Keeping these simple guidelines in mind can help you survive and get ahead in your family law case.
DO take threats and acts of domestic violence seriously. Call 911 and consult with a domestic violence agency or an attorney if you feel threatened, or if believe you or your children are in danger.
DO consult with a local family law attorney. Your best friend’s cousin who practices criminal law in Oklahoma is not likely to know the relevant rules or procedures for a North Carolina family law case.
DO create an inventory of your assets. Video or photograph your property—even the things you are planning on taking with you—and keep that record somewhere safe.
DO make a plan for your separation before you leave. The more you leave to chance or work out on the fly, the more complicated your case will be. Remember that it can take between 30 days and 6 months to get into court to get money or property from your ex.
DO get your debts paid down as much as possible. Regardless of how good your attorney is, or how guilty or generous your ex feels, it’s more expensive for two people to live in two houses than for two people to live in one house. Your financial lifestyle is likely to suffer, and the less debt you have, the better.
DO try to save or borrow money for an attorney ahead of time. A lot of factors go into how expensive a break up may be, but you are probably going to need at least $2,500 to get started. It could cost more if your case has complicated legal issues, or if you or your ex care more about the fight than the outcome.
DO be prepared for the fact that this process is going to take longer than you want it to take. Arbitrary deadlines, such as “I want to be done by Christmas” are a recipe for disappointment. You can’t control the court schedule, your attorney’s schedule and workload, or the schedule or workload of your ex’s attorney. Judges, attorneys, witnesses, and parties are all subject to illness, family emergencies, work emergencies, and other interruptions that cause delays and continuances. The more patient you are, the less frustrating the process will be. Remember that the one factor you have complete control over is how fast you respond to your attorney.
DO get a P.O. Box or complete a change your address form. If your mail is being delivered to your ex’s house, you may not receive important information. And even though mail may be addressed to you, your ex would have complete access to mail you might not want them to see—especially correspondence with your attorney.
DO change your passwords on all of your accounts. This is especially true of financial, email, and social media accounts.
DO turn off the GPS tracking feature off on your mobile phone, tablet, or laptop. Most mobile phones can be tracked remotely by anyone with access to the account. It can be difficult to disable this feature without help, so don’t be afraid to call your phone service provider for help. Consider getting a separate telephone account if you and your ex are on the same one. If you can afford it, it’s often best to purchase new devices entirely.
DO check under your car for any tracking devices. Even in less volatile cases, ex-spouses will often hire private investigators who use tracking devices to collect evidence for your ex.
DO unfriend your ex on Facebook or other social media sites. Even the best privacy filters can malfunction, or be changed without warning.
DO change the locks if your ex is the one who moved out and established a new residence. Let your ex know—in writing—that he or she is not welcome in the marital residence, and that you will obtain a warrant for Domestic Criminal Trespass if your ex returns to the residence without written permission. Email and text messages are considered “writings” in this context.
DO assume that everything you write or say to your ex or in public will end up in front of a judge or jury. You should assume that all conversations with your ex, their family, or friends is being recorded, and that all emails, text messages, and written notes are being saved. And yes, the internet counts as “in public”.
DO consult with an attorney before dating, cohabitating or having sexual relations with the new love of your life. There are sometimes important consequences to these types of actions, and attorneys are trained to spot them.
DO consult a therapist or your attorney regarding your children’s well-being throughout the process. Children grieve in different ways and at different times with each parent.
DO change your will, and change the beneficiaries on your life insurance policies, retirement plans and other documents.
DO trust the legal advice of your attorney over that of your friends or family members.Every case is different, and just because your sister’s friend’s neighbor got sole custody of the children and $10,000 a month in alimony after having an affair and doing drugs, does not mean that your case will turn out the same way.
DO educate yourself. You should familiarize yourself with the North Carolina laws relevant to your situation, and read the websites of other family law attorneys.
DO seek the advice of financial planners, tax professionals and therapists, in consultation with your attorney.
DO realize that there light at the end of the tunnel. Even if your case seems like a nightmare, it will eventually be resolved. Keeping a sense of humor is as important during a court case as it is in the rest of your life—if not more so.