Preparing for a Divorce
Interviewer: Okay. I know you said this earlier, but it seems like when it comes to divorce, you have to be very prepared. You need to spend time figuring things out, documenting things. Do you do a lot of preparation with clients? What do they have to do in order to get through a divorce successfully and get anything out of it?
Anitha Johnson: Preparation is definitely the key. One thing is if they know that they’d get a divorce, ahead of time, they could research and get the account numbers and know the institutions of their bank, keep track of their money or investments. That they have to know the other side’s assets, the other side’s place of employment, the other side’s income. It’s also important to show the other side’s personality. Emails and correspondence and things like that can be used to show the court if the person’s been kind to you. It’s also important, in terms of children, to show your participation or involvement in the children’s school, using pictures, documentation of sporting events or activities, and talking to teachers.
Interviewer: That sounds really difficult and extremely personal. It seems like by bringing that stuff forward, the other party would feel violated and that their private life is on display for the court?
Anitha Johnson: Yes. A lot of people don’t like it because everything – all the major things that happened that brought it to this point – is very important.
Interviewer: Do you counsel people to figure things out without litigation? What do you tell people to do? How do they react to this?
Anitha Johnson: Yes. We always encourage the parties to try to get a settlement agreement because litigation can be very costly. It’s always best for you to decide what’s going to happen with your assets and your children, versus relying on the court to side in your favor. You have no idea which judge you’re going to get and what’s going to happen. So it’s always best to come to an agreement.
Interviewer: And then people will react when you tell them all the different ways. They have to document what their side of the marriage is. Are they shocked?
Anitha Johnson: Some people were overwhelmed because some people were married for years, decades. Twenty years, thirty years and they literally don’t have all the documentation to prove certain allegations or assertions that they’re making, and other side could not be telling the truth. For instance, one party could’ve paid for the mortgage during the marriage and the other side says, “That’s not true. I made the downpayment or I did this,” and without documentation, it’s harder to prove.
Interviewer: Do you see any bad behavior by people once they go to the divorce process, like they go clean out the bank accounts or they destroy this property? Are there provisions to protect against these bad things happening?
Anitha Johnson: Yes. They clean out the bank accounts, take retirement money, they lie. They’ll simply say something that’s not true is true. I think that’s the main thing. I mean they lie so much. For instance, when you have two parties saying that they’re the primary caregiver of a child and then they both claim they were the one that pick up the child everyday from school, you know someone’s lying.
Interviewer: Right. Okay. Are there any provisions that can help your client if the other side is having these bad behaviors or they’re trying to take money or they’re trying to invest themselves with assets?
Anitha Johnson: You can always get a restraining order or injunction. A preliminary injunction restrains the other side from selling the house, destroying assets, or dissipating assets without the court’s permission.
Interviewer: Does that come up often? Is that necessary?
Anitha Johnson: Yes. It actually happens a lot. Often, one party owns the house and it’s marital property if it was purchased during the marriage because one name is on the house. One party’s name is on the house. The other party can sell the house. So it’s always safe that upon following the litigation that you always ask for a convincibility order in the interim before the divorce to restrain or prohibit them from selling the property or dissipating the assets.
Interviewer: Okay. Is there other planning that’s needed to get a divorce? What about budgeting – just one house shall become two – that type of thing?
Anitha Johnson: Yes.
Interviewer: What do you have to do with clients … do you? I know you’re not their financial advisor but financially, what do they have to do to prepare? Do you help them with that?
Anitha Johnson: I don’t usually help people with that aspect. One thing that they can do is notifying a relative and tell them they’re get a divorce. Many people have enough money to leave and it was just cheaper to stay with the spouse but many people are self-supporting.
Interviewer: Do you deal with people who are in the military or are self-employed?
Anitha Johnson: Yes.
Interviewer: And is there a different for them if they’re self-employed or they’re in the military?
Anitha Johnson: It’s easier for a self-employed person to hide their money because they pretty much pay themselves. But doing a divorce when trying to assess a person’s income is kind of hard for a self-employed person. It could be very costly because sometimes if you believe that the person is underreporting their income, you would get a business valuation expert, someone to review their business records, to say how much this business is worth, determine the income and look at expenses because some self-employed people could pay personal expenses from the business account, which would underestimate how much they’re actually earning.
Interviewer: Okay. What about military? Do you have many military clients?
Anitha Johnson: I have. I have. But I can’t think of anything significant right now as far as military.
Interviewer: What about government employees? The heart of the government is in DC. Do you get those kinds of people and are there any differences in handling them carefully?
Anitha Johnson: My guess, if it’s a government employee, is that their income is pretty clear. You can subpoena their income and you can easily learn their assets and their retirement and their package. Otherwise, they’re still handled the same.
Interviewer: Have you ever had a client in the government, or high up in government?
Anitha Johnson: Yes.
Interviewer: Okay. I know you can’t say anything about it but let’s just hear if you ever have a client like that.
Anitha Johnson: Yes, like government clients, we have people who work for the government but it is just handled the exact same way.
Interviewer: Okay. I just wanted to know if there is a difference. Maybe if Obama gets a divorce, you’ll handle his divorce.
Anitha Johnson: No, he probably wouldn’t.