After twenty years of marriage, the best family vacation ever, or one of your usual fights, your spouse says, “I want a divorce.”
You feel a thump in your chest, like your heart just hit your rib cage. The blood coursing through your veins feels cold. Your head hurts, stomach sinks, breath quickens, knees buckle or temperature rises. You can’t think straight. You doubt yourself: “Did he/she say divorce?”
You want to scream, grab onto a limb, plead, cry, retreat, rage, call your Mom, hug your kids, roll up in the fetal position…, but what should you really do?
Breathe deeply, dab your tears, run off the rage, do child’s pose then, without missing a beat, do what a good divorce lawyer would do first: triage.
Triage – noun tri·age \trē-ˈäzh, ˈtrē-\
1 a : the sorting of and allocation of treatment… according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors
b : …sorting…according to the urgency of the… need for care
2 : the assigning of priority order… on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success
“triage” Merriam-Webster.com. 2017. (August 22, 2017)
Like an emergency room nurse or doctor evaluates a patient’s condition upon arrival, the first thing to do when you or your spouse mentions divorce is to determine the level of urgency in your case.
To ascertain the speed with which you should consult a lawyer or take action, you must identify:
- Any imminent threats of physical harm
- Any imminent threats of financial harm
- Critical court dates and/or deadlines
So, if you’re reading this, ask yourself these questions now:
- Is my spouse threatening to hurt me or the kids?
- Do I have enough money to pay critical bills this month and next like, insurance premiums?
- Did my spouse or domestic partner recently sell assets, close credit accounts or withdraw large sums of money from accounts?
- Does my spouse have a tendency to do whatever he/she wishes?
- Does my spouse gamble, take unnecessary risks or withhold information from me?
- Does my spouse have exclusive control and management of our finances and financial records?
- Is a court date or deadline scheduled in my case?
- Is my spouse level headed?
- Is my spouse trustworthy?
- Is my spouse self-employed?
If your answer to any of the questions above is “yes,” consider taking the following action immediately.
1. Call DVSAS (Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services) at 877-715-1563 and find a safe haven
2. Speak to a good experienced divorce lawyer to gain a clear picture of your circumstances in light of the law and receive recommendations on the next steps you can/should/must take in your case. Despite your desire for a peaceful divorce, it may be necessary to seek the court’s assistance to protect you.
3. If you have joint open credit accounts (e.g., home equity line of credit, credit cards): logon to your accounts, call or visit your lenders, confirm current credit balances and available credit, request/download copies of the last six statements for each account, and speak to an attorney about closing or placing borrowing limits on open lines of credits. Review the credit statements and look for unusually large charges or draws your spouse may have made in the last six months.
In California, a spouse is prohibited from running up extraordinary and unusual debt in anticipation of, or in the midst of a separation, divorce or dissolution of a domestic partnership, but many do. If your spouse drains a bank account or maxes out the credit cards before announcing the marriage or DP is over, and you can prove the action was taken in bad faith, the court can order the spouse to refund your share of the funds and pay or assume the debt. The trouble is, if your spouse or domestic partner can’t immediately pay-off any unconscionable joint debt and/or the creditor won’t remove your name from the liability, the third-party creditor may still attempt to collect the debt from you and you would need to seek reimbursement through the family court. In the worst case scenario, you can be out-of-pocket forever.
4. If court dates and deadlines loom (and they almost certainly do if you filed or were served with a Petition and Summons for Legal Separation or the Dissolution of a Marriage or Domestic Partnership or a Request for Order in California.