After losing a spouse or longtime partner, it's difficult to look past your grief. However, it's crucial to understand the important and timely decisions you must make regarding your finances and personal estate plan.
Lawyers are all about records. We probably wouldn’t believe in the moon if NASA didn’t keep really good records of it. But in all seriousness, how well a party documents their and the opposing party’s activities frequently decides if their case will be successful or not. Here is a list of five really important things to keep track of in domestic relations matters, in order of importance.
5. What you spend your money on
In both custody and divorce proceedings, how you spend your money can become a significant issue. Keep track of everything you think could conceivably be important. This includes money spent on food, utilities, mortgages, credit cards, and other inherently marital expenses. Also keep receipts for things relating to your children such as clothes, food, medical expenses, toys, school tuition, etc. If you believe the other side is inappropriately spending marital funds, child support, etc (frequent gambling for example), keep track of every time you believe they are engaging in the inappropriate activity. Should a legal matter arise, you want to go in well-armed with dozens if not hundreds of pieces of evidence showing you spent your money properly.
4. Parenting/Visitation Schedules
If you can foresee a possible custody dispute in your future, it is crucial that you record how visitation is actually being conducted. These records should include when and where the other party picked up/dropped off the kids, when you or the other party chose not to exercise their visitation, incidents reported during the other party’s visitation and any other deviations from the court-ordered or informal custody arrangement. This can also be done retroactively. When parents of a child are no longer together, the child’s father should always have an order from an appropriate court that reflects the current custody/visitation arrangement. Should you not have one, in the interim simply write up what the arrangement is, have the other party sign it, and personally stick to it as best you can. The document is not legally binding, but can be useful in other ways for your case and your attorney.
3. Injuries and Evidence of Violent Acts
Bruises heal. Punched walls can be repaired and painted. Broken dishes can be swept. If your significant or former significant other gets violent towards you, around you, and/or around your child(ren), record it. I caveat this recommendation by saying, and I cannot say this enough, only make these records when you and your children are out of danger. Whenever such records become necessary, police intervention is also necessary. Attorneys deal with problems. Police deal with emergencies, and any form of violence is an emergency. Even if you do not think the police will do anything, they can secure your safety for the time being. If you think violent acts will repeat themselves, get away from that place. There is absolutely no reason to stay in a place where you do not feel safe.
2. Moving Money or Assets
All too frequently in dissolution/divorce proceedings, parties become anxious about marital funds being improperly used or hidden by the opposing party. While these fears are frequently grounded in rational concerns, moving assets, whether liquid or otherwise, can prompt accusations of misappropriation of marital property, even when these efforts were intended to prevent such misappropriation. The bottom line, especially with this particular point, is consult your attorney before moving any marital funds, and when you do, keep very good records.
The number one most important thing to record in a contentious divorce or custody proceeding is ugly, harassing, or threatening communications from the opposing parties or those associated with them. In the age of text messages, such communications are easily recordable and keep forever. For some reason, people are far more comfortable expressing truly awful thoughts via text than any other medium, while I find email remains the most preferred forum for longer more complex diatribes. If the communication was verbal, write out a summary. Keep these communications stored in a reliable and backed-up devise (such as an external hard drive) along with notes explaining the circumstances under which the communications were made.