Late last year, cable’s Bravo network launched its first, original, scripted television series, “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.” Based on a series of “Girlfriends’ Guide …” books by author Cathy Iovine, the comedy follows the travails of Abby, an author of self-help books, who relies on her divorced girlfriends to help her navigate life after splitting from her husband.
Each episode centers on certain rules that Abby learns the hard way, such as Rule #23, Never Lie to the Kids or Rule #33, Always Take Advantage of “Me” Time. While this comedic look at divorce bears some roots in reality (the show’s creator Marti Noxon uses many of her own real-life experiences in the scripts), from a legal perspective, Connatser Family Law Attorney Christine Powers Leatherberry advises her clients (and girlfriends) to keep 10 rules in mind when considering a divorce in Texas.
Rule #1: Get Your Finances in Order Now!
“The first thing women should do if they are thinking about filing for divorce – or their husband is threatening to file for divorce – is to get a good handle on their finances,” says Christine. Women should know the status and location of the couple’s:
- Bank accounts;
- 401ks, IRAs (individual retirement accounts), pensions and other retirement accounts;
- Investment accounts;
- Trust accounts;
- Stock portfolios;
- Safe deposit box;
- Insurance policies (auto, home, health, life, etc.);
- W2s and other tax documents; and
- Logins and passwords for financial accounts.
Christine urges women to stay on top of their finances.
According to Christine, “You really need to get a clear understanding of your financial picture because during a divorce you will be better equipped to find out if your husband is hiding any assets. It’s also important that you know who all of the players are pertaining to your family’s legal and financial dealings, such as the name of the attorney who drafted your will or trust, should you need updated documents or any clarification regarding your affairs.”
Bonus Tip: This is a good time to open a separate bank account in your name only. “If you do not already have your own separate account, as soon as you have any inkling that a divorce is likely, you should start saving money in an emergency fund before filing for divorce. That way you won’t raise any red flags should you make a large bank account withdrawal or credit card transaction for a deposit on an apartment or your divorce attorney’s retainer fee. This is important in order for women to gain some financial control and independence prior to divorce,” Christine says.
Rule #2: Preplan Your Divorce with a Reputable Texas Divorce Lawyer
According to Christine, “You should consult an attorney as soon as possible for divorce pre-planning. We have many clients come to us several months or even years before they file for divorce, because they want to be prepared. There is no substitute for preparedness.
A reputable divorce attorney can give you guidance regarding what to expect during the process, what information you will need to gather and what you should or should not do in the days leading up to filing for divorce. He or she will also work with you to clarify your goals for the divorce and plan the best strategy for securing the outcome you hope to achieve.”
Rule #3: Keep a Journal
Christine encourages women to “put it in writing. If you think divorce is a possibility, start keeping a journal to document when relevant events or activities occur, along with photos and other evidence that will support your case. This is especially important when child custody, domestic violence, substance abuse or adultery issues are in play.
For example, in cases involving child custody, if your husband repeatedly misses soccer practice, works late all the time and doesn’t see the kids before they go to bed, you should keep track of those things. That documentation may help you secure primary custody and help show you are really the one who is primarily taking care of the kids.”
Christine adds, “If your spouse is abusive and/or threatening you, and we have to draft an affidavit for a restraining order or protective order, dates are very important, so record events right as they happen. It is possible to get a journal into evidence in court. Your journal may also help to refresh your memory when you’re on the stand.”
Bonus Tip: Keep your journal, photos and any other evidence at a trusted family member’s or girlfriend’s house, at your place of work, or in your car where your spouse won’t have easy access to them. If your journal is electronic, be sure it is secured on a computer or account that your husband does not have access to.
Christine explains the importance of keeping a journal.
Rule #4: Don’t Destroy Evidence of Your Bad Behavior – Really, Don’t!
If you think you’re doing yourself a favor by destroying evidence of your unsavory past, think twice. Such destruction of evidence is referred to as spoliation and can cause you more harm than good.
According to Christine, “If you delete things that could potentially hurt your credibility (such as texts, social media posts, emails, voicemails, etc.), it could very well reflect more negatively upon you than it would otherwise. You do not want it to appear as if you are trying to cover anything up. The judge can instruct juries to assume that the destroyed evidence was something that would hurt you and therefore infer that your actions were even worse than they actually were. So do not destroy evidence, even if you have lusty email exchanges with your lover, just stop sending them and stop the affair.”
Rule #5: Got Kids? Always Talk, Walk and Act Like You’re Mom of the Year
“Do not prioritize anything over your kids, even your job, and especially not your social life or happy hour. And if you have not cheated, don’t do it. In addition, if you plan to seek primary custody of your children and have already separated, but have not filed for divorce yet, spend as much time as possible with your kids and keep a record of that too.
For example, if you’re already adhering to a 50/50 split of custody with your husband, how can you argue that he should have less than a 50/50 custody arrangement in court? You probably cannot. Always be cognizant of your actions regarding your children, and do everything in your power to be mom of the year,” Christine says.
Rule #6: Call the Cops If Your Husband Threatens or Harms You (or Your Kids)
“If you have an abusive husband, please call the police if you feel you are in danger. We want you to be safe, and we need that police report as evidence.” advises Christine.
Bonus Tip: If you need help escaping an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can also read this earlier post for additional information and resources: Why They Stayed, How You Can Leave
Rule #7: Collect Evidence of Your Husband’s Bad Behavior
If you or your girlfriends see any suspicious comments or photos on your husband’s email account, Twitter feed or Facebook page, print them out right away, before he deletes them. “Even though your attorney may be able to track down such evidence during the divorce, it may require extra time and a hearing to get that information. If he leaves any incriminating or threatening voicemails for you (or your family, kids or friends), save the recordings. Build a file of this evidence and keep it in a safe place he does not have access to or give the file to your attorney,” says Christine.
Rule #8: Live a Squeaky Clean Life from Today Forward
Christine also tells women to “look at everything you say, write and do up to your divorce as if it would be held up in front of a judge and/or jury. EVERYTHING. This includes your social life, oral conversations, text messages, voicemails, emails and any social medial activity. Be extremely cautious regarding what you put out there on social media, because you cannot erase what you share (don’t forget Rule #4).
Plus, attorneys can go all the way back to 2004 when Facebook launched and request evidence in the discovery process during a divorce. So, be cautious about pictures you post and what other people post about you or tag you in. Instead, share positive things, such as your daughter receiving her soccer trophy or a family wedding. You should also refrain from posting anything negative about your spouse.”
Bonus Tip: Read this earlier post on Social Media Dos and Don’ts.
Rule #9: Brush Up on Your Employment Skills
“It’s very important if you are a homemaker or stay-at-home mom, to start working on your employment skills, especially if you have never worked before. It is not easy to get alimony in Texas, you can, but it is very difficult to qualify. If a divorce is likely, you might look into the requirements for (or obtain) a teaching or paralegal certificate, work at a retail store or get your foot in the door by taking on a part-time or entry-level position at a company close by.
So, update your resume and start attending networking events, because while you may get temporary spousal support during the pendency of the divorce, you may not get much, if any, after the divorce. In fact, the vast majority of divorcees will eventually need to get a job,” Christine warns.
Rule #10: Lean on Your Girlfriends, But Don’t Tell Them Everything
That doesn’t mean you can’t talk with your friends about being sad or stressed out, or that the love is gone from your marriage. “You just don’t want to reveal any incriminating details of your affairs, alcohol or drug use, or other behavior that the court would frown upon,” says Christine.
For better or worse, what your friends say about you will reflect on you. According to Christine, “If one of your girlfriends posts incriminating things about you, opposing counsel can obtain it. Ask your girlfriends not to post tawdry information on social media and tell them not to tag you. The same holds true for emails. Divorce attorneys can request in discovery and subpoena emails, so be very cautious about what you put in writing.
What your girlfriends share with their other friends can hurt you too. Either party or their friends and family can be called into court as a witness, so keep your lips sealed. Or, better yet, do not participate in any behavior that can reflect poorly on you as a wife or mother.”