Put them in a safe place, preferably where your spouse doesn’t have access to them. Take them to work if you have a locked cupboard there, or consider a safety deposit box at the bank. If they are electronic, and scattered across multiple files or locations, set up a secure folder and put everything in one place. This can be in the cloud, if you share a home computer with your spouse. Keeping your financial information secure is not the same as hiding it. We do not advocate non-disclosure of critical information at the right time and place. You simply want to be sure you can access the data you need when you need it, and your spouse can’t surprise you in court with your own information.
- Protect your information. Ensure your privacy. If you and your spouse share an email address, or if you know each other’s passwords, changing your password will be a red flag to your spouse rather than a wise move. Instead, set up a new email address. This can be kept entirely separate from your spouse. This is particularly important for correspondence with your lawyer or even with family members about the divorce. You need to be assured of confidentiality. It’s also a good idea to open a new bank account, preferably at a different bank from where you both currently bank. Although most banking is done online now, you don’t want to risk a staff member mentioning a new account to your spouse on the odd visit to a branch. And be sure to request paperless statements – to your new email address, so you don’t start receiving mail from a different bank to your home or post office box, which your spouse will see.
- Don’t start disposing of assets, e.g. property, or moving money (e.g. to a family member). If you were married in community of property or out of community of property with accrual, it may be tempting to move assets “off balance sheet”. Don’t do it. It will come back to haunt you. Everything has an electronic footprint these days, and if it looks to a judge like you tried to deceive your spouse, the consequences could be serious.
- Do a budget. Work out how much it is going to cost you to live separately, whether that is alone or with children. Be realistic, and include your income in your calculations. If you are applying for maintenance, the judge or mediator needs to know how great the difference is between your income and your projected living costs.
- Don’t accumulate more debt. It’s better at this stage to pay down debt. While it may be tempting to “stick” your spouse with the debt, it’s all marital debt (if you are married in community of property…if not, you’re only burdening yourself!). When you divorce, your debts will be split in the same way as your assets. All you will do is reduce your spouse’s available income for maintenance or child support.
- If you have children, stay active in their lives. Don’t drift away if they wind up living with your spouse if/when you split your households before your divorce is granted. Maintain the relationship, even if your child’s primary residence will be with their other parent. You will want to spend time with them, even if they don’t live with you. When it comes to drawing up a parenting plan, the judge needs to know your commitment to your children is borne out by evidence. Most importantly, don’t let your children think it’s their fault. Try to maintain as normal a routine as possible with them. And at all costs don’t alienate the child from the other parent, either deliberately or unintentionally. Whatever your gripe with your spouse, don’t badmouth them to your children. Your child is not divorcing the other parent.
- If you have medical aid and the family is on one plan, start researching what is available to you. The children’s medical aid cover is often a key component of the settlement. Sometimes they stay on one parent’s plan; other times they move to the other parent’s plan but the cost is shared. You will discuss this eventually, but if you have not yet revealed your intention to divorce, it’s a good idea to investigate your options in advance.
- When it comes to shared parenting, you are likely to need a parenting plan. The Children’s Act did away with the terms custody and access, but they are still used unofficially. If you think you and your spouse may clash over care and contact, i.e., if a “custody battle” is looming, keep a calendar of your time with your children – regardless of where they reside now. Be able to show the judge or mediator that you are spending half the time with your children, or whatever proportion you deem reasonable and want to achieve in the parenting plan. By contrast, if you are responsible for the majority of childcare and your spouse has been conspicuous by their absence since you separated, keeping detailed notes of the time they spent (or didn’t spend) with the children will help you prove your case. Also keep a journal of who pays what bills, if you don’t pool all your monies. If your divorce is contested, these records will be a big help.
- Plan for your future. At this point it may be hard to see past the end of the month, but you are divorcing because the life you are living now is not the one you want to live. So make a plan for the life you want. For example, if you currently don’t work and rely on your spouse for support, what do you want to do next? Do you want to study? Perhaps you want to relocate to be closer to your family? If you have children, this will need to be discussed when making parenting arrangements.
- Find a good attorney. Although it is possible to handle your own divorce, a good attorney can anticipate things you won’t be aware of. When you are going through a divorce you are totally focused on the here and now. An attorney has the experience to know what obstacles you may face down the line if they are not properly managed up front. For example, it is very important to get the wording of pension interest right.
- Finally, speak with your spouse about the divorce. Don’t let the first they hear of it be when they are served a summons. However much your relationship has deteriorated, it is respectful and dignified to sit down with your spouse and discuss the future together. Find out what they want from the process and see where you can compromise. If an uncontested divorce appears out of the question, a mediated divorce may be possible. You want to avoid a contested divorce at all costs. It will cost you much more in the end, not just financially, but emotionally.
Contact Divorce Attorney Cape Town for more information
If you’ve decided that divorce is the best option, divorce attorney SD Law can help. Sometimes divorce allows all parties to move forward with their lives, including the children. If you want to discuss your options, we are a law firm in Cape Town, with offices in Johannesburg and Durban, with extensive experience of helping couples divorce with dignity. Contact family lawyer Simon Dippenaar on 086 099 5146 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- Divorce and the negotiation for pension benefits
- Maintenance claims – be reasonable!
- Considering divorce? These are all the legal terms you need to know
The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.