How to best plan for an adversarial separation?


#1

I am married to a man whom has made it clear that if I ever thought about or even took action to separating or divorce, he has promised to “fight” me for custody of our 2 children (both under age 2) and ensure that I don’t “get a penny” of “his” money. He has been through a divorce before and it was extremely adversarial, with him not fairing well. He is extremely vindictive and I am positive he will do his best to ensure a “win” on his behalf – even if that involves fighting “dirty” and involving numerous lawyers – he is banking of the fact I do not have money. I would like nothing more than to have a child-centered and amicable divorce as it is no-fault and I believe that for the most part he is a good father; unfortunately, I know there is no chance of that occuring given numerous statements he has made through the course of our marriage. My belief is that once he learns of my intentions, he will immediately start to do whatever he can to make my life miserable, regardless of the effects it will have on the children. I suspect he will start hiding funds immediately and doing whatever is possible to financially strip me… and subsequently the children. I am not financially-savvy, and he manages all of our money on a very regular basis – he knows where every penny goes. We both work full-time jobs; however, even though I am at the top of my payscale and am well-educated, I cannot support my girls alone. His salary is approximately double mine. We both have retirement funds through our workplace (mine not so great), and he just opened up 529 Plans for the girls, which I believe he put in his name… and which I believe he would close out immediately. We have a joint savings and checking account, and separate bank accts with minimal monies. We have a house and 2 cars, one paid off and dying, one with payments still due. Amazingly enough, I don’t know anyone that is divorced, so don’t have any idea how to start the needed year long separation prior to divorce, or how to plan wisely to safeguard our children both financially or emotionally. Once he learns of my intentions, it will be B-A-D and I will need to be ready to act immediately… whatever that means. I suspect he would try to kick me out of the house, and as I’ve said before, he would fight for full custody – possibly even leaving the state – regardless of the fact this is not in their best interest (which I believe the courts would side with me and agree with, but this would still drain funds not to mention the emotional toll on the girls). If I find a way to save up money on the side, can I do so legally? How much would you advise saving up given my belief that this will likely be as ugly a divorce as they come? Is there an advisor whom does not charge an arm and a leg, or any support groups/agencies that provide assistance/savvy words of wisdom for messes such as this? What kind of advisor do I need – legal? financial? therapist? I’ve tried to find counselors to determine how to act on my end in the best interest of the children… any suggestions on that? I am really worried about my little girls (both under the age of 2) getting older and it having an even greater negative impact as they become more aware of the growing tensions… PLEASE ADVISE – I need all the help I can get!
Thank you!


#2

First, you should understand that you are not without resources. With few exceptions, any assets gained during marriage, are considered marital property. Which means they are divisible during separation and divorce. Any and all bank account, retirement funds, vehicles, homes, land, anything that was not inherited by you or your spouse alone or was personal property prior to marriage is considered marital property. Both spouses are equally responsible for 1/2 the marital debt and have the right to half the marital assets. My suggestion is that you first decide what you are going to do. Are you intending to remain in the marital home and try to get him to leave? Would you rather leave the marital home? The first step is making that decision. Weigh all the pros and cons. Look at the long term and after the divorce, if it comes to that.
After that decision is made, I suggest that you begin with getting copies of bank statements, mortgage statement, any other financial records you can find. Contact the banks and lenders. They should be able to give you copies and if you do so personally, your spouse would not have to know.
Start a “divorce file” and begin keeping a journal of events. This may come in handy during custody.
If your spouse makes considerably more than you do, you may be entitled to post separation support or alimony. Until custody is decided in court or by signed agreement, both parents have equal rights to the child/children. Since your children are below school age, more weight is put on who is the primary caregiver during custody. Which of you does the daily routine of bathing, dressing, feeding, spending time with them. The parent who can pay is not always the one who is awarded custody when children are this young. Your children being so young is also a good thing that they will not remember any of this. Take comfort in that. I was around 2 when my parents separated and divorced and I have no memories of them being together. In fact, the first time I remember seeing them in the same room, I was 19 at my sister’s wedding.
Do some research online about finding an affordable attorney or legal representation. Maybe your employer offers legal aid…Once you have that, schedule a consultation. Take all the paperwork you have gathered and meet with this person. If you do not immediately like what this person is telling you, ex: they want to make this ugly also…you find another person. Just because you know that your spouse is likely to make this process terrible does not mean that you should be the first to start slinging mud. It will also look better for you in court during equitable distribution and custody that you have maintained a reasonable attitude.
Find someone to talk to that will be “on your side”. A friend, family member…someone that is not a mutual friend. You will need someone in your corner and will be looking out for your best interest because you are going to be focused on the children and what is coming at you next.
I’ll keep you in my thoughts and keep us posted.


#3

You should arrange a consultation with a lawyer who practices family law immediately. Unfortunately, your situation is not uncommon, and many women feel powerless and trapped. You are not.

Based on the facts you list you are a dependant spouse and therefore will be entitled to post-separation support, alimony, and even attorney’s fees from your husband. You are entitled to one half of the marital estate, and you and your attorney will be able to trace your husband’s financial activity to ensure all funds are accounted for.

Depending on the custodial schedule, you should also be entitled to child support for your girls.

I recommend that you take action sooner rather than later.