Even if you are planning to file an uncontested divorce, there are still many important actions that you may need to take to protect yourself. Most spouses handle news of an uncontested divorce well. However, upon receiving the news that their spouse wants to divorce, others sometimes go a spending spree, hide documents, or empty joint bank accounts. If you take action to protect your assets, documents and information beforehand, you will be in a much stronger position to negotiate an uncontested divorce.
Therefore, for your protection, below are some specific financial tips to consider before and during a Georgia uncontested divorce:
1. Documents and Valuables.
Move your documents, record, other papers, and valuables such as jewelry, artwork, firearms, cash, and heirlooms somewhere other than your own house. Setting up safe deposit boxes and new storage locations can be a valuable time investment. You can expect that your children’s mother will be going through your desk, briefcase, automobile, telephone records, bills, and computer, looking for financial information and other evidence to use against you. Anything with significant or sentimental value to you ought to be secured from your children’s mother. You are not trying to hide things, but you don’t want to come home from work and find that your valuables have been sold at a yard sale.
Note: as of 2010, O.C.G.A. § 19-5-7 states that after a petition for divorce is filed, property transfer from the marital party to another party is prohibited except for bona-fide debt payments. Be careful not to gift marital property to other parties, quit claim real property in an effort to conceal or prevent it from being a part of your divorce case. However, if you an ownership interest in “Separate Marital Property” and need to transfer or sell it, an attorney may be able to help you get court approval to do so even if a divorce case is pending.
Sometimes when a spouse finds out that the other spouse wants a divorce, they will start hiding and selling joint and separate personal property. Make a list of everything in the marital residence, and any second home or other real property. Make a list of any property that is in storage. Taking dated pictures or a video of the entire household or storage unit is an easy way to go about this. Include furniture, furnishings, appliances, clothing, jewelry, and all other valuables. If something turns up missing, you’ll have the evidence to prove where it was and its approximate value.
3. Bank Accounts.
Joint bank accounts do not need to be closed or distributed with the permission of both parties, so go to the bank and divide the joint bank accounts in half, depositing your half in your own name. Alternatively, so long as a divorce case has not been filed with the court, you can put everything in your name. In the context of an uncontested divorce this should not be a major issue, since the parties are presumed to be in agreement about all the terms of the divorce.
However, if your case is not settled and is contested, once a case has been filed, this strategy may put you in violation the the court’s Domestic Relations Standing Order. In addition, if you’re the main income earner in the family, causing your children and their mother to have to leave their home without any money to get by on will only aggravate the judge, who will likely order you to pay support anyway. Make arrangements so that bills will be covered, and let your children’s mother know about what arrangements you’ve made after you’ve made them.
Taxes are always an issue, and most Georgia divorce attorneys are not experts on taxes. So it is best to consult with a licensed CPA when planning out an uncontested divorce. Also, call your broker and divide any stock, bonds or mutual funds that are held jointly with your spouse. While the division of stock in the context of a divorce is not usually a taxable event, you will have to take future taxes into account if you want to the division to be truly equitable. Therefore, ask your broker to make sure the tax basis is equalized as well.
5. Credit Cards.
You do not want to wake up one morning and discover that your spouse has charged $5,000 on your joint credit card on a spending spree. You may be responsible for paying part or all of that $5,000. Close all joint credit or loan accounts and notify the banks, charge cards, and others by a certified, return receipt letter that you are no longer responsible for the expenses of your children’s mother. You may ask the company to reopen an account in your own name. Immediately after you make these changes, you may want to make sure your spouse knows so they are not caught by surprise when the credit card no longer works. If your spouse has already started on a spending spree, ask your spouse to return the card and report the credit card as stolen. Usually after a card is reported as stolen, charged fees can be disputed with the company.
If you cover your spouse or children on your insurance, do not drop them from the policy until the divorce is final. After all, you are most likely responsible for their medical bills until then anyway. Even after the divorce, the employed spouse may want to keep the spouse and children covered. If you are paying child support, a large, unexpected medical expense for the child could be assessed against the noncustodial parent as additional child support. The same could happen with alimony and an ex-spouse. Federal law allows most spouses to be covered for up to thirty-six months after a divorce at a cost. However, the employer must be notified prior to the final divorce decree.
Two cannot live as cheaply as one, especially if they are separated and trying to maintain two households. It is time to cut costs as much as possible. Cancel and sell anything you do not need like extra telephone lines, unwanted property, or cable television and other services. However, do not cut off the utilities and cell phone lines on your spouse without giving them plenty of notice. In the event your divorce case was to turn contested, make sure you can prove this notice to the court because leaving your children and your spouse home without air-conditioning, heat, or electricity will not go over well with the judge.
8. Retirement Accounts.
Retirement funds acquired during a marriage are marital assets that can be divided by the divorce court, so chances are that your spouse will want to share in anything you have contributed during the marriage to your pension plan at work or your Individual Retirement Account (IRA). In the context of planning a divorce, consider filling out the paperwork to have your employer stop your contributions to your 401(k) account or other pension plan. This is because, your spouse could get half of what ever the accounts have in them, including recent deposits into the account.
9. Get an Experienced Georgia Uncontested Divorce Lawyer.
Find an excellent uncontested Georgia divorce lawyer and set up an appointment right away. Some lawyers charge for an initial consultation and some do not, so try to search for a lawyer that meets your financial needs. In the initial meeting, you will be able assess the lawyer and acquire good advice and strategy for your particular facts and circumstance. The attorney will discuss costs with you during the initial consultation, but be aware that any estimate by an attorney is subject to change depending on the divorce proceedings. Your attorney will also advise you about other matters you will need to consider during this change in your life, such as executing a new will, changing powers of attorney, and how to handle existing assets and debts.
If you are facing an uncontested divorce in Georgia, call us at 770-609-1247 to speak with one of our experienced and trusted Georgia divorce and family law attorneys today. We offer free consultations to qualifying potential clients. Contact >