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January 6, 2017

For most people, deciding to get divorced is not a snap decision. It often comes after many years of pain and turmoil in a marriage. Therefore, there should be sufficient time to prepare for divorce as it is critical to ensuring that the process goes as efficiently as possible.

Experienced divorce attorneys in Westport, Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan and Stamford, often are asked by a potential client in an initial meeting, “What should I be doing before filing for divorce to make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible?” The answer is multifaceted and often depends on the particular facts of the case but below are certain general steps that each divorce litigant should address prior to an action commencing:

1. Kids, Kids, Kids.

If you have children, they should be your primary focus when starting a divorce and throughout the action. That means thinking about what is really in their best interests, which may not always align with what each parent’s personal goals and objectives. Divorce is a trying time for a family and particularly for children. Most likely, the children have observed tension in the relationship and sometimes far worse. If your child needs professional emotional support, get him or her to a qualified therapist. Then start thinking about a parenting plan that will work best for your children. Be realistic about the responsibilities and time constraints of each parent and do your best to enlist cooperation from your spouse in developing a plan that is fair, workable and meets your children’s needs.

Think about what’s best for your children’s education and consider funding sources for private school and higher education, if applicable.

2. Assume everything you email, text or post is not private.

Be careful what you write! Also, consider setting up a new email account and password, to correspond with counsel and for other “confidential” communications. This is not fail proof, but it is better than using the family computer for private communications.

3. Know your assets and liabilities.

To the extent possible, gather statements for all your bank and brokerage accounts; retirement accounts such as pensions, 401(k)s and IRAs; stock; and RSU and stock option vesting schedules. Refer back to any property appraisals that may have been done at the time of purchase and refinancing. Since they can become quickly outdated, know that it is just a starting point and that a follow up appraisal may be necessary.

4. Understand income of both spouses.

Gather Federal and State tax returns, K-1s, and 1099’s for the last few years; most recent payroll stubs; employment contracts; and social security statements.

5. Remember to investigate life insurance policies.

Know what policies of life insurance are owned by either spouse and the designated beneficiaries of each. Are they term or whole life policies? Is there any cash value in the policy? Are there any loans against the policy? If there is a life insurance trust, review the trust and its terms. Often a spouse is precluded from benefiting upon separation or divorce under the terms of a trust.

6. Do a check up on health insurance.

Know your carrier. Typically, one spouse or the other is the subscriber through his or her employment. The non-subscribing spouse will be entitled by law to obtain COBRA coverage for three years after the divorce, however there may be more cost effective policies available to that spouse. Do some checking ahead of time to determine the cost and coverage of obtaining your own policy if your spouse is the subscriber on the current plan.

7. Face your liabilities.

Painful as it may be, understanding your marital debt is critical to the divorce process. This includes items such as credit cards, loans, mortgages, HELOCs, capital calls and business obligations.

8. Think about where you want to live when the divorce is final.

Do you really want to stay in the marital home? Will you be able to afford it? What if it depreciates in value by the time you eventually want to sell it? This is not an easy decision and the answer may not be apparent at the beginning of the divorce process because it depends on a lot of factors that will need to be considered. But as a cautionary note, do not get too wedded to the idea of keeping the house until the whole picture becomes clear.

9. Take care of yourself.

Divorce can be one of the most traumatizing events you will ever face. You will need to be in the best possible physical, mental and emotional state. Think about eating healthy, adhering to good sleeping patterns, exercising regularly and engaging professional therapeutic help.

At Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC, we strive to make the divorce process as painless as possible for our clients. We partner with them to get through it with the least amount of difficulty. As a prospective divorce litigant, preparing yourself in ways outlined above will be of great benefit to you as you embark upon your divorce.

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