Experiencing a divorce can be an emotional and stressful experience, particularly when one spouse–or both spouses–are doing things meant to undermine the other spouse in asset division. You may be facing this type of divorce yourself and wondering if you need to get an attorney. The truth is that nearly everyone can benefit from having experienced legal representation during a divorce, but if you are in one of the following scenarios, legal help can be particularly useful.
Your Spouse Filed for Divorce After Cashing out Retirement Accounts
This scenario is unfortunately common. One spouse may have reached the end of his or her rope or had an affair and now just wants out of the marriage. What they don’t want, however, is to split assets that both spouses are entitled to. As an example, we’ll say John had an affair and wants to keep the retirement he has in his 401(k). Therefore, he cashes out the 401(k) and his spouse has no idea. Then, he files for divorce, but he’s already spent the retirement money and racked up other debt, such as maxing out the credit cards that were in his and his spouse’s names.
New Mexico has a “community property” law in place, and this means that any asset or property that was accumulated during the marriage has to be split fifty-fifty. In the example above, John sabotaged that. It’s a terrible situation to be in, but there are potential remedies for a fair resolution. For example, if a lot of equity has been built up in John’s family home and his wife can prove John acted in a way that did not benefit the household or “community” when he spent the retirement money and loaded up on debt, the court can rule in her favor and use that equity to help compensate her for the way John acted.
Your Spouse Is Demanding the Signing of Legal Documents
If you are separated from your spouse or are starting a divorce, don’t sign any legal documents without having an experienced lawyer review them first, even if your spouse is pressuring you to do so. In some cases, it’s tempting to give into the pressure, especially if your spouse has a more controlling or aggressive personality and/or you just want the divorce to be over. However, you could end up signing away something important, such as your rights to assets you really wanted to keep or part of your access to your children (if you have any) post-divorce.
If your spouse says you can talk to his or her attorney, keep in mind that attorney is not working for you. The same attorney can never represent both spouses in a divorce because it’s a conflict of interest for him or her to do so. This means that even if your spouse’s lawyer tells you something is okay to sign or he or she explains it to you in a way you fully understand, that attorney is actually under no obligation to assist you. You need your own attorney, as he or she will be tasked with representing and protecting your interests and not those of someone else. Legal documents are binding once they are signed provided they meet the relevant legal requirements and don’t break any laws, so if you sign a document you don’t fully understand, it could be very difficult or even impossible to correct your mistake later.
Last but certainly not least, you must be very careful about following any advice you hear from friends and family, even if they are very well-meaning. They are not attorneys, and they could be unknowingly giving you bad advice that could come back to haunt you later if you follow it. Every case is different and the facts control what happens in a divorce.