1) Get a Post Office Box in another zip/postal code. You can mail yourself important documents like car titles, mortgage information, birth certificates, marriage license, car insurance, bank statements, etc, and get them out of the house. If money is a serious issue, mail these items to a trusted friend.
2) Make copies, discretely, of anything you may need later, such as the items mentioned above and things like tax returns, W2's, N's previous divorce decree's (if available), credit card numbers of all accounts, retirement accounts, anything of monetary value and anything you think N will shred or hide once you are gone. Never assume you will be able to go back and get these things. Mail these items to your friend, or PO Box.
Also, if you can, save receipts. If you run across a couch receipt, or any receipt for the kids, such as winter coats, clothing, medicine, etc, save them. Mail them to yourself or your friend. Possession is 9/10th's of the law, but receipts are great proof, too. When N says, "We never had a big screen TV" (because he now has stolen it from the home or sold it) you can produce the receipt (see video camera below, too). When N says he is the one who does everything for the kids, show the attorney the receipt you saved from the amusement park you just went to. You get my point.
3) Borrow or rent a video camera. While N is gone, make a video of the entire home, inside and out. Include his clothing, your jewelry, cars (inside and out), motorcyles, campers, tools, furniture, heirlooms, pets (seriously), anything pre-N. Act as if you know the house will burn down the next day and you need a record of anything in it. N's will lie, steal, destroy, move and hide anything of value and anything they feel is important to you. You need a record. If you do not have a camera, or cannot borrow one, stores like Blockbuster will rent one to you. If you get busted by N, you can say you saw on TV that homeowners or renters should document everything in case of disasters like hurricanes and fires. This way, the insurance company can reimburse you for all of your stuff. Give the tape to a friend or family member immediately.
4) Get a cell phone. If you do not have one and worry about the money factor, you can get a "pay-as-you-go" phone from Cingular or Virgin Mobile. Use your PO Box as your address. There is no credit check. The pay-as-you-go phones are great because no one needs to know about the phone. If you want, give it to a friend to hang on to and as the time nears for departure, throw it in your purse. If busted, say it is a friend's and she left it behind and you forgot to return it.
Is there a friend or family member that can add you to their existing plan (usually an additional $10 a month)? As a last resort, get an old phone from a friend. In the very least, it can call 911 in an emergency, even with no "minute plan". If you have a plan already, but it is on N's account, or is a "family plan" call and find out when the contract is up. Ask what is involved in keeping the same handset, but creating a new account.
If you are the account holder (or can get that negotiated) and have N's cell phone on your account & know he won't return it and you're under contract, there is something you can do. Call and ask that the phone number be changed on N's handset! In order for the phone to work with the new number, the handset has to be programmed. Once the phone number change is applied, the handset will stop working until it is programmed by the owner. Ask that a password be added to your account and that N can have no access. When he calls in, he will be refused. He is left with a handset that doesn't work, and you are still abiding by your cell contract. Later, you can replace the handset and have it work with the new number and give it to your child, or family member.
5) Request a free copy of your credit report. In the US, most states require that consumers can have 1 free copy per year. You may very well be surprised at what N will do with their partner's credit. I have seen numerous instances in which credit cards were opened and maxed out and my friends never knew a thing. You can also get a copy of N's, too. Ahem.
6) Begin hoarding money. I am not insinuating you take money, but begin establishing an emergency fund. If you are working, skim some off the top of your paycheck Stop direct deposit if you have to. Give it in cash to a friend. If you can even get just a few hundred extra stashed away, it will help. If you are reasonably certain you will get to stay in the home, there are even more things you can do.
First, find out what name(s) the utility bills are under. If it is both, or just yours, pay a little extra on each bill. If the phone bill is $50, pay $75. You'll need the credit on the account later, as a cushion. If you can do this with community money, then even better.
7) Get the heirlooms OUT of the house. Did Grandma give you her pearls? Did your child make wonderful Valentine's cards for you? Begin removing those items from the home. Again, do not anticipate you will ever be able to get back in the home once N knows you are leaving him. Assume you cannot. Be very careful to take only things that are legally yours. If N busts you and asks, "I haven't seen Grandma's pearls in your jewelry box, where are they?" you can gaslight him back and say that you lost them last year, doesn't he remember? Act upset. Tell him you want new pearls for your birthday. Deflect. But do get those items out of the house and to a safe place.
8) Open a credit card in your name only. Usually, we're not "allowed" to have our own credit card. You *will* need this later. If you have to use community money you have been hoarding to pay the security deposit (if required) then do so. Apply with a different address. Use the PO Box, if the company allows it. If not, use a friends address and phone.
9) Begin "Spring Cleaning." This is a well-used tactic to rid yourself of things you do not need and to determine what you do. If N is a trash digger, put the excess in a grocery store's garbage, if you can, or even a neighbor's. Lots of charities have scheduled pick-ups for each neighborhood. The Epilepsy Foundation does this. Hide the bags until pick-up day and put them at the curb after N is gone. He won't even know and chances are, you can even get a tax break. Just be sure to give the charity your PO Box address as your mailing address.
If you are kicking N out, you can "Spring Clean" his stuff into boxes. If it is Spring, put all his winter gear in boxes, labeled. Closet full of shoes? Put those in labeled boxes. A neat trick is to say you want to declutter the closet and store what isn't being used. Turn all the clothes hangers backwards. When something is worn frequently, hang it the correct way. At the end of a month, whatever is still hanging backwards goes into a box. Tell him you saw it on Oprah.
10) Plan ahead! Will your health insurance be cut off? (Negotiate this with attorney). If you are unsure, go to the dentist now. Make appointments for the kids, too. Go to the Gynecologist now for your annual exam. Go to your family doctor for your annual physical now, even if you normally do not. Don't take any chances. Are you on medication? Check with your insurance company and see if you can order 3 month supplies of each medication through the mail. Most companies offer this service and it is cheaper, too. If N asks, tell him you are saving money. He'll love that.
- Does your car need repair(s)? Get it done now. New tires for winter? Get them now. Does the water heater need to be replaced? Get it done yesterday. Plan ahead and get major repairs done, if you can. Especially when it comes to your car. Get the oil changed! Get the dog or cat to the vet!
11) A word about pets. Unfortunately, pets are considered to be "personal property" when it comes to divorce or separation. They are treated the same way as the couch or dinette. If you want to keep your pets there are some steps you can take. You want to establish ownership. There are two ways to do this. First, you can apply for a dog/cat license through your city. Usually, this costs about $10. Put the license in *your* name only. If busted by N, say you read that the city is going to crack down on unlicensed pets.
-Second, bring the pet to the vet for a check-up (plan ahead) and when you do, make sure the name on the pet's account is *yours* only. Most vet's will print out a receipt or record of the visit. Make sure it says your name only. Save this copy. Mail it to yourself at your PO Box or give it to a friend.
-Third, make sure the pet's name tag has your name on it as the contact.
12) Talk to an attorney immediately. Find out his/her fees. Get referrals. If you cannot afford an attorney, or are worried about the cost, call a woman's shelter or a local law school. Many shelters know of discounted or sliding scale lawyers. Local law school students can be very, very helpful in offering low cost, if not free advice. When you decide on an attorney, provide him/her with the following:
- List of what you want to accomplish. Do you want the house? Which car? Visitation guidelines for N if you have kids. Spousal support? Child support? Who is going to pay the mortgage or rent while the divorce is in progress? Car payments?
- Make a list of the items you *must* have, items you really would like to keep and items you could care less about. Decide which items N is going to kick and scream to have. Do what your attorney advises, of course, but some people here have acted as if they really, really wanted that big screen TV or camper, so that they can eventually "back down" and get something off of their "must have" list as a "compromise." Choose your battles.
- Do you want the house sold? If so, how are the profits going to be divided? Do you want 50% of the equity? Do you want 50% of the selling price? Be sure to get an appraisal done immediately. N will no doubt say he wants the house, wants to buy you out, but once he sees that appraisal, you can bet he'll back off, or if he is serious, then negotiate. If you've gotten a copy of his credit report, you may be in a position to know, financially, if he can get approved for a loan to buy you out. If you see that he has hideous credit, tax liens, etc, then you know he is just listening to his own magical thinking & you can accurately measure your response to his "I want the house now" rants.
- Demand that a financial disclosure be done first thing. Like yesterday. Do this before he is served, if possible. If you have done your homework, you already have tracked down N's accounts. Chances are, he will move or hide the money in a New York minute. Be sure safe deposit boxes are listed. Be prepared.
- If N is not a physically violent N and you feel he is a good parent and visitation is not a huge issue, then have the attorney draw up a parenting agreement. You can even do a draft of this. Decide how visitation is going to happen and where & when. Who goes to what school function? What bed times are appropriate? Meals? What is ok to watch on TV? Who can babysit besides you or N? (read: OW and neighbors are not a good idea). How is contact going to happen regarding the kids? (Suggestion: email only, so you have written record). Draw it up. Set the boundaries NOW. Also, this lays out your expectations and when N tries to say you are a terrible parent, you've already proven you are not with this agreement. By going on the offense with this, you may be able to eliminate some of the "bad parent" smear campaign. It will happen, but perhaps it will not be as intense.
- Many have filed for custody, child support and a restraining order all at once. Makes for an easy process serving. Again, set the boundaries early.
13) If you are leaving N, plan your financial security now. N's love to control the money, so if you are leaving N and know money is going to be a huge, huge, issue then begin planning now. You can apply for public assistance now. (PO Box comes in handy here). If you have a target date that you will be gone, you can plan assistance around this date in most states. Work with a woman's organization if you need to.
Love and Hope to each of you,
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