In my work as a divorce lawyer, I have had the opportunity to represent many men and women over the years. Representing clients in divorce matters almost always involves communications that can be rather personal. For instance, if your spouse is cheating, then you may have to share this information in detail with me. This conversation is usually emotional and difficult. I also get asked questions that do not directly relate to the divorce process but are nonetheless important. Topics of interest for women include everything from money to their wedding ring. Some of these topics are discussed below along with some of my advice for women in divorce.
MONEY AND FINANCES
If you are unfamiliar with your household finances, you need to learn what’s going on – now. Take a detailed inventory of your household expenses to get an idea of where you stand and where you need to make cuts. Map out a budget for yourself, learn how to balance a checkbook, and familiarize yourself with personal finance software of your choice. Armed with a new working knowledge of your finances, not only will you feel more in control and empowered, but you will also fare much better in the divorce process. The more you can organize your own financial documents, the more you’ll be able to reduce your attorney fees and improve your chances of success. If you were the primary breadwinner in your household, your husband may be entitled to spousal support and/or alimony. If your husband brought in a higher salary, then you may be entitled to these payments. An experienced PA divorce attorney can educate you on the law regarding support and alimony in Pennsylvania and can help you estimate the amount you might have to pay or receive from your spouse. This can help you prepare for your financial future.
You should speak to your divorce lawyer about separating your finances from your husband’s finances after you are separated from your husband. Once you are separated, any income you receive becomes your separate property; therefore, it is not considered marital property, which would be subject to equitable division. You should consider opening a bank account, solely in your own name so you can deposit your paychecks or other income in an account that your soon to be ex-husband does not have access to. Sometimes, even when you are separated from your husband, there is still a need to continue making deposits into a joint account with your husband if it is necessary for both of you to share responsibility for certain expenses such as household or child related expenses. These matters can be complicated so you should discuss this with your lawyer. Your lawyer can help you determine whether this is a good idea and if so, he or she can help you determine how much you should contribute to the joint account.
GET YOUR CREDIT REPORT
You should get your credit report from the major credit reporting agencies. This is necessary to determine your credit score and whether you have any outstanding debts or liabilities. If you do have unpaid or past due debts, you should take steps now to resolve them with the creditor. You may be considering purchasing a new home or a new car and in order to do so, you must have good credit to be able to qualify for a loan. Decisions you and your spouse made during your marriage may impact your financial ability going forward, but you can repair the damage. If necessary, consult with your accountant or financial advisor who can help you.
UPDATE YOUR RESUME
If you were a stay at home mom and you are now looking for employment or if you are looking to relocate to a new city and change jobs, then you will want to create or update your resume. You should consider contacting a job recruiter who can help connect you with potential employers. Job recruiters can also help you with your resume. They often review hundreds, if not thousands of resumes, so they can offer you advice for making your resume more attractive to employers.
If there is physical, emotional, or verbal abuse in your relationship with your husband, make it your primary priority to protect yourself and your children. Get yourself and your kids out of an abusive situation as soon as possible. Contact a trusted family member or friend if you need a place to stay. There are also local shelters for abused women. Unfortunately, inherent in the cycle of domestic violence is an abused woman’s tendency to stay in a dangerous situation. Emotions can cloud your judgment, but you need to get to a place where you and your children are safe. Don’t hesitate to call your local police department if you believe that you or your children are in danger of harm. You can and should file a Protection from Abuse (PFA) Order with the court immediately. A PFA can be filed with or without the assistance of a divorce attorney. A PFA Order granted by a Judge will prohibit your spouse from contacting you and possibly your children during your divorce proceedings and typically for many months thereafter. During the duration of the PFA Order, your spouse will also not be allowed in the marital home, which can help you feel more secure.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF MENTALLY, PHYSICALLY AND EMOTIONALLY
It is imperative that you address your own needs throughout your divorce. Divorce can be very mentally, physically and emotionally draining, and it can be easy to fall victim to the negative emotions that tend to dominate the process. You may not even realize the effect of the stressful situation you are going through, but stress will take its toll if you are not careful. Allow yourself to heal by letting go of emotional baggage and staying well during this tough time – eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, and stay hydrated. Channel your energy into positive activities and be sure not to isolate yourself from your friends or other loved ones.
Always put your children first. Listen to them and talk with them about what may be on their mind. They may be confused, sad or hurt. You should consider reaching out to a professional counselor who can help you communicate openly and effectively with your children. Remember, you may soon be divorced, but you will continue being a mother and your soon to be ex-spouse, will always be the father. You should also take the high road with your soon-to-be-ex spouse and communicate with him about the children no matter how acrimonious your relationship is with him. Set aside the marital and personal differences and remember that your decisions as a parent should always be based on the best interests of the children. Do not disparage the father. This will only interfere with his relationship with the children and could ultimately make you look like the petty, mean-spirited parent. If you have a custody agreement with your spouse, make sure you stick to it. Your custody time is important. If the father asks you to accommodate his request to allow some additional custody time with the children once in a while, consider allowing it. You do not want to sacrifice your custody time, but little courtesies here and there with the father can go a long way in building an effective, amicable co-parenting arrangement for the children. The father will most likely reciprocate too.
Dogs, cats and other pets can really put stress on a divorce. Just like children, you and your husband will want the pets all to yourself. If you had the pet before the marriage, then the pet is yours and you should not relinquish any custody or control. If, however, you and your spouse got the pet together, then you may have to work out an agreement for custody of the pet. If you cannot agree, then the pet will become an issue to be resolved during the divorce process.
Staying organized will help you keep your wits about you during the divorce process. Many divorcing women find that creating a “divorce notebook” can be useful. Include a calendar to mark important dates such as hearings or meetings. Save all texts and emails involving your spouse, since those communications could be used as evidence in a divorce related proceeding. Keep your home and car clean. Wash and put away the dishes, wash and fold your clothes, and vacuum the floors. A clean home will help you feel like you are in control of your surroundings.
Sometimes social media can be a positive distraction if you search and find funny animal memes on Instagram or you see pictures of friends and family members on Facebook enjoying a vacation. However, social media can also cause anger and jealousy if, for example, your spouse posts pictures of himself on a vacation or with people whom you never met. Be careful with social media, sometimes it is better to just relax on the sofa and watch a good movie. Also, do not post anything on social media that can be used against you in a divorce matter. For example, if you are making a claim for support or alimony, you do not want to post pictures of yourself traveling or shopping for a new car. Do not post any disparaging comments about your spouse either. It will only serve to create more hostilities at a time when your divorce lawyer is working hard to resolve the divorce and related matters quickly and amicably. Those postings can be used against you in divorce related proceedings too.
Holidays can be a difficult time. You may not feel like being with people and sharing in the joy of the holiday season. Staying home and being by yourself will only cause you to reflect on your marriage and pending divorce. It is better to be with friends and family during the holidays. They will cheer you up and you will not have the time to dwell on the recent past and the divorce.
LEARN YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS
Divorcing women need strong support networks and resources such as experienced family law professionals, compassionate therapists, and expert financial advisors. As a party to a divorce, you will do yourself a tremendous favor by hiring an experienced divorce lawyer to represent you. If your husband has retained legal counsel, it is vital that you do the same. Retaining a skilled divorce attorney will ensure that you don’t get taken advantage of. Do not make the mistake of relying upon your soon-to-be ex-husband to look out for anyone but himself. It is your responsibility to know your rights, and this is the time to assert them. You’ll also want a divorce attorney to help you navigate the court system. Every county in Pennsylvania has a different set of rules, forms, and procedures. Seek out a local divorce attorney who listens to you and who will be available to you throughout the process. You should find an attorney who you are comfortable with, and you should always be completely honest with your divorce attorney in order to ultimately effectuate the best possible outcome.
YOUR WEDDING RING
Although you are under no legal obligation to do so, it is customary to return the ring to the spouse who purchased it. If your husband purchased your ring, you should return it to him, though he has the option to allow you to keep it. If the ring was an heirloom from your family, you should ask to keep the ring in the family. Returning the ring is a kind gesture that can serve you well as a peace offering during negotiations.
YOUR LAST NAME
As a woman, you have the choice to retain your married last name or to revert to your maiden name throughout the divorce process. If you are divorcing in Pennsylvania, you may go back to your maiden name without a hearing or judge’s signature. Pennsylvania law permits a divorcing woman to take her maiden name back by filing a Notice to Resume Prior Surname with the county court. Check with your divorce attorney to determine the specific legal requirements to change your name. Be sure to notify your children’s teachers, coaches, or club leaders if there is a change in name for you and/or your children.
Remember to update your estate planning documents. This may include a Last Will and Testament, Durable Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, and Advance Health Care Directive. You will want to remove your spouse and replace your spouse with other family members or friends. Your divorce lawyer may be able to help you prepare these documents or he or she may recommend another lawyer to help you.
The divorce process is unquestionably trying; however, armed with knowledge, resources, and hindsight, divorcing women in Pennsylvania can emerge having gained wisdom, empowerment and life lessons. With the counsel and guidance of an experienced and compassionate PA divorce attorney, you can work through the process collectively and work out the best possible outcome to meet the needs of your family. Contact The Martin Law Firm at (215) 646-3980 to learn how an experienced Pennsylvania divorce attorney can assist you.