What you can do before leaving:
- Gather documents that an attorney will ask for. Here is a list of what you’ll need.
- Monitor your own social media accounts to protect yourself. Save digital communications with your spouse by taking screenshots on your phone or computer. The record includes texts, emails, voicemails, and any other forms of communication. Email screenshots to yourself or a trusted friend. Do not hack your spouse’s social media accounts.
- Keep a journal of what is happening. If you are experiencing abuse, make a timeline that shows dates and episodes. Use the Power and Control Wheel to describe what you are going through.
- Take pictures of broken items, of the condition of your home, of injuries to yourself and to your children.
- Pay attention to the costs to run your household. You will need to know monthly expenses in order to file a financial affidavit. Estimate the monthly costs by thinking about how much you spend on gas, food, eating out, and other monthly expenses. Then determine how many times you pay for that expense each month. For example, it costs me $60 to fill the gas tank and I fill it 3 times a month. I spend $180 every month on gas. Do that for other monthly expenses.
- Consider budgeting differently. If you get a divorce, the amount of spending money available to your household will change significantly.
- Determine who has access to credit cards. Be sure to know who, in your relationship, has access to what credit cards.
- If you do not have access to regular income, consider leaving when your spouse is paid. If your spouse is military, consider a withdrawal as soon as their pay is deposited. We’ve known individuals who sat by the ATM at midnight in order to make a withdrawal. You can use this money for basic needs and retaining an attorney.
When You Are Leaving
- Unfriend your spouse on Facebook and unfollow them on Twitter.
- Do not date other people while separated.
Secure custody of your children by being specific about what YOU want. You can also start building a case for what you want:
- Get prior police reports
- Review screen shots from social media for inappropriate behaviors, such as partying, drug references, threats, and other examples of not considering children’s needs.
- Write out and keep records of your child’s health and medical needs, such as an Individualized Education Program (IEP), behavioral therapy, and speech therapy.
- Document evidence of poor parenting in your spouse.
Is abuse or violence happening?
Think first about your safety and your children’s safety. The legal steps for separating are different when abuse is happening.
At this emergency hearing, you can get an Exparte Protective Order, also called a TPO. This protective order prohibits the other person from contacting or coming near you. The TPO will outline if you can have use of the home and a vehicle. ALWAYS KEEP YOUR TPO WITH YOU.
Start thinking about visitation for children, even if it doesn’t get determined at this point. “Reasonable visitation” will not work, so DO NOT say “reasonable visitation.” Think about where you will exchange the children. It could be a neutral and public location such as a McDonalds or Sheriff’s Substation.
If your TPO includes a custody order, give a copy to your daycare provider, schools, and babysitter.
Two weeks after the first hearing, the judge might have a full hearing. This is when any temporary alimony and child support is determined. This is when you need to have all financial information in order and your timeline of violence, abuse, and neglect.
At this time, a formal visitation arrangement will be reached. The judge might not permit any visitation. However, the judge might award visitation if you and your children will be safe. This means a judge might order exchanges in public or supervised visitation. The judge might order parenting/anger management classes, drug testing, or prohibit overnight visits.
Before this hearing, get clear about the appropriate times for visitation; where to exchange children; and whether supervised visitation is appropriate. The most important consideration is that you and your children feel safe.
Gather and make copies of the following documents for you and your children:
- Identifying Documents such as driver’s license, ID cards, birth certificates, Social Security cards and passports. Use these to participate in assistance programs if you need help while separated.
- Pay Stubs for both you and your spouse. You will need these for determining child support and alimony.
- Retirement statements, including 401(k), Thrift Savings (TSP), pension plans, 457(b).
- Tax returns for yourself and for family businesses. Try to get three years of tax returns.
- Banking Information, such as bank account numbers, statements, credit card statements.
- Child Care Statements, including invoices and receipts documenting costs of child care.
- Medical Information such as an Explanation of Benefits, prescription costs.