Divorce – Your First Legal Strategy Decisions

February 17, 2011 | Divorce, Family Law News, Legal Perspective

Icon for author Brian Vertz Brian Vertz

The initial weeks of a marital separation are probably the most turbulent, uncertain part of the divorce process. The first few choices that spouses must make when they are contemplating divorce are important legal strategy decisions that require thoughtful consideration. Your divorce lawyer can help to assess the risks and possible consequences of those initial decisions.

1.   Move out or stay put? Pennsylvania doesn’t recognize a legal separation as some states do. Still, it is possible to be separated in the eyes of the law while living together under the same roof. A spouse who moves out must decide where to move, whether to take the children or property, and how the move might affect finances and custody arrangements. Spouses who stay put must be prepared to pay expenses for the marital residence during the separation period, as well as the possibility that the other spouse might refuse to move away, creating an uncomfortable standstill.

2.  File divorce or wait? Filing a divorce action is important in some cases where there is a need for the court’s assistance in freezing bank accounts or credit cards, obtaining financial records, or seeking exclusive possession of the marital residence. On the other hand, there may be a financial advantage in simply collecting support during the separation period without starting a divorce battle.

3.  Attempt reconciliation or stay apart? Repairing a broken marriage isn’t easy, but some have done it. Still, attempting to reconcile may have unintended legal consequences that must be considered. Reconciliation might delay the official separation date, which affects the value of marital property and the ability to finalize a divorce. The law generally does not permit spouses to have it both ways by preserving a separation date while attempting to reconcile. Some couples sign post-nuptial agreements to settle their financial disputes in case their reconciliation does not work out.

4.  Withdraw funds or leave them? Joint bank accounts and credit cards are common battlegrounds in the initial phase of divorce. Making withdrawals from joint accounts or charges on joint credit cards might be viewed as a hostile tactic, but a spouse who would otherwise be penniless might have no other choice. Conversely, raiding a joint account might deplete the good will needed to work out a settlement.

5.  Who to trust? Trust is one of the first casualties of divorce, so you need to find reliable allies. Consider supportive friends and family members who are able to keep your confidences and empathize with your feelings. Physical activities like exercise can reduce stress more effectively than alcohol or junk food. Hire a family lawyer that you feel comfortable with. It is important to understand what your lawyer is saying and to be heard when you speak to your lawyer. Consider lawyers who concentrate their practice in divorce and know the nuances of this complex area of legal practice.

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