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Ten Tips for the Wise at the Outset of Every Massachusetts Divorce Case

 1.  Don’t panic. 

You will get through this.  Ideally, with the assistance of a competent divorce and family law attorney. 

2.  Begin to get a handle on your finances, and on the location and details of your financial records.

You will need to begin to organize and to review your various financial records, and to get a solid understanding the state of your financial affairs.  This is especially important if your spouse handled most financial matters during the marriage.   You will need to begin gathering such documents as pay stubs, recent tax returns, bank statements, retirement plan statements, etc.  Some of these documents may need to be obtained from your bank, 401(k) provider, etc., and there are various deadlines as for when you will need to provide copies of these records to your spouse (or to his/her attorney, if they have counsel).  For more information on what documents you will need, and when you will need to produce them to your spouse (or his/her attorney), ask us for a copy of “THREE IMPORTANT RULES FOR CLIENTS TO BE AWARE OF (AND THAT MUST BE OBEYED), WHICH APPLY FROM THE INCEPTION OF ANY MASSACHUSETTS DIVORCE CASE”.  Follow these rules -- on completing a Financial Statement (Rule 401), on disclosing certain of your financial records (Rule 410), and on avoiding certain financial transactions (Rule 411) -- CAREFULLY, to avoid being found in contempt of court, and also to stay in the good graces of the judge who will be hearing your case.   

3.  Try to begin saving money and/or economizing in your lifestyle.

Divorce can be expensive.  Attorney’s fees are certainly a part of that picture, but no means all of it.  Soon (if not already), you and your spouse will begin to maintain two separate households, with all of the added expenses that this entails. It is also helpful not to demonstrate too lavish a lifestyle, which could come back to haunt you on the issues of child support and/or alimony.  Avoid, if possible, any credit card purchases that could come back to haunt you (e.g., of luxury items, firearms, gifts for a mistress, etc.).  If absolutely you must buy that Rolex or subscribe to that internet site with naked photos on it, try to pay with cash.

4.  Set up a separate bank account, if you and your spouse have a joint account(s).

Once you have set up your own, separate account(s), it is fine to make a withdrawal from any joint account(s), so long as you do not take more than 50% of the balance or otherwise leave your spouse with insufficient means to support him/herself. 

5.  Talk to your accountant about whether to file your taxes jointly or separately in the next tax season.  

Until a judgment of divorce is actually granted -- following either a settlement or a trial -- you and your spouse are still married.  Every family’s tax situation is different, and you cannot know what the most advantageous method (for you) of filing your taxes is until you speak with your accountant.  Once you get your accountant’s advice, see if your spouse will agree to file his/her taxes in that manner.  (Or have your attorney try to negotiate such an outcome.)  Failing an agreement on how to file tax returns (and who gets how much of any possible refund(s), and who gets to claim how many of the kids as dependents if you file separately), it is better to put the matter before the judge, to have him/her enter a temporary order on this subject, versus just going ahead and filing your taxes without an agreement.  Such matters will be addressed in any final judgment of divorce, but while the case is still going on, you need to tread carefully. 

 6.  Be careful what you say to the children

Even if your spouse is saying inappropriate things to the children, try as hard as you can to avoid doing the same.  It only makes things harder for the children -- even if they are grown adults -- and makes you look petty.  It also may end up hurting you if any inappropriate comments are repeated by your spouse (or their attorney) in court.  So be the bigger person.  And if the children are still minors, it would be best if you and your spouse could agree on what to say to the children about what is happening and how things are going change, and to then sit down and tell them together. 

 7.  Don’t underestimate the value of counseling/therapy.

Divorce can be very traumatic, and fraught with emotional turmoil.  Often, professional counselors or therapists can help you through this difficult process.  The same goes for any minor children -- perhaps even more so.  Often, such services are covered under one’s health insurance.  Individual counseling is never a bad idea, and sometimes, joint counseling with your spouse can be helpful.  Even if your marriage is truly over, it often helps to forge a more cooperative and amicable post-divorce relationship if spouses attend joint counseling sessions, which is especially important if you have minor children together. 

 8.  If you and your spouse have any children under the age of 18, prepare to attend a “Parents Apart” class.

Entirely separate from counseling and therapy is the matter of taking a “Parents Apart” class.  This is mandatory for all persons going through a divorce where the parties have one or more children under the age of 18.  Typically, this program (which costs approximately $80 per person) involves two evening sessions of 2-3 hours each.  For a list of approved providers, go to:

9.  Change your email and other passwords if there is ANY chance your spouse knows them.

Don’t lock your spouse out from any joint accounts by changing the password without his/her knowledge, but for any and all accounts in your name alone, it is prudent to change the password.

10.  Consider drafting (or changing) your will 

If you die before a judgment of divorce is granted and you have no will, your spouse will inherit at least one-half (and possibly all) of your property (depending on what other relatives survive you, if any).  Or perhaps you already have a will, which says that most or even all of your property goes to your spouse.  If the thought of your spouse cashing in if you were to die suddenly during your divorce case bothers you, then you should consider drafting a will.  Under Massachusetts law, your spouse will still be entitled to claim his/her statutory share (between one-third and one-half of your property, depending on what other relatives survive you) no matter what your will says, but at least he/she won’t get more than his/her statutory share.  (On the other hand, if you have young children and trust your spouse to properly care for them if you were to die suddenly, then this issue may not be as much of a concern.)




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