Tips for Protecting Your Privacy After You File For Divorce

When you file for divorce, there are certain precautionary steps everyone should take to not only begin the process of separating your life with your spouse, but also to help preserve your privacy. Here are some simple tips for protecting your privacy after you file for divorce and what we usually recommend to our own clients.

1.   Change your e-mail password. You should change your password, or get a new e-mail account. Your spouse should no longer be privy to your e-mails. For example, if you hire an attorney, your attorney communication via e-mail is likely something you want to be confidential, so you have to take actions in order to ensure it is. Even if your spouse never had access to your email, the password may be saved somewhere which would allow them to gain access. We have had many situations where we learn later that a spouse has been accessing our clients emails.

2.   Change all online passwords. Don’t stop at just changing your e-mail password or account; change your password on all other online accounts that you shared with your spouse. Again, even if you believe your spouse may not know it, it may be saved or noted somewhere.

3.   Open your own bank account. While your bank accounts are still “joint,” either party listed on the account can withdraw money. Open a new account as soon as you file for divorce so you do not have to worry about your money being withdrawn without your permission.

4.   Get your own credit card. Filing for divorce is the first step in beginning the separation of your life with your spouse. Begin to take steps, such as getting your own credit card, so that you and only you are responsible for your credit going forward. And, by doing so, it prevents your spouse from monitoring your activity or your spending.

5.  Get your own cell phone or transfer your line to your own account. Even though this may cost you money, you will have to do it in the long run anyway. And, if you have your own account, your spouse cannot monitor your usage or check the records of your telephone calls.

6.   “Unfriend” your spouse and your spouse’s family on Facebook. This may seem childish, but it is smart. What you say about your spouse on a public forum, and the pictures that you post of you leading your new “single” life, can be seen by your spouse, your spouses family, and anyone else who you are not careful to “unfriend” or delete.

7.   Backup your important documents, financial information and pictures. Unfortunately, some people react badly to a divorce and lash out to hurt their spouse. We have had situations where files and pictures are deleted or copied. Or, even worse, computers and laptops are intentionally damaged. It is better to be safe than sorry and you should have backups of these items anyway. Save your backups to an online service/cloud drive. Or, save them to a flash drive or external hard drive and keep these somewhere safe.

If you have any other questions or concerns regarding filing a divorce, please contact us at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free initial office consultation.

Do I Need a Divorce Lawyer?

Our last post talked about how you can file for divorce by yourself.  The paperwork is easy and readily available at the courthouse or online.  But, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to hire a divorce attorney.  Of course, you are going to think that, as a divorce attorney, I am just trying to drum up business for myself or my colleagues.  However, I can tell you some of the horror stories of people who come to me after their divorce trying to “fix” their mistakes or address issues that they missed.  Sometimes, such as in the case of property division which is final upon divorce, these things simply cannot be corrected later and you will be out of luck and could cost yourself thousands of dollars.

Here are some situations where we absolutely advise you to hire a divorce lawyer.

1.        You don’t have an agreement with your spouse.  There is no getting around this one.  If you don’t have a complete agreement with your soon to be ex-spouse, your only option is negotiation and/or trial.  Without an experienced divorce attorney, you will not be aware of all of the options to be able to come up with a creative solution to settle your case.  We have been doing this a long time and will be able to pose a variety of options for you and to know what is reasonable in terms of settlement.  And, when all else fails, you must try your case to the judge.  There is no way that you can do yourself justice in this regard.  We know the law, the judges and the procedures.  Whatever you pay in attorneys fees, you could cost yourself in the long run in terms of what the court will award you at trial without an attorney.

2.       You have children.  In Wisconsin, there are three different issues related to children: custody, placement and child support, which can include the payment of children’s expenses.  There are many different options when it comes to placement and many factors which must be taken into consideration.  Therefore, by nature, custody, placement and child support can be complicated.  Without a specific divorce agreement, difficulties and problems may arise in the future.  An experienced divorce lawyer has handled enough of these cases to be able to point you in the right direction in terms of a placement order.  Even though we are not child or family therapists, we have some ideas about what works best for kids. We also have experience in the types of issues which can cause disputes between parents in the future and how to address those.

For example, I sometimes have people who don’t want to be away from their children for a long period of time so they come in and tell me they worked out a schedule in which the parents will alternate placement every other day.  This is a terrible schedule for most children!  The transitions are very disruptive to children and they are never able to get settled.  Or, similarly, parents come in and tell me they agreed to an alternating week or two week schedule.  Again, except for teenage children, this is not generally a good schedule.  Young children cannot handle being away from either parent for such a long time.  However, if you have never been divorced before, you may not realize this or you may not be aware of other (better) options for placement. An attorney can help you with this.

Another common issue which causes disputes is the payment of variable expenses or uninsured medical expenses for children.  Under a shared placement schedule in Wisconsin, variable expenses are shared. Medical expenses are always split. But, how does this work?  Not very well, actually.  Experienced attorneys have standard language or options to address the payment of these expenses and put into place a method which minimizes disputes in the future.  If you fail to specify how these expenses get paid, it will be difficult to enforce this order in the future which could cost you thousands of dollars.

Not having an attorney to guide you through these complicated issues can cause you to have disputes and problems down the road.  In the end, you may end up hiring an attorney anyway because you cannot resolve these problems yourself.

3.      You have assets with value.  Even if it is just house, there are numerous options when dealing with property.  Do you know all of the options you have and the bases you have to cover when awarding or selling real estate?  I had a situation once where the parties did their own divorce and simply agreed to sell the house and split the proceeds.  Later, the husband, who was living in the house, was failing to maintain it, refusing to cooperate with the sale process and stopped paying the mortgage.  Unfortunately, because their agreement was silent as to any of the specifics regarding the sale, there was little the Wife could do.  Eventually, the judge did step in at my request and ordered the Husband to vacate the house so it could be sold.  But, because the judgment did not indicate who would pay the mortgage during the sale process, she could not order him to make up those back payments.  A very costly mistake for my client.

If you have a business, investments and/or retirement accounts, there are various considerations which go into a divorce judgment regarding those assets such as value, taxes, capital gains, etc.  Even though an attorney is not an accountant or financial advisor, experienced divorce lawyers can navigate you through these waters.  Did you know there is a special type of order which is needed to divide a retirement account?  Again, if you try to save attorneys fees, you may just cost yourself more money down the road by missing a crucial point or dividing your property in a way that is financially harmful to yourself.

4.         There is abuse or a power imbalance between you and your spouse.  We are seeing more and more cases in which there is an abusive or controlling spouse.  If you are on the wrong end of this relationship, it is very difficult to stand up to this person and make good decisions for yourself.  Often times, even with lawyers, the abused or controlled spouse doesn’t want to fight and just wants to get it over with.  This can have a devastating financial impact on your or your children down the road.  A lawyer is a buffer and someone to stand up for you in these situations.  You are getting divorced to break away from this toxic relationship – don’t let your spouse poison your freedom by bullying you into leaving the marriage in a detrimental financial position just because he or she wears you down and you are not able to stand up to them.  A lawyer is there to protect your interests and fight for what you are entitled to – not what your spouse thinks you deserve.

5.        Your spouse is hiding assets/income or being dishonest.  An experienced divorce attorney will know where to look to uncover hidden assets or income.  They also will know how to conduct discovery in a way which does not rely solely on your spouse.  For example, attorneys can subpoena employers, bank accounts, etc.  A party cannot do that on their own.  For more information on this topic, see our website at Uncovering Hidden Assets in Divorce.

6.        Your spouse has an attorney.  You don’t absolutely need your own attorney but you do need to realize that your spouse’s attorney is only representing his or her interest.  People often try to minimize costs with only one lawyer and that can work if you are cooperating and are able to reach an agreement between yourselves.  However, if that is not the case, then you need your own attorney.  If you are uncomfortable or if you don’t agree to what is being proposed, you also need your own attorney.  Again, regardless of how nice or civil they are being to you, your spouse’s attorney can only represent their interest and cannot give you legal advice.  At your final hearing, the judge will question you extensively about your right to have your own attorney.  If you choose not to and later you determine that the agreement was not in your interest or more beneficial to your spouse, you will not be able to change your mind – especially in the case of property division or a waiver of maintenance.

There are other situations as well where you will be better off with an attorney.  I cannot cover them all in this article.  Just remember – if you are uncomfortable, overwhelmed or feel like you are getting the short end of the stick, consult with an attorney!  You may feel that you cannot afford the attorneys fees or simply don’t want to waste the money.  However, you need to ask yourself – what are you really saving if you cost yourself money with an unfair agreement or if you create a situation where you end up having to go back to court because of a deficient divorce judgment?  I have a saying – “don’t step on dollars to pick up pennies” which certainly applies in this situation.

If you have any questions or would like to meet with one of our lawyers for a free initial office consultation, please call us at 414-258-1644.  You can also visit our website for more information.

-Teri M Nelson

What To Expect From Your Divorce Consultation

In researching potential blog topics, I ran across an excellent article written for the State Bar of Michigan: The Initial Consultation with Your Divorce Attorney: What to Expect When You Don’t Know What to Expect .   This article is so well written and so thorough that I really don’t have much to add.  But, I will summarize and comment.  I will also discuss in terms of our office and our procedures at Nelson & Davis, LLC.

The first topic discussed is the article is the initial contact and information you need to provide.  When you call our office, we will ask for some basic information such as what type of action you have or may have, what county you reside in and whether an action has already been started.  This is important because it assists our intake coordinators in determining whether we can help you at all.  We do not practice in certain counties and people sometimes are confused as to what constitutes a “family action”.  Our office only handles divorce and paternity cases.

If we determine that your case is something we can help you with, we will tell you what our retainer is and ask you whether you would like to schedule an office appointment.  We don’t want you to be surprised by our retainer only after you take the time to come to our office and we don’t want to waste your time or ours if you don’t want to, or can’t, pay our fees.  We also will only do in-office appointments and not telephone consultations except in rare cases.  There are some attorneys who will do telephone consultations but we find it works best if we meet potential clients in person.

If you decide you want to schedule an appointment, we then ask your name and the name of your spouse or other party.  This is crucial information and sometimes people do not want to give it to us but we will not schedule an appointment without it.  We keep that information confidential but we must determine if we have a conflict of interest.  The most common conflict is that we have already met with the other party.  In that case, we cannot meet with you.  We do not disclose that fact (nor will we ever disclose that to the other party if he/she contacts us) but simply will tell you that we cannot meet with you because we have a conflict.  However, there may be other conflicts.  One of our attorneys may know you or your spouse/the other party in another way and may feel it would be a conflict to represent you.  Or, we may have represented someone connected to you such as your employer, an employee, a relative or a business associate.  Those individuals are a great source of referrals for us and it usually is not a problem but, depending on the facts, we also may consider it a potential conflict.  Whenever there is a potential ethical issue for us, we try to err on the side of caution.

When you come in for your appointment, we will also ask you to fill out an intake questionnaire.  We will ask you to provide more specific information including your income and assets.  The reason for this is so we can provide you more detailed information about what to expect in your case.  All of this information is kept strictly confidential.  The article does a very good job in describing the type of information you will be asked to provide and why.  Keep in mind, if you are uncomfortable in providing any of this information, simply discuss that with the attorney you are meeting with.

The one difference or problem I have with the article is that it indicates that the attorney will be giving you advice at your initial consultation.  This is not true! Until we are actually retained, we cannot provide you with legal advice.  However, what we will do is review the facts of your case, tell you what the law is, what the process is, what you might expect to happen and what we can do for you.

In our firm, it is our goal to provide you with realistic expectations about your case.  Keep in mind, we may tell you things that you are not going to be happy with.  However, we are going to give you an honest evaluation of your case.  It does not help you if we fill you with unrealistic expectations only for you to lose or be disappointed later.  If you want the kind of attorney who is simply going to do whatever you want, then we are not the firm for you.  Be forewarned though – hiring that kind of attorney is only going to cost you attorneys fees and disappointment later.

We have some other blog posts which you may find helpful which discuss what type of attorney to look for, when to start looking for a divorce attorney and what questions you can ask at you initial consultation (Archives – May, 2012).

If you have any questions or would like to meet with one of our lawyers for a free initial office consultation, please call us at 414-258-1644.  You can also visit our website for more information.

Why All Divorce Lawyers Aren’t the Same… and Why it Matters to You

If you are just starting the process of a divorce, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed and frustrated. Your first impulse might be to find a great divorce lawyer with reasonable fees who can help you through the process and just get started right away.

That’s understandable, but it can also lead to big problems later.

Navigating the legal framework of a divorce is a lot more complicated than filling out forms, and there are many different ways to approach the process. Even the best divorce lawyers can have very different strategies and methods. More than that, working with one or the other can entail big differences in costs, stress, and even damage to your future relationships with your ex-spouse and children.

To put it another way, not all divorce lawyers are the same, and the differences are important to understand. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Divorce attorneys can have very different strategies

Some divorce lawyers are great at protecting assets, while others are experts in securing things like child custody and placement. To find the right match for your situation, consider what your biggest priorities are, and then try to find divorce attorneys who have matching experience. Once you meet with them, get a sense of what their legal strategy is like, and how that might affect your divorce proceedings.

It’s important to agree with your divorce lawyer’s negotiation style

Although there will undoubtedly be attorneys acting as middlemen, your divorce lawyer is essentially helping you to negotiate against your former spouse. That can be an emotionally draining process, and one that leads to poor decisions if it isn’t handled properly. For that reason, it’s important that your divorce lawyer have a negotiation style (no matter how aggressive or consolatory) that you agree with and support.

You may want a divorce lawyer with trial experience

Once things go to a courtroom, the entire dynamic of a divorce proceeding can change, and you’ll want a divorce attorney who’s comfortable in that environment. A divorce lawyer with trial experience will know how to manage emotions, make a favorable impression of the judge, and generally ensure that your best case is being put forward.

You don’t want to have a personality conflict with your divorce lawyer

You don’t have to like your divorce lawyer, but it is a good idea to choose one who doesn’t have a personality that clashes with your own, or one who doesn’t seem sympathetic to your situation. Whatever the outcome of your divorce proceedings are, it’s likely that they’ll continue to affect you for a very long time to come, so don’t partner up with a divorce attorney who doesn’t seem like a good match for your personality.

New clients are often surprised at the big differences that can exist between different divorce lawyers and the types of cases they handle. It might seem like a lot to take in at a particularly difficult and stressful time, but finding the right attorney for you is the first step toward a fast, efficient, and favorable divorce proceeding.

Are you looking for a great divorce lawyer to represent you? Call our office at 414-258-1644 to arrange a consultation today.  For more information, see Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC.

When Is It Time To Look For a Divorce Lawyer?

Often, the need to find a good divorce lawyer is obvious: Your spouse has served you with papers, you’ve been legally separated for a while, or you just know in your heart that “it’s over.” In some situations, however, things might not be that clear. Perhaps you are concerned that your marriage might be ending, or are worried that your spouse might file for divorce in the future.

When that happens, how do you know when it’s time to look for a good divorce lawyer?

Although there might not be any one unmistakable sign, our advice would be to remember that earlier is almost always better. That is, the moment you think you might need a divorce lawyer, you should probably start discreetly looking for one.

Here are a few good reasons why:

A good divorce lawyer can help explain what you’re getting into

There is not only the legal process of filing for divorce itself, but also all of the steps that are bound to come after, including a review of your assets and financial position, custodial agreements, and negotiating with your spouse’s divorce attorney. By starting a bit earlier, you can make better long-term decisions that could turn out to be incredibly important for the rest of your life.

Finding a divorce lawyer early means you won’t have to rush to find one later

The last thing you want, if you suddenly find that you are being sued for divorce, is to have to find a divorce lawyer without having adequate time to find a lawyer you are comfortable with and ask the questions that matter to you most. As with the divorce itself, choosing a divorce lawyer isn’t a step to take lightly, so don’t procrastinate on your search if you think it might be necessary.

A good divorce lawyer can help you take steps to protect yourself

If you know, or even suspect, that a divorce is imminent, then now is the perfect time to take a look at your financial situation, living arrangements, and other details that could suddenly become very important during the divorce proceedings. There are numerous things you can do right now to protect your future (or your children’s futures) by planning ahead with your divorce attorney.

Your decision isn’t final until you file for divorce

Scheduling a meeting with a divorce attorney doesn’t necessarily mean you will ultimately have to file for divorce. It could be the case that you decide it’s not the right avenue for you, that you want to give your marriage more time, or that there are other issues to be resolved first. In any of those situations, having the facts beforehand and preparing yourself can turn out to be invaluable later – even if it’s just for your own peace of mind.

It’s understandable that lots of people don’t want to be in a rush to meet with a divorce attorney, especially if they aren’t sure about the future of their marriage. If you have reason to suspect you might need a divorce lawyer in the future, however, follow our advice and start making some preliminary plans today. If you do end up needing a good attorney, you’ll be very glad you thought ahead and got one working for you.

To schedule a free initial office consultation to discuss a possible divorce, please contact us at 414-258-1644 or visit our website for further information.

How to Prepare for a Divorce

We tell our clients that a little pre-divorce planning goes a long way.  Here are some of the steps you can take to prepare for a divorce and possibly save yourself time, stress, money and attorneys fees.

  1.  Gather all of the relevant financial documentation that you can.  Documents tend to disappear or become inaccessible after a divorce is filed.  After all, your spouse will need these too.  If you can obtain copies and keep them in a safe location or give them to your attorney right away, you will be steps ahead in your divorce.  Supporting documentation for all of your and your spouse’s income, expenses, assets and debts are the most important.  For example, recent paystubs, W-2’s, tax returns, credit card statements, retirement account statements and bank statements are most helpful.  Copies of the titles to your real estate, mortgage statements and real estate tax bills are also necessary.  Also collection statements, whether recent or not, regarding any other asset or debt.
  2. If you do not have access to these documents or your spouse has not told you where they are, do a little digging.  Anything you can find is helpful.  You are entitled to all of this information whether your name is on the asset or debt or not.  Do not feel like you are doing something wrong by accessing this information.  If you have to attempt to “chase” your spouse for this information either directly or through his or her attorney, it is only going to cost you attorneys fees in the end.
  3. Go see an attorney!  Most attorneys will offer free initial consultations.  Don’t pay for a consultation. There are plenty of experienced attorneys who will see you for free.  You should also meet with more than one attorney.  As with anything, it pays to shop around.  You need to feel comfortable with that person and with taking their advice.  Therefore, you need to hire the right attorney for you.
  4. Change your passwords!  All passwords, whether for email, bank accounts or Facebook, should be changed even if you do not think your spouse knows what it is.  We have had many situations where damage has been done simply because the other spouse knows your password or it somehow is retained on your computer.
  5. Get a copy of your credit report.  Again, you are entitled to this information and you know all of the debts that need to be addressed.  Many times you will find debts of which you were not aware.  This is extremely important information to have.
  6. Protect your assets!  Discuss with your attorney whether you should close accounts or withdraw funds from an account.  Contact your bank or financial institution to find out if you can freeze an account pending a divorce.
  7. Close out joint credit cards, if possible, and/or obtain your own credit cards.
  8. Open your own bank accounts.  Change your direct payroll deposit to your own account.
  9. Discuss with your attorney whether you should or need to change your withholdings from your paycheck and whether you should stop/reduce your 401(k) contributions.  Your spouse will still receive one-half of your contributions that you make during your divorce and you may need the extra disposable income until the divorce becomes final.
  10. Take pictures or make a videotape of all of your personal belongings, furniture, etc.  Take an inventory, especially of items of value, and gather receipts or appraisals for those items if available.  This way if items are disposed of or taken, you have proof of what existed prior to the divorce being filed.
  11. Keep a log or journal of all important events, especially if related to children.  It is difficult to remember details, especially in times of stress, and those details may be important to your case later on.
  12. Consider counseling.  You are seeking to end a troubled marriage and are making a major life change.  Divorce is not an easy process and you may need assistance on a variety of different levels.

For further details, please see us at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC or contact us for a free initial office consultation.

Teri M Nelson

Should I File for Divorce?

Whether to file for divorce is one of the most difficult decisions you could ever face. There are no easy answers. If you are asking yourself this question, your marriage is probably already in serious trouble. You should give careful consideration to all of the consequences a divorce could have for you and your family. Here are some thoughts that may help you to decide.

The most important part of this question has to do with why you are thinking about a divorce. There are some serious problems that simply cannot be solved such as physical abuse, child abuse, mental illness, criminal activity, fraud, etc. If you find yourself in one of these situations, there is very little you can do to resolve them especially if your partner is the one who has the problem. For your safety or your child’s safety, you may not have a choice but to seek a divorce to get protection from the legal system.

There are other reasons you may be thinking about a divorce that are not so clear cut but still very serious. For example, drug or alcohol abuse or another addiction could be the issue. Of course, your spouse can seek treatment and if he or she does, this could save your marriage. Unfortunately, many of these people will not seek treatment unless they truly want to and/or until they “hit rock bottom”. Sometimes, the “rock bottom” doesn’t happen until they are charged or convicted of a crime or being in a serious accident. However, sometimes the impetus for change is a divorce – the loss of their marriage or family. In that case, filing for divorce could actually help the person get their life back on track and seek treatment. In either case, if the situation becomes dangerous or unbearable for you or your family, you may need to file for divorce.

Money issues sometimes trigger this question. If you have a spouse who gambles, for instance, or, if your spouse simply cannot manage money or stop spending, you may need to seek some financial orders from the court to protect your assets. If your spouse is making poor financial decisions such as bad business decisions, refusal to pay debts or disposing of assets, then you also may need to file for divorce to prevent a waste of marital money. We are now seeing a lot of cases which involve the loss of a job where the spouse either cannot or will not get a job. They become depressed and sit home doing nothing. This may not arise to the level of having to file for divorce but perhaps talking about it will motivate them to get off the couch.

Infidelity or cheating is a common cause for the question of whether you should get a divorce. The answer varies extremely based upon the individual – can you move past this issue or do you want to? Some people can forgive and move on. To some people, this is an unforgivable offense. Before you make the decision, however, you may want to attempt counseling. Divorce is not an easy answer to marital problems. Cheating is usually a symptom of problems in an individual or a marriage – not necessarily the cause of the problems. If you can resolve the underlying problems, perhaps your marriage can be saved.

There are a variety of other reasons for divorce – growing apart, changes in personality, changes in life views and goals, incompatibility, control issues, verbal abuse and emotional abuse are all common themes. The real question you have to ask yourself is whether these problems can be resolved and, if not, whether you can live with them. As to whether they can be resolved, this is a two-way street. If your spouse is willing to try to resolve them, you should obtain professional help to assist the two of you in working through these issues. If your partner refuses to acknowledge or work on them, then they cannot be fixed. At that point, you need to decide how you want to live the rest of your life.

Divorce is a deeply personal and difficult decision and not something you should rush into. Absent safety issues or financial emergencies, there are not necessarily any legal reasons why you would need to file. You should seek the advice of an attorney so that you are aware of all of the consequences of a divorce to you and your family. Most attorneys offer free initial consultations. If you do decide to file for divorce, make sure you have all of the information you need and are as prepared as possible. Often, a little pre-divorce planning goes a long way in saving you time, money and stress.