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What To Do When… A Dummies Guide to the Legalverse
Episode 1: Divorce 101
Welcome to What to do when… A podcast from real lawyers with real perspective, where we explore a variety of legal issues and scenarios. Each week we focus on a new topic and discuss what to do when and if any of these legal scenarios ever happened to you or a loved one. With over 40 years of combined legal experience, our hosts offer their unique perspectives and insights on a range of real life legal situations.
Scott Cardani 0:29
Well, everybody, this is Jackie and Scott with Critzer Cardani. We’re here again, with What To Do When.. trying to navigate you through the legal verse. Today, we wanted to talk about Divorce 101, what we wanted to cover today was very simply what to do when it hits. Somebody asked for a divorce, something goes on. So I was gonna ask Jackie, a question, we’ll go from there, Jackie. Your home, you get a call from your husband and says, Hey, I want a divorce. What is the first thing you should do? And by the way, it doesn’t matter whether you are a husband or wife… it may matter a little bit, but…
Jackie Critzer 1:08
That’s hard not to take it personally, but from a non-personal perspective. You know, the first thing that anyone really ought to do is take an inventory as quickly as they can of what is going on. For example, say that it’s serious, it’s done. This isn’t like that wishy washy, I want a divorce – it’s not something somebody said in a fight. And they’re just using it as a power play, which also is a big red flag anyway. But it’s the divorce is happening. It’s coming upon us – you take an inventory, and you really just get a grid on what sort of money what’s cash available, what stocks are available, what what you have access to what the other person has access to, and and doing your best to secure yourself some of whatever is available. If it’s a lot – secure some, if it’s not a lot – secure some.
Scott Cardani 2:01
What do you mean by ‘secure some” – what?
Jackie Critzer 2:02
So that’s a great question. So let’s say there’s a joint account, let’s say there’s a joint, it’s a savings account, okay, and there’s $10,000 in it. I’m going to take half of it right then and there. Some lawyers might tell you to take it all, some, some might tell you to leave it alone, I’m going to tell my client, what I would do myself would just take half of it. And I realize I will at one point have to account for it. But you need to be able to secure legal counsel, you need to be able to pay for perhaps a new place to live. It just there’s so many things money does make the world turn, especially when it comes to separating households. And so the first thing I would do is, is take an inventory of the cash assets, bank accounts, savings accounts, investment accounts, and and try to separate out as best as one can about half of what’s what’s there.
Scott Cardani 2:52
What about documents? Did you try to grab some documents at this point?
Jackie Critzer 2:57
Just about every document that that exists right now is available online, it’s available at a courthouse, it’s available through portals and you can get it I’m not sure I’d be terribly worried about documents, unless those documents reflect assets. So accounts that maybe you didn’t know about. A bank account that’ll show transactions or transfers to an account you didn’t know about. Maybe an investment account that shows money transferring in or out to a different account, just being able to track all the assets sometimes is the most difficult part. So to the extent that there are paper statements, I’m not sure who gets those anymore – But to the extent there are paper statements for investment accounts or bank accounts, those those are probably on the on the top of the list of documents to grab.
Scott Cardani 3:42
Do you often see the other spouse changing passwords and doing that stuff and taking away access once this kind of draconian Decision is made?
Jackie Critzer 3:54
So a lot of times the the passwords are changed before the announcements made. And so getting to the account, you know, maybe there’s not a joint account, maybe the person who says I want to divorce is the money maker and holds all the money and now they have frozen this person out. Now what if that were my situation, and I wasn’t on the bank account, because I was the non earning spouse, maybe I was a stay at home mom and I didn’t make any money. So I in theory wouldn’t have real reason to have access to the account because I could just ask my darling husband, who has now decided he wants to divorce me. In that situation – You’re already out. What do you go? What do you do you find a way to get your hands on it. You find a way you beg borrow and don’t steal but you you’ve got to find a way to get secure, safe and secure financially, whether it’s friends, family members, because you can always get into the courthouse to ask for financial support relatively quickly, early on in a separation. But if you don’t have access, you’ve got to find a way to get safe get secure and then get a support order in place.
Scott Cardani 5:02
Well, one things I tell my clients, especially the one who’s staying at home, we’ll say it that way, whoever that may be, who isn’t the income earner, and they’ve been cut off from everything, I tell my clients, it may be time to get a credit card. And to do that, you can still use the joint marital income, because you’re still married to apply for a credit card and get that credit card. And sometimes that’s your only means of money. And you don’t want to be in a situation where you’re not able to provide for yourself, would you agree with that? Or how would you change it?
Jackie Critzer 5:31
That’s true. And sometimes people get confused about what you just said, household income is husband wife income together, that does not mean that that person fraudulently signs a credit card application statement for the other spouse who has no knowledge about it. It does mean filling out the application and using the household income, not filling out a joint application for joint credit that the other spouse doesn’t know about.
Scott Cardani 6:00
I think that’s a lot of good clarity, because like a lot of people think they have to lie and say they sign their husband’s name or their wife’s name, because they make all the money. But that’s not true. You can report the household income as the household income, because quite frankly, you still have a household until the court dissolves that you’re still married. And the other thing I think is important to note, when people are in a situation, if you do have to borrow bag or get a credit card, how’s that going to be handled with a divorce? Are you going to be out that money?
Jackie Critzer 6:27
So that’s an interesting conundrum. Because it depends, right? It depends on what you spent the money for. If you took that credit card and you went paid for a lawyer, you’re probably going to be stuck with having to pay for your lawyer, if you use that credit card to get set up and your post separation life, you’re probably going to have to use your maybe support award or your equitable distribution award to to cover those expenses. But really, once a support award is in place, the idea of the support award is to at least on a temporary basis, maintain the status quo. And to try to cover the expenses that you would have had living together only separate. So use that often will be what’s what’s used to pay the credit card, because if if you maybe you sniff a divorce coming, or you’re suspecting your spouse of cheating, or something’s going on, and maybe you got this credit card as a just in case. And so it’s there and ready and available for you to use, you’re going to start using it immediately. And you’re going to have those expenses right away. And a lot of times post separation, that means things that occur after separation belong to each spouse. And that does include incurring debt after that date of separation.
Scott Cardani 7:52
Yeah. And a lot of times, when my case is you can sometimes negotiate that debt as part of marital debt. Because, for instance, if he left you high and dry, and you had no income, and you had to get that credit card to support yourself, the judge is gonna see that for if you went and bought a new Lamborghini, probably not. But if you went out and paid, like you said, for things that are necessary, and even a lawyer, the judges, I find sometimes are very often willing to say, well, she had to get a lawyer you left. You know, so it those kind of tricky little places, but you need to do what first would you say what’s the number one thing if you think the divorce is eminent.
Jackie Critzer 8:30
There’s, really, there’s two first things, you have to be safe, whatever that looks like, you have to be safe. And once you’re safe, that safety may not be an issue, right? So that’s but you’ve got to be safe, you’ve got to secure financial assets, you’ve got to have some sort of way to support yourself and or the children, at least on a short term basis.
Scott Cardani 8:52
And if you don’t know how to do that, call us. That’s what we’re here for. You got to secure a lawyer pretty quickly in this process. And, you know, a lot of people tell you not to and, and that’s okay. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s the worst thing in the world to try to do it. Because you may end up creating problems that you didn’t expect. So she’s absolutely right, secure the income, make sure you have a way to live, make sure you’re safe. And then or maybe in between or, anytime call us and how do I get there? We’re happy to sit down. And you know, we do consultations and we say Hey, this is what your situation looks like. And we’ll tell you what you need and what you don’t need. But we sometimes and a lot of times what we see is what Jackie was talking about – Sometimes the stay at home spouse has no idea what’s there and what’s not, and never really cared because they thought they were secure in this marriage. And that usually happens with people who’ve been married for a long time and one person just ran the finances done a great job, the other person didn’t think he needed to be involved. And then all of a sudden, boom, you’re here.
Jackie Critzer 9:57
I think when you it’s important that when you meet with a local which is absolutely, what you need to do. So first is secure your finances. Really second is talk to an attorney, talk to someone who knows this area, don’t go talk to an estate planning attorney who doesn’t know divorce and family law, talk to a lawyer, not though not the friend down the street or the the person who you met at a coffee party or at cocktail party, find someone who knows what they’re doing in this area of law, and look for the earmarks of a game plan. T hey should be able to give you an idea short term. And then also long term goals and a goal and a game plan to get you from where you are with maybe very little income or very little financial assets to you know, on down the road where you’ve secured some support, and you’re moving forward, down, down the road towards divorce.
Scott Cardani 10:48
I want to talk about one more issue on this podcast before we close, I think it’s really important. It’s been on my heart because I think people misunderstand this. You were married, and you had an income, whatever that income is, whether both of you were providing for it, or one of you were providing for it doesn’t really matter. It’s marital. When you divorce, instead of having one pie, you now have two pies. So a lot of times I think people think that divorce is the ultimate, get out of jail free card. And it’s going to be so much better. What do you think about that, Jackie.
Jackie Critzer 11:25
I think you’re exactly right, you now have to take whatever that income was, and spread it out over two households. And you’re essentially doubling the expenses, you’re whether it’s rent or mortgage, a car payment, the car insurance, cell phones, all these things get split. And when they split, they typically increase, right, there’s usually group discounts, and so on and so forth. But now you’ve got two utility bills, you have the grocery bills look different, because now you’ve got to set up a new a new home and that that home has to somewhat emulate the home that you came from with their children involved. So you’re really looking at at doubling the expenses with the same amount of money and that that is a shock. You’re right, that is a big shock for a lot of people.
Scott Cardani 12:06
And I think often people have that misunderstanding that divorce, I’m going to get child support and spousal support, but and you are, but you know, you you may have much more expenses than you expected. And especially in the range of the lower income, it really has a tremendous impact. If you are, let’s say under $100,000 A year together as a couple as one family that you have to think about how that if your mortgage, for instance, is $1,700. And your grocery bills normally this all of a sudden that splits in that $100,000 Seems like it’s $50,000 for an individual basically, if you get exactly half, and how that spreads out, and all of a sudden year. It sounds like a lot. And I get most people can make it on that. And I don’t I’m not trying to say that. I’m just saying your your standard of living is going to change dramatically. And you have to think through that and have to be prepared for that. And then you can evaluate, is this the best choice for me right now? Is this a problem that I maybe I can fix, because a lot of people I think think, Oh, I’m just gonna get divorced, and everything’s gonna be better. And then they get to the end of divorce and look at us and say, this sucks, I have to do this. And I have to do that. And I can’t make my bills, and I’m going to debt, and all these things. And we’re like, we understand that I can’t, we cannot produce more money for you, we cannot produce more income for you. And a judge is ultimately going to decide if you don’t agree to certain things, right? So it really becomes a lot more out of your control, the more you turn it over to this path. And trust me, sometimes I hear you, you have to get out. We’re not suggesting that you stay in an unsafe situation or a bad situation. But sometimes, we see some things that come across our door that I think could be helped with a little bit of counseling, a little bit of willingness. And sometimes people aren’t willing, I get that. But sometimes the alternative isn’t the best alternative. And we suggest always that make sure you look at all the alternatives. Obviously if your husband or wife gives you an ultimatum, they’re out the door that you’re in that place where you got to make a decision quick and you got to protect yourself, right? Absolutely do that. That doesn’t mean you don’t throw a bone out and say, Hey, I’m willing to go counselor and say we can work this out.
Jackie Critzer 14:24
So sometimes the support award comes in and and it’s a double whammy. It’s not enough to cover the expenses for the person who’s receiving support. And it’s too much of an award for the person who’s having to pay to realistically be able to pay and also live on and so both worlds get turned upside down. And if it’s just a husband and wife well make adjustments, it’s uncomfortable. This is the path you’ve chosen but when you’re talking about kids being involved, now not only do they have not have an intact home now they’ve got overly stressed parents, one doesn’t have enough now the other doesn’t have enough and the animosity grows and their standard of living has to change quite dramatically as well. So there are a lot of moving parts and the best way to get through that is to talk to an attorney who knows what they’re talking about when it comes to early separation and support.
Scott Cardani 15:16
Well, thank you. I think that’s all we have. Okay, great. All right. Bye bye.
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We look forward to helping you in this venture and Good Luck!