Sometimes there is so much friction in a marriage that both spouses can sense the inevitable separation – the dreaded divorce. At this stage it becomes important for you to raise your guard and detect any subtle hints of what your spouse might be up to. They could be planning to file a divorce behind your back all the while you’re sitting duck for the courts to sweep down on your assets and leave you penniless and homeless. This is especially true when you aren’t making the bulk of your family’s income and your spouse is the breadwinner (usually the husband).
Getting a head start on the divorce proceeding will allow them to isolate you from the income you are rightfully entitled to, by preventing their paychecks from reaching your bank account and cutting off your access to credit cards. This is their strategy to ensure that you’re unable to secure legal help which might end up costing you thousands of dollars. It sometimes pays to catch your ex off guard if you know they’ll soon go knocking on the doors of an divorce lawyer.
Not all divorce proceedings are long, drawn out battles between two bitter spouses. Most of them are actually resolved outside of the court. Those few that do tend to stick out in courts for – sometimes for years on end – continue to linger on because of a few underhanded tactics that dishonest spouses use to take advantage of the system.
By being the first to file for divorce, the spouse might be able to hide their assets and because of the strong legal team they have on their payroll, they could call for frequent court hearings hoping that you run out of money and lose your comparatively weaker legal team when you’re unable to pay them.
1) The right kind of preparation
You need both time and money to prepare the perfect team of attorneys for your divorce proceedings, this is especially true where a large number of assets are in play such as houses, rental property, brokerage accounts and even pension plans. You may be given the opportunity to dictate the schedules of court dates. The head start will be used to help your divorce lawyers prepare the proper legal paperwork required to represent your case to the judge. Arranging paperwork can take a considerable portion of your time, it might be scattered around the house and even be in your spouse’s possession.
If they were the first to file for the divorce, they might try to hide these documents, which will make your case weaker on account of lack of evidence.
Another possible advantage you could gain is the Automatic Temporary Restraining Order (ATRO) which prevents your spouse from hiding, destroying or transferring their assets without your knowledge and permission. The first step for most spouses is to hide their assets from both your and the court’s prying eyes.
This helps if your spouse controls the bulk of the financial assets – they could throttle your financial capacity to hire legal help by filing first with the court. Fees could stack up between successive hearings requiring you to pay for them – unless the court decides your spouse is responsible for the payment.
Spouses that end up ‘responding’ to the case are forced to find immediate legal representation on short notice – a process that tends to be both expensive for them and results in them hiring divorce lawyers of a lower caliber. They’re hard pressed to prepare the proper paperwork within the deadlines – deadlines likely influenced by the petitioner.
2) It is better to be known as the ‘petitioner’
Spouses that file first for divorce are given the title of the ‘petitioner’ while your ex is declared to be the respondent. While being a petitioner doesn’t really give you substantial benefits, it does place upon your spouse the heavy burden of being on the defense; the shock might prevent them from efficiently refuting any allegations that you may have leveled against them. You’ll be able to establish the battlefield rules. The judge also gets to hear your side of the story first and your terms could dictate how the divorce case proceeds.
The biggest advantage of being the first to file is the psychological edge you gain over your spouse. The feeling of liberation you derive by making the first step towards separation gives you some emotional relief. Your spouse on the other hand might still be reeling from the shock and might not be able to defend themselves properly.
Sometimes your failed marriage just carries on and your spouse might not want to end it outright, in this case it becomes necessary for you to end the marriage before it proves any more trouble. Just end it when your spouse won’t.
The only disadvantage of being first on the scene is ‘leaking’ out your divorce strategy to the opposition in which case they will become aware of your strategy and plan likewise.
3) Choosing the jurisdiction
This could perhaps prove to be one of the most important decisions you ever made for your divorce case. Each state and venue has their own set of laws for critical decisions such as division of assets, child custody and even ATRO. You should consult with a divorce lawyer to understand which jurisdiction might serve your case better. If your spouse lives on the other side of the country and files a divorce case in their state, you will have to make a costly trip each time a court hearing comes up. This can mess with both your time and money while only adding to the emotional turmoil.
In some cases, your spouse might try to use the dirty tactic of “conflicting out”. What they do is make an appointment with all the best attorneys in the area you live and share enough details of their personal lives with them – within an hour or two this attorney will be prevented from representing you based on the ‘client-attorney’ relationship they have established.
In this case you won’t even be allowed to schedule an appointment with this attorney because they will already have screened you out by running a check up of your credentials against their database. One of the best examples of this the “conflicting out” method is an episode of the popular TV show “The Sopranos” in which Tony makes appointments with all the best lawyers in the North Jersey and successfully prevents his wife from hiring their legal help to seek divorce.
4) Status quo
Children usually take the brunt of the effects when it comes to a failing marriage, add to that the complications which could arise from child custody cases and the psychological burden placed on these tender creatures continues to stack up. Sometimes the regular behavioral pattern of your children could be disrupted by your spouse who might try to change their residence and daily schedule. Spouses that are the first to file for divorces can get a court order, called the status quo, which is designed to prevent any disturbing changes to the child’s daily life. Status quo usually gets approved by judges unless there is compelling evidence of child abuse.
You should not get too worried if your spouse has been the first to file for a divorce. Your divorce lawyer can easily file a counterclaim to their case. The advantages no matter how substantial will not turn the tide against your case if you were never in the wrong.