Tennessee Pre-divorce Planning | Moving Out, Bank Accounts, Credit Cards


What to plan and think about before filing for divorce in Tennessee including moving out, bank accounts, credit cards, legal fees, and other Tennessee divorce & family law strategy from Memphis divorce lawyer Miles Mason, Sr.

Tennessee divorce attorneys and family law professionals are often asked about pre-divorce planning, both before and after a couple (or one spouse) makes the decision to divorce.

Many attorneys will recommend marriage counseling.  Saving a troubled marriage is hard, and counseling often isn’t effective.  Most clients, however, feel more comfortable entering the divorce process knowing that everything possible was done to try to salvage the relationship.

In addition to seeking counseling, people contemplating divorce should listen to the opinions and advice of people they trust and respect, including pastors, priests, or rabbis.

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Mason Speaks on Pre-Divorce Planning Before Filing for Divorce in Tennessee

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Before moving out, definitely speak with an experienced Tennessee family lawyer. All experienced family lawyers will tell you the decision to leave the family home may be extremely important. Moving out affects many aspects of your divorce including temporary alimony, child support, paying existing bills, and parenting time. Learn about your options and let your experienced family lawyer guide you through the decision process to avoid making a major mistake.

As part of the actual divorce planning, you should read up on the process before you consult with an attorney. You can also make strategic financial moves, such as:

  • Maximizing cash assets in your individual name.
  • Running your own credit report and looking for previously unknown debt obligations.
  • Reducing risks to your credit rating, and working to improve your credit rating.
  • Reducing the risk of your spouse increasing joint debt.
  • Checking with your lawyer before transferring money in and out of accounts.

There is no one “perfect” way to handle any divorce situation. With a little bit of planning and consultation, however, some basic and fundamental mistakes can be avoided.

Learning about the effects of stress can also be very beneficial. Stress can lead to serious depression and poor decision-making and judgment. While no stress management program can eliminate physical and emotional problems associated with complex legal problems such as divorce, sincere and meaningful attempts to manage stress through nutrition and exercise can have a positive impact on your emotional and physical health.

Once you’ve decided to get a divorce, learn about the divorce process and the laws applicable to your situation.  That will give you a better idea of what to expect at the end of the process. The relative success of your divorce will depend upon whether or not your expectations are reasonable and realistic. Once you know what’s realistic, you can form long-term goals and communicate them to your attorney.

Planning for your future, both immediate and long-term, can be a difficult process. Some people find it helpful to seek professional assistance from counselors, financial advisors, and accountants on a regular basis.

All of these professionals can work with you and your divorce lawyer to put together a plan.  Determining and ranking your priorities can help you make better decisions if you have to sacrifice one goal to achieve another.

At the same time, keeping an open mind is important. Some people feel the need to punish a soon-to-be-former spouse. The need for revenge can be overwhelming. But by holding on to these hostile feelings you let your spouse continue to control and manipulate your emotions.

Anger and hostility are real emotions.  But if you’re blinded by these emotions you won’t be able to think logically and make the best decisions about your future.  Nor can you negotiate effectively with your spouse if you’re too emotional.

Careful planning, keeping an open mind, using effective stress management techniques, allowing your anger to dissipate, and taking constructive steps towards your goals every day will help you create the life that you want in the future.

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Planning to File

There are two periods of critical importance during your divorce. The first, as discussed above, is the pre-divorce planning, preparing to file the Complaint for Divorce, and making decisions early in the process regarding short-term financial needs.

The second period involves resolving the issues necessary to finalize the divorce.

The first way these issues can be resolved is via a trial. You and your lawyer will spend a lot of time discussing what could happen at trial and trying to predict the results.  This is because an educated guess about the results at trial can serve as an important benchmark for settlement negotiations.

While most people think of trial when they think of divorce, a trial is actually the least likely way that most divorces are resolved.

Related Links: Tennessee Divorce Laws and Filing FAQs

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Attorney Negotiation

The second way for a divorce to be resolved is through attorney negotiation. This can be done through an informal process of exchanging settlement proposals (in Tennessee, these are called “Marital Dissolution Agreements”), between the attorneys until a final agreement is reached.

Another way for attorney negotiations to proceed is through mediation. If mediation attempts are successful, the parties will complete a binding contract formalizing the terms of the agreement. The terms of the contract can be enforced by either party against the other. This means that if you create a “side deal” not included in the settlement agreement, the court won’t enforce it.

Related Links: Mediation FAQs

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Direct Negotiation

Finally, the third way a divorce can be resolved is through direct negotiation between the parties.

Attorneys advise clients to never sign anything without consulting with an attorney first. What may appear to be a “standard” settlement provision may not be, in fact, standard.

For example, in Memphis, Tennessee a divorcing couple agreed to a divorce stating that each party received one-half of the other’s property. This provision might appear “standard,” but one party had inherited a significant amount of land. That land should have been characterized as separate property, but instead it was divided as part of the divorce.

Your attorney can also help you avoid leaving gaps in the settlement agreement that could come back later to haunt you.

Settlement discussion between the parties themselves can help move the case to an amicable and favorable resolution. Even if you still trust your spouse, the settlement process is generally not the time to be foolhardy. If you don’t know all of your rights and strengths during negotiations, you may be missing very important opportunities. Plus, your spouse could be consulting an attorney without your knowing it. Unfair and unbalanced negotiations can result in devastating financial results.

Related Links: Trial or Settlement?

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What to Expect From Your Attorney

Many people will wait before seeing a lawyer.  They may feel overwhelmed or deny the reality of the divorce.  They may fear that seeing a lawyer will inflame an already deteriorating situation.  They may not realize  how an attorney can help.

But an attorney can be an important ally in a divorce.  An attorney’s specialized knowledge, training, and experience allows the attorney to give timely advice that can prevent some serious problems from ever arising.

Much of the work performed by lawyers occurs without a lawsuit being filed. Selecting the right lawyer is part of the pre-divorce process.

When you interview a divorce lawyer, keep in mind that you’ll need to rely on this person to safeguard your interests during a time of great emotional distress for you and your spouse.

Also make sure that your divorce lawyer is well-qualified.  The settlement structure you create will have a long-reaching financial and emotional impact on your life. Part of the divorce settlement or ruling at trial will involve technical issues, such as taxes and health insurance. Trying to tackle these issues without a qualified lawyer could be a serious mistake.

While you may or may not feel friendly with the lawyer you choose, you should expect to develop a rapport. If your lawyer doesn’t listen to your questions during the initial interview or after you have retained him or her, consider consulting another person. Not understanding what the lawyer says or finding that the lawyer is disorganized are signs that you may not be speaking with the right lawyer for you.

You should expect to be given a clear picture of your attorney’s billing and collection policies. The lawyer should explain the hourly rates of everyone in the office who will work on your case. You should learn how the lawyer charges for expenses, such as photocopies, long distance telephone charges, court reporters, and postage. Learn whether or not you’re supposed to pay these expenses in advance. Different lawyers have different definitions of the word “retainer.”

Read your legal bills before you pay them. You should be able to understand what work was performed and the length of time it took to complete the tasks.  Never settle for vague answers to your billing questions.

You can’t expect your lawyer to predict exactly how much his or her total fees will be. But your lawyer should be able to give you a ballpark figure for each stage of your case.

Look for a firm that’s flexible. Every divorce case is different. So is every law firm. Some parts of a case can be handled by a paralegal under supervision by an attorney.

Different people have different expectations. You may want to spend most of your time talking with your attorney directly.  Or you may prefer to talk with a paralegal, to keep the bills lower. Be sure to discuss your preference with your lawyer during the interview process. Listen to what the lawyer has to say. Determine if your goals are consistent with the attorney’s practice. Be wary of the lawyer who tells you what you want without listening to you.

Make sure you hire an attorney who has enough time to handle your case. For important discussions, you’ll most definitely want to spend time with your lawyer rather than with a paralegal. If your lawyer is too busy to return your phone calls or spend quality time engaged in extensive settlement discussions or strategic planning, you may need to consider hiring another attorney.

While your case may not require that you spend a great deal of time with the attorney, being unable to schedule an appointment with that attorney or to get that attorney on the telephone within 24 hours of your first call can be very, very frustrating.

Some attorneys handle as many as a hundred cases at a time, making it difficult for any single client to have quality time with the lawyer. Others will limit their practice to make sure they have enough time for each client.  When you first talk to an attorney, find out how many clients he or she has.

Divorce is not a “one size fits all” proposition.  Clearly communicating YOUR goals and concerns to your attorney will help produce the best results for your special circumstances.[top]

Attorneys and Fees

If you ask an experienced divorce lawyer why divorces cost so much, the most common honest answers will likely include revenge, pride, and fear.

In some cases, an angry spouse may seek revenge by directing the attorney to make the process as painful and expensive for the other spouse as possible. In other cases, a high price tag is reasonable because one party has been denied access to the other’s financial accounts, creating the need for costly discovery and motion practice.  Or a case can be expensive because the assets of one or both parties are complicated and difficult to value, as with a closely-held business or professional practice. You have a right to learn about and understand your spouse’s complete financial picture before determining your settlement position.

If you’re worried about the cost of your divorce, discuss the issue with your attorney. Tell the lawyer what you can afford to pay. There are opportunities in every case to reduce expenses. If you realize you can’t afford the lawyer you’ve hired, say so right away and ask for names of other less expensive lawyers. You should agree to receive legal services only if you’ll be able to pay for them.

Related Links: Attorneys Fees

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Additional Strategic Considerations

In most situations, it doesn’t matter who files first. Discuss this with your lawyer. In certain cases, there are strategic advantages to filing first, depending on the relative negotiating strengths and weaknesses of the parties. In general, unlike fine wine, legal problems don’t improve with age.

Keep in mind that the Complaint for Divorce and accompanying requests for relief generally ask for everything under the sun. A legal reason for this is that a court can’t grant relief that isn’t requested. A Complaint for Divorce that asks for everything doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s going to be a full-scale war.

Most cases settle. Experienced family law attorneys will advise their clients to prepare for trial but always allow for a settlement opportunity when it arises.

Most attorneys will advise against dating during the divorce process. This advice does not change even if the other spouse has already left the marital residence and is living with another person. It’s commonly believed that most judges will overlook the first person’s infidelity in these situations, under the theory of “two wrongs don’t make a right.” In any event, dating will almost certainly reduce the strength of your perceived relative negotiating position with respect to fault, which is a factor in determining alimony.

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For more, read Your First Steps: 7 Steps Planning Your Tennessee Divorce.

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