Regardless of whether you are the spouse who initiated divorce proceedings by filing a complaint with the Court or whether you are the spouse who has just received the divorce complaint, you may be dealing with a range of emotions and unclear as to what steps you should take next. In this situation it may be easy to make sudden decisions or act impulsively which can have long-lasting negative consequences should you do so before understanding your rights and the general divorce process in New Jersey.
If you and your spouse have children, you should together determine the best way to tell them about your pending divorce the changes likely to occur within your family unit. This may mean engaging the assistance of a mental health professional to discuss what approach is in the best interests of your children. Do not speak poorly of your spouse in front of or to your children and try to keep your children separated from the divorce process as much as possible.
Do not make any changes to your insurance policies. This includes the type and amount of coverage, the individuals covered under policies and the beneficiary designation(s) of policies. If you have already made any changes, you will likely have to undo the changes you have made. You should also confirm that your spouse has not made any changes to policies that may be in their control.
Gather and secure all pertinent financial information. This information includes prior tax returns and year end pay information, account statements for bank and credit card accounts as well as for retirement accounts and loan statements with current balances for mortgages, home equity lines of credit and auto loans. While you may not have these documents physically in your possession, most financial institutions make these documents readily available online through their websites.
Make a list of your assets and liabilities and attempt to itemize your monthly budget. This will be important information as your divorce proceeds and will give you a better idea of your financial picture. It is easy for all of us to get caught up in our busy everyday lives that we may not know off hand our outstanding mortgage balances or maybe even how much our cable bills are as they are automatically taken out of our bank accounts each month.
Obtain and review your credit report. This can easily be done online and usually for free. When you get your report, review it for accuracy and make sure you are familiar with the accounts associated with your name. If there is something that you’re not familiar with, contact the financial institution to inquire about it to ensure that it was properly opened.
Make an appointment to consult with an attorney. This meeting is important so that you can become informed about your rights and the divorce process. While friends and family are essential for support, they are often not the best resources for legal advice during a divorce as they themselves are often relying on third hand information or experiences that they may have heard about from others. Remember that everyone’s divorce is different and therefore it is hard to generalize or apply what worked best for another couple to your family.