Does It Matter Who Files for Divorce First?

filing-for-divorce-first

Does It Matter Who Files First?

In and of itself, the initial act of filing for divorce is stressful and emotionally draining. However, many couples spend an exorbitant amount of time stressing over the details, such as whether or not it matters if your spouse files first. Therefore, what do you need to know about taking that first step towards the end of your marriage? Certainly, there are advantages to being the first to file, but does it really matter if you are the first?

If you file first, you have more control over the proceedings.

The major benefit of being the first to file can usually be boiled down to this simple sentiment: filing first gives you the greatest degree of control over the rest of the proceedings. Spouses who file first have the first pick of legal representation, and they can even select the location of the coming proceedings. If you want to have the upper hand after the proceedings commence, filing first gives you the greatest advantage in these particular areas.

If you are the first spouse to file, you will generally be able to be better prepared than your partner. You will have the freedom to assemble your team of professionals, and you can have them waiting before your spouse even knows the paperwork is coming. In other words, hiring your team in advance allows you to retain the best of the best.

Once your spouse is aware that they will need to hire their own representatives, your choices are fewer. Any professional who meets with your spouse, even briefly, can no longer meet with you, due to protected client information they could divulge. This caveat is a great way for your spouse to make divorce more inconvenient for you.

Do you and your spouse now live in separate towns? The first to file typically gets to decide where the trial is held, and where it will be held for future issues. When you file first, it prevents your spouse from selecting a location that is considerably closer to them, and therefore less convenient for you.

Filing first also gives you the ability to prepare for court in advance, including rounding up documentation, such as income statements and loan details. You may even have the opportunity to financially prepare by stashing cash aside or gaining access to marital funds.

What if you do not file first?

If you are not the first spouse to file, some aspects of the divorce may still work out in your favor. The largest advantage to not being the first to file is the reduced cost on your end. The spouse who files first will typically have to pay a filing fee with the courts, which could cost a few hundred dollars.

In addition to the extra cost of the filing fee, the spouse who files first may come out with a large attorney’s fee in the end. It will also require more time for their legal team to assemble all of the paperwork and gather pertinent information, which adds up on the final bill. If you are concerned about the overall cost of divorce and have little access to additional resources to pay for it, you may greatly benefit from allowing your spouse to be the first to file.

The other major advantage to not filing first is the ability to plan. When your spouse files for divorce, they will typically have to list their demands, which are served to you as part of the initial paperwork. If you know in advance what your spouse is hoping to gain by ending your marriage, you can start planning accordingly with your own team of professionals. Fortifying yourself against the demands of your spouse in this manner can help you secure a more freeing financial future.

Advantages to Both Sides

Overall, it is clear to see that there are definite advantages to both sides of this situation. The spouse who files first has more control over the rest of the proceedings. They have more control over the location, the timing, and the professionals they are attempting to hire throughout the process. If control is what you need most during the coming proceedings, filing first can give you a significantly greater upper hand.

Waiting to be served papers that your spouse has filed can result in a lower cost to the overall proceedings on your end, and it can give you additional time to plan for or against your spouse’s demands in mediation or litigation. For some individuals, these benefits outweigh giving control to their spouses. However, the cost benefits could outweigh their desire to have the utmost control in this situation.

Regarding the end of your marriage, consider where you and your spouse are. The advantages are clear, whether you file first or not. Make sure that you take advantage of the benefits you receive, regardless of the situation you happen to find yourself in.

Does It Matter Who Files for Divorce First?

When you know that divorce is inevitable, you may wonder if there are advantages and disadvantages in being the first one to file. Although many believe that submitting a divorce petition before their spouse is beneficial, that’s not always the case.

Although spouses who file first can potentially have the power to choose where to get divorced, the majority of people going through a divorce believe that monetary concerns are more important than the choice of courthouse.

But financially speaking, it may be in your best interests NOT to file first.

1. Your spouse may know your financial demands.

A divorce petition typically includes the list of your financial wants and demands. It almost always involves property division, including how the petitioner wishes to negotiate finances. Grounds for spousal and child support may also be outlined.

When you’re the divorce petitioner, your spouse will see this list of desires when he or she is served. This action could result in a potential counterattack on your finances, which could cost you more money in the end.

2. You may pay divorce filing fees.

Divorce is a civil affair that entails the judgment of a local court. In order to begin the divorce proceedings, a petition must be filed. This petition is for the dissolution of marriage, and it must be filed with the court clerk in the county you currently reside in.

Those going through a divorce may not be properly informed that the first person to petition for a divorce usually pays the filing fees. These fees must be paid in order to file papers with the court. In most counties across the country, the filing fee is a few hundred dollars. These fees are government-mandated, and they’re on top of any other legal or service fees.

Each court’s exact fee schedules are generally posted on their websites. Be advised that there are some additional, hidden costs associated with filing fees. The court may charge the petitioner for any certified copies of the requested petitions. Any motions, requests, and proposed orders also come with a fee.

3. You may pay more in divorce attorney fees.

When you file first, your divorce attorney gets right to work. While your attorney is busy gathering and compiling information for your case, you’re paying for his or her services. In addition, if you file first, your attorney will assist with the filing process. Again, the time and effort involved has a cost that you’ll have to pay.

Furthermore, your current spouse may contest the divorce, or you may find that you must negotiate terms. And that means more work on your attorney’s part—and more money out of your pocketbook.

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Shawn Leamon, MBA, CDFA is the host of the “Divorce and Your Money Show” and Managing Partner of LaGrande Global, with offices in Dallas, New York and Hanover, New Hampshire.

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Shawn Leamon, MBA, CDFA

Dallas, Texas

Shawn C. H. Leamon is Managing Partner of LaGrande Global, a firm that helps successful families manage large financial transitions like divorce, inheritance and selling a business.

He earned his Bachelor of Arts from Dartmouth College, double majoring in Economics and Philosophy, and his Masters in Business Administration at Spain’s IE Business School.

Before founding LaGrande Global, Shawn helped manage $1.1 billion in client assets at Bernstein Global Wealth Management. He also worked as a credit research analyst at J.P. Morgan. He is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and he has been an advisor to numerous high-stakes divorce cases.

Shawn is the author of two well-received finance books: Managing Private Wealth: Principles, and Divorce and Your Money: The No-Nonsense Guide, both published in 2016.

In his spare time, Shawn is an ultra-endurance athlete and has competed in events as long as 24 hours. He is an Eagle Scout and a member of the Alumni Board of Greenhill School.