First and foremost: Trust your intuition. If you have a bad gut feeling pay attention to it, whether it “makes sense” or not.
If you have any joint accounts with large sums of money freeze them. Ditto for any open lines of credit, like a home equity line of credit.
If there’s anything you want, and you have reason to believe your mate would do something underhanded, like remove valuables or financial records, take those things now.
If you have reason to believe your partner has lied, assume they have lied about more than you currently know. Don’t trust them to tell you the truth about anything. You may be over-protecting yourself, but that’s better than the alternative.
The laws vary from state to state. Equitable distribution, for example, in New York, does not mean equal distribution. This is why after even decades of marriage a woman often walks away with less than her husband; especially, if the children are adults and the woman worked.
In a long-term marriage, any debts you paid off, like education, loans, etc. will probably not be reimbursed.
All debt, even if incurred by only one party, and even if you had no idea the debt existed, is deemed marital. In other words, you are responsible for half of it. Make sure you are not liable for your spouse’s debts post-divorce.
Be suspicious if your mate suddenly starts paying all the bills from his or her office. What is s/he hiding? If you are naturally open and honest, being suspicious will feel very foreign and unappealing. Get over that and investigate what is going on.
If you think your mate’s collection of Asian art or Hank Aaron memorabilia is valuable, have it assessed.
If you and your partner can be civil, try mediation. It will save you thousands of dollars, not to mention time. But, if you have the slightest inkling your mate will be sneaky and lie, get the best lawyer you can afford. Find someone kind and competent. Ask everyone you know for a referral and interview, at least, three attorneys.
If you think your mate is irresponsible with money siphon some off and hide it: in cash, someplace safe. Do not put it in a separate account with your name, as that is marital property, and (typically) will be divided in half.
Judges generally couldn’t care less if you were the best spouse on earth. All the lawyers and judges care about is money and property. None of them want to get distracted by your story.
Never use your lawyer as a counselor. Their fee is double or triple that of a therapist, and they are not trained to help you emotionally.
Allow yourself to be needy, even if you’ve always been independent. Ask for help. This is crucial. You will need it. So, overcome whatever false pride is fueling your hesitance and take any support that comes your way. There’s no shame in letting your friends and family help.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang