Essential Tips in a Divorce, Custody, or Other Family Law Case
Family law cases can be complex and delicate. The result of an entire case can be affected by the behavior or actions of a parent or spouse. The following tips are important to consider if you are ever involved in a divorce, custody, or other family law matter:
1) Organize your Financial Documents
As part of the process, your financial activity may be closely examined. You can certainly expect this if your case involves any issues related to finances, such as maintenance (alimony), child support, or property division. You will be required to fully and truthfully disclose the details of your past and present income, assets, debts and liabilities. Attempts to conceal or alter any of this information can negatively affect your case.
You should begin to organize all of your financial information and documents at home, including any paperwork you have showing your income, debts, assets and liabilities. These can include past pay stubs, tax returns, W-2 forms, 1099 forms, any documents relating to your property or assets, and monthly bills (utilities, cell phone, credit cards, insurance, student loans, etc.). Be sure that all of these documents are organized in a safe place in case you need to make copies for part of your case.
Also, be prepared to gather past statements from your bank, credit cards, retirement, investment and any other financial accounts in your name, should your family law attorney need them. Many companies today allow you to download electronic statements online for these types of accounts.
If you decide to leave the marital home, be sure to gather all of your personal documents and items before moving out.
2) Do Not Hide, Sell or Transfer any Assets
During proceedings involving financial issues, such a divorce, it is important to be honest and forthcoming. Though you may not be happy with what may transpire as part of the proceedings, you could be in a far worse position if you do something to conceal your financial information or assets. Do not hide, sell, or give away any assets during the divorce proceedings. If you do, not only can your case be negatively affected, but you can also be punished by the court. In the worst case scenarios, these punishments could include monetary fines or jail time.
3) Reconsider Moving out of the Home
If you still live at home with your spouse or the other parent, think carefully about whether you should be the one to move out. If you have children together, and you leave the home, this may weaken your chances at having residential custody of your minor children. It is not uncommon for an opposing attorney to characterize a parent moving out as having “abandoned” the family. Furthermore, if you make substantially more money than your spouse, you may be required to continue paying the household bills and expenses, even if you no longer live in the home, and even if you pay rent at your new home. If possible, you may want to try and work out an arrangement where you remain in the house, but sleep in a different room. Living in the same home, but as roommates, can still be considered living “separately” for purposes of meeting the separation requirements in a divorce based off of irreconcilable differences.
If you do decide to move out, carefully consider how far you will relocate. Depending on the facts of your case, moving to a new place close by could help in arranging a better visitation schedule for you and for the children. Moving to a place far away, however, may make it harder for one parent to have visitation time, especially if the children are in school, and if one parent only has off days during the week.
If there is a threat of violence or abuse and you feel you are in danger, then you should do what is necessary to be safe, even if it means moving out. However, if no abuse or threat of abuse is present, speak to a family law attorney about whether staying in the home would be the best option.
4) Watch Your Actions and Behavior
If you are involved in family law case, you should be aware that your behavior is being closely watched by a judge. Divorce, custody, and other such disputes will test a person’s emotional strength and resolve. However, these are the very times when you must control your emotions and actions the most, as they can lead to permanent judgments that will affect the rest of your life. If you feel tempted to do something out of anger, stop and think. Try to imagine how your actions would make you appear in a court case. Would a judge approve of such behavior?
For example, if you are in a child custody or visitation dispute, sending repeated, profane text messages to the other parent will likely not help your case. Or, if you are trying to convince a judge that you do not have enough money to pay for maintenance (alimony), and you make large unnecessary purchases, cash withdrawals, or transfers, these will appear in your bank records or credit card statements and can kill your case.
In any family law case involving children, be the best parent you can be. These times are challenging for the whole family. Do not let your emotions cause you to begin acting in ways that are not for the best interests of your children. Do not try to prevent the other parent from communicating with your children, visiting them, or being involved your children’s lives. Do not speak to your children about the divorce, custody proceedings, child support, or any disputed issues. Never use your children as a go-between to send messages to your spouse. Judges strongly dislike such behavior and can enter a court order prohibiting these actions.
As upset as you may be, and as wronged as you may feel, you do not want to come off to the judge as the parent or spouse who is spiteful, or trying to hurt the other person in some way. Instead, you should present yourself as a person who wants to help the judge fairly resolve the issues.
Your public behavior, and to an extent, some of your private behavior will also be observable. Keep in mind that your actions and statements may not only be seen and heard by others, but can also be permanently documented in emails, text messages, bank records, credit card statements, and any other electronic medium.
That being said…
5) Be Careful What You Post on Social Media
We are in an age where technology is affecting our lives in new ways every day. People are becoming more aware of how our behavior online can affect our personal lives. You will often hear about a celebrity or public figure who uploaded a controversial tweet only to regret it later. Even though he or she deleted the comment, someone somewhere had already downloaded it and shared it with the rest of the world. These people soon find themselves in the process of “damage control,” and that is not a position you want to be in when you are in a courtroom in front of a judge.
If you are going through a divorce, custody, or other family law process, be extremely mindful about what you post on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus or Instagram. Even if your privacy settings are very tight, your information can still find its way to the public eye. Remember that once you post a picture, tweet, or status update for the world to see, you lose all control over that content. Anyone can download it, save it, and share it later. Sometimes your information can be accessed through your friend’s profiles. Be sure to think of your online life in terms of these exposure risks.
Even if you delete a photo, link, or status post, these social media sites often retain your deleted information for some time afterwards. All this archived information is accessible by attorneys and judges through the subpoena process. The best practice is to avoid uploading anything that could potentially affect your case or put you in a negative light. Even content that is truly innocent can be twisted or mischaracterized by an opponent. If you are unable to avoid using these social media sites altogether, keep these concepts in mind.
6) Be Completely Honest With Your Attorney, From Start to Finish
Your attorney’s role is to represent your interests in the family law proceedings. In order to represent you properly, he or she must know all the information relating to your case. It will not help if you hide information that could be hurtful to your case. If your attorney has been representing you throughout a case, and facts suddenly arise which you should have shared earlier, both you and your lawyer can end up looking bad in front of a judge. That judge may have a harder time believing whatever you say afterwards. It is possible that your entire case could hinge on one set of facts. Your attorney may take on a different strategy depending on what facts he or she knows from the very beginning.
In sharing information, do not be concerned about whether your lawyer will judge you on a personal level. That is not their job. Their job is to represent your interests. The information that you share with your attorney will be confidential.
While these guidelines may be helpful, every case is different, and there is no one answer or definite set of rules to follow for all situations. Make sure to speak to a qualified family law attorney before taking actions which could affect your case.
If you or someone you know is in need of legal representation for a Will County, Dupage County, or Kendall County divorce, child custody, or other family law matter, call our family law attorneys at (815) 207-9570 or (815) 409-8858 to schedule a consultation.
The information on this site is not legal advice. Retain an attorney licensed in the state which has jurisdiction over your matter before taking any action which affects your legal issues, legal marital status or custody arrangements, and follow the advice of your retained lawyer.