New Year, new you: things to consider before separating from your spouse
It does not take a family law attorney to tell you that it is not easy to separate and ultimately divorce your spouse. For some, making up your mind is the easiest part of the process, but for most it can be a grueling task fraught with difficult choices and emotional landmines. The idea of beginning anew and starting a new chapter of your life can be both exciting and motivating, but what we tell our clients is that it is better to travel the road to divorce with eyes wide open as opposed to taking the leap without a plan in place. Before you utter the words “I want a divorce” to your spouse, you have to know what that means and what impact it will have on your life and your family’s life. That is why it is important to spend the time with your attorney talking about the “nitty gritty,” i.e. your plans, expectations and goals in the divorce process. You also need to understand how the law applies to your situation.
According to North Carolina law, a marriage can be dissolved and spouses declared divorced if and when a husband and wife have lived separate and apart for one year, and at least one of the spouses has lived in North Carolina for a period of six months immediately prior to filing for divorce. What this means for you is that you and your spouse will have to physically separate, i.e. live in two separate households, before the one-year divorce clock begins ticking. Before that clock starts to tick, you should, if you can, have a plan in place with regards to your children, your finances and your sanity.
First, you should gather all of your financial documents. We advise clients to either print hard copies or download information you can lawfully access to a flash drive. If you share accounts with your spouse, passwords can be changed in the heat of the moment leaving you without quick access to information. You should gather at least two years of bank account statements, tax returns, pay stubs, credit card statements, mortgage statements, etc. You want to be able to have a full picture of your finances, both income and expenses, so that you can make a budget and plan for your future. Now that you are going from one household to two households, you will need to consider how expenses will be handled and plan accordingly. Once you provide this information to your attorney, the attorney will be able to advise and strategize with you on your game plan to separate, whether you are a candidate for spousal support and child support, and discuss the law with regard to equitable distribution, i.e. the division of marital and divisible property and debt.
Second, consider the impact a separation will have on your children, and how to best transition them from one household to two households. Consider how you and your spouse will share the decision to separate with your children. You may want to seek the advice of a marriage and family therapist or seek family or individual counseling for tips on how to talk with your spouse and the children about separation. Consider the ages of your children and what custodial schedule will work best for them. Some parents exercise equal parenting time with either a week on/week off schedule or a “2-2-5” schedule, wherein one parent has the children Monday and Tuesday each week and the other parent has the children Wednesday and Thursday each week and the parents alternate weekends. Others exercise time with one parent having primary custody and the other parent exercising secondary custody, i.e. every other weekend and one or two weeknights. There is no “one-size-fits-all” arrangement when it comes to the appropriate custodial schedule for your children. Keep in mind that the court’s “polar star” in determining a custody case is to consider what is in the best interest of your children. Clear as mud, right? To be sure, you and your spouse may have very different ideas about what is in the best interest of your children. It takes a lot of thought and likely a lot of compromise to come to terms with what is in the best interest of your children in the throes of divorce and the aftermath. In developing your thoughts on this issue, consider your role and your spouse’s role in child-rearing to date, and the importance of logistics, i.e. the distance between your house and the other parent’s house, work schedules, child care and the children’s schedules. The last thing you want to do is step into a messy divorce without having thought hard about how this will affect your children.
Third, do not be afraid to ask questions and ask for help. Divorce is stressful and it can take a toll on you, your family, your finances, and your career. The more information you provide to your attorney and the more you understand the process, the better you will be able to make decisions for your future. If you live in Wake County and are looking for a divorce attorney in Apex, Cary, Holly Springs and Morrisville, Ward Family Law Group may help you.