We always advise clients to keep a journal of the other spouse’s
actions during the divorce process, especially in cases where the spouse
has a habit of not paying bills, removing property without permission,
or behaving inappropriately in front of the children or in regards to
the children. More often than not, we hear clients say, “Oh, that’s
not necessary. He/she wouldn’t do something like that to me. He/she
would never try to screw me over.” The sad fact is that divorce
changes people, and it’s unfortunately rare that one spouse won’t
be childish or do things to deliberately hurt the other–especially
when children are involved. By keeping a divorce journal, you create your
own evidence that can be used to help you plead your side of the story.
I have a good friend who practices criminal law. He likes to say, “Criminal
lawyers deal with some of the worst people on their best behavior and
family lawyers deal with some of the best people on their worst behavior.”
Unfortunately, that’s often true.
When we say journal, we aren’t suggesting that you spy on your spouse
or write down every little nuance that annoys you. Here are some examples
of what you should write down:
- each instance your spouse drops off or picks up the children from visitation late;
- each instance you pick your children up with no clothes, no belongings,
no diapers, etc.;
- each instance your spouse stops paying a particular bill they agreed to pay;
- each time your spouse threatens you, especially in front of the kids;
- each time a child support payment is late;
- each time your spouse cancels a visitation; and
- any time your spouse removes property that you didn’t agree upon.
This isn’t a finite list by any means, but it should give you an
idea of what you should track and what you shouldn’t.
For every entry, mark it when a date and time stamp. Make sure all of your
entries list facts and not your speculations, opinions, or words of choice
for your spouse. These journals can be used as discovery, which means
that the other side will have a chance to read it and not just the judge.
The last thing you need is for the opposing counsel to paint the journal
as completely emotionally biased and deem it inadmissible. Most importantly,
do not change your entries, especially after opposing counsel requests
a copy, and this includes adding annotations.
And, finally, you should record what YOU do, too. Write down things like
when you exercise visitation, take the kids to the doctor, expend community
funds on something necessary, communicate with your spouse, kids’
teachers, and so on.
If you have questions about what you should include in your journal, ask your
divorce attorney. Hopefully your divorce will be one of the few that won’t need a
journal, but it never hurts to be cautious.