Most couples can see a divorce coming. They’ve been fighting for a long time, and counseling isn’t helping. Or maybe they’ve been growing apart for years. When the time comes to get a divorce, it may be a shock, but it’s not a surprise. In some cases, they may even talk it out beforehand and file jointly.
It doesn’t always happen this way, though. Sometimes, one person is completely happy in a relationship and the other isn’t. They have no idea that anything is wrong until their partner hits them with divorce papers – seemingly out of the blue.
Being blindsided with divorce is not only overwhelming (and potentially traumatic), it also puts you and your financial future in sudden and unexpected danger. You will likely have to divide your assets. You may have to pay alimony. Or child support. Or both. For someone who isn’t prepared for these expenses, separating from your spouse can be exceedingly stressful and difficult.
If you are unexpectedly served with divorce papers, don’t panic. You have legal options to defend your right to your assets and property so that your spouse does not take advantage of you during this process. Follow these tips (and consult the following resources) in order to make your divorce as smooth as possible.
What to Do If You Are Surprised With a Divorce
Know That You Can Get Through This. You will have to wait for many legal and financial rulings before you completely finalize your divorce, but know that there is an end and you will get through it.
Remember to care for yourself while you are going through a divorce. Do not be afraid to lean on family and friends who are able to support you. Consider going to therapy or seeing a counselor. Do what you need to do in order to stay strong throughout the proceedings.
Collect Financial Information. The only way to know if you are getting the right assets after your divorce is to know what assets you have. Immediately check your security deposit boxes, bank accounts, and safes to ensure that your spouse hasn’t tampered with the amount of money you both have.
Additionally, make sure that your spouse is letting you access all of your financial documents: tax statements for both of you, leases or mortgage information, bank account numbers, and so on. If your spouse has trusts or a business in his or her name, the information about what is in these accounts may also be useful.
In this case, you may need to file a motion with the court to force your spouse to release and reveal specific financial documents. A lawyer can help you file that motion, as well as search for the financial information you need to present a fair case in court.
Close Joint Bank Accounts and Freeze Spending. If you and your spouse have access to the same financial accounts, it may be time to start separating your funds. Of course, you will need to alert your spouse if you are going to close joint bank accounts and split the funds. Open an individual account so your spouse cannot touch what is yours out of spite or anger.
If you haven’t established a line of credit, now is a good time to start. With the money that you have, open a credit card account. Don’t abuse it, though – put yourself on a spending freeze in order to both establish good credit and help you out later in court.
Don’t Agree to Anything Without Consulting a Professional. The divorce process moves quickly if you consent to specific alimony or parenting plan agreements, but your spouse could draw them up in such a way that is far more favorable to them than you. Even if you feel pressured to appease your spouse, don’t sign anything that your spouse or their lawyer has written up without consulting a legal or financial professional first.
Get a Restraining Order If You Have To. If your spouse is threatening you with violence in order to get you to sign divorce papers or agree to their terms, it may be time to take further legal action. You may request a restraining order from local law enforcement in order to keep your spouse from threatening you or even visiting you. Restraining orders can also help to keep your children safe, and in many cases will allow you to keep living in your home during divorce proceedings.
Call a Family Lawyer. If you have been recently hit with divorce papers and haven’t spoken to an attorney yet, reach out to one immediately. Many lawyers will be able to offer you a free consultation about your case, and affordable options are out there no matter what financial situation you are in. A knowledgeable family lawyer can help you not only fight for the property and assets that you deserve, but also represent you during child custody hearings and other divorce-related decisions.