“Like many of life’s great adventures, divorce requires one step at a time.
Thoughtful preparation transforms baby steps into serious positive momentum forward.”
Miles Mason, Sr.
If you are considering a divorce or believe that you may be confronted with one, be prepared. As with anything, being prepared can help the divorce process run more smoothly. However, not all preparations are smart. People do things they think they should do, but what they do ends up being exactly the WRONG things and makes the situation worse. How can you prepare for divorce in a way that will leave you better equipped to deal with the divorce process? Today's article includes suggestions that might make the process run more smoothly and save you time, money and heartache.
ASSESS THE SITUATION
Do you want a divorce? If you aren’t sure, do whatever it takes to get sure BEFORE you do anything other than gather information. Knowledge and an understanding of the divorce process reduces fear of the unknown and begins the process of growth and change. If the answer is “no”, seek professional counseling or whatever steps you need to do to try to put your marriage back together. If however after exhausting all avenues for reconciliation your spouse no longer wants to be married to you, realize and understand there is nothing you can do to stop him/her from divorcing you. Make every effort to save your marriage, but don’t fall into denial of the inevitability of divorce if your spouse is done.
Where will you live? Do you plan to continue to live in your house with your spouse? If you do, you will probably want to set boundaries and probably have a dedicated sleeping space for each of you. Perhaps someone will sleep in the guest room or on the couch. Try to set boundaries so that each of you has a private space. Stop living like you once did. Don't do the every day things you always did as a spouse such as cook for your spouse or be romantic, and each of you should take responsibility for things such as your own laundry and shopping.
If you do plan to live separately, who is going to move out? Can you or your spouse afford to pay for two places? Who will pay the bills until you are divorced? Where will the children stay? This last point is important. If you want custody of your children, you MUST stay with them no matter what. In other words, if you stay, they stay with you. Is your spouse willing to leave?
If neither you nor your spouse is willing to relocate, you will have to find a way to live together until the divorce is final.
Is domestic abuse a factor? If the answer is “yes” you MUST have a plan to keep you and your children safe. This PLAN should be in place PRIOR to your leaving. If you feel threatened by your spouse, call the police.
Identify a place where you and your children can stay in case of an emergency. Check out local domestic abuse shelters. If you fear for your life and have nowhere to go or don’t know what options are available to you, contact the police who may direct you to an absolutely secret shelter. If you go to one of these secret shelters, even your attorney should not know where you are.
Get a new cell phone, keep it charged and keep it with you 24/7. Program “911” into speed dial.
Prepare an “emergency bag”. This bag should contain any medications you or your children need, a change of clothes for you and your kids, extra keys for the house and car(s), as much cash as you can spare (preferably enough to allow you and your kids to survive a week on your own), sentimental items such as pictures, jewelry, etc. and as many important documents as you can carry (i.e. social security card, passports, green card, a list of important phone numbers, checkbooks, bank statements, tax returns, insurance policies, etc.). Keep this bag hidden somewhere you could quickly grab it and run if you needed to do so.
Seek outside help as soon as you can from domestic abuse hotlines, help centers and legal aid programs that might be available to help you. This is not something you should face alone.
What is your financial situation? You are going to need money to live and money to pay for professionals such as an attorney that you will need to hire during the divorce process. Where will that money come from? If you don’t know about budgeting and money management, now is the time to learn. Find a class, buy a book or take an online course.
Pull a copy of your credit report. Review it and be sure there are no surprises.
Make copies of all of your important financial documents for the past 3 years, including investment account statements, bank statements, credit card statements, insurance policy information and tax returns. It is much easier to grab financial information from the file cabinet in your home office or family room than it is to attempt to gather it after you and your spouse are living apart. Once you start discussing divorce, financial documents you may need often mysteriously disappear. Put these copies in a safe place outside of your home. Do not remove any of the original documents unless you tell your spouse ahead of time, and it should go without saying, DO NOT destroy any original documents.
Remove any sentimental or irreplaceable items from the house for safekeeping. Jewelry, family photos and sentimental items often tend to get “misplaced”, go missing or get destroyed. It is always a good idea to remove these types of things from the house and put them somewhere safe before things get too heated.
Learn about the divorce process: what is involved, how long it will likely take and what it will likely cost. Gather information about your options. This research can be done online or by enrolling in a class or program.
You will want to talk to one or more than one expert, including divorce attorneys, mediators, counselors or mental health professionals and certified divorce financial analysts.
Divorce Attorney: Try to find an attorney experienced in divorce with whom you are comfortable. Divorce can be approached a couple of different ways. You can fight, or you can resolve differences amicably. Select an attorney who will not only guide you through the divorce process, but whose style best suit you.
Mediator: If you choose to use a mediator, you should interview prospective mediators just as you would a prospective attorney and select the professional with whom you and your spouse are most comfortable and whose style most closely fits with your needs.
Counselor or Mental Health Professional: This may be a psychologist, a social worker or family therapist. Often, parents feel their children will benefit from counseling. If you feel counseling would benefit your children, you might want to talk with the school counselor or a mental health professional who specializes in working with kids whose families are going through divorce.
Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA): Money and future financial security are a big part of the divorce process. If you don’t know how to create a budget or know what assets and debts you may have or how to manage them, you might benefit from the advice of a CDFA. A CDFA can help you evaluate your assets and make financial decisions that will provide you with a secure financial future.
Once you have decided on the professionals you would like to engage, assemble your team. You should also put together a support group of friends and family that you can count on. No matter how close you feel to members of your spouse’s family, you would probably be well served not to include them in this group. You don’t want to put them in a position of having to choose between you and your spouse, and you don’t want to put your trust in someone who ends up taking your spouse’s side. It may also be helpful to join a support group. Many people find spending time with others who are going through the same thing comforting.
We live in an era of increasingly powerful technological devices. Many of us are connected to social media, the internet and especially our smart phones 24/7. These devices make information available at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, your increasingly powerful devices can quickly turn against you in a divorce. Even if you don’t think your spouse would ever cyber-stalk or digitally spy on you, divorce can be a powerful motivator. Safeguarding your privacy is paramount, and it is critical that you secure your information.
Get a separate cell phone that isn’t part of the family plan so that your spouse can’t track your calls. Keep all of your divorce information safe, even if that means keeping it at another location such as a safe deposit box. If you assume your divorce may be hotly contested, assume everything you do or say will be digitally recorded because it just might be.
Would you be surprised to learn that spouses often track each other using apps such as Find My Phone or I Cloud? Much of your personal data is uploaded automatically to whichever cloud service you use. When you divorce it’s easy to forget that your spouse probably knows (or can guess) the passwords to all of your email, social media and other online accounts. One of the first things you should do, in addition to getting new cell phone service, is create a brand new email account and change your passwords on all of your individual email, social media and online accounts.
MAKE A PLAN
This is especially important when it comes to how you choose to handle your kids during the divorce process. A plan for the kids after the divorce will be covered by the Parenting Plan which will be created as a part of the divorce process. At this point, just worry about what will happen to them during the divorce process. When and how are you going to tell them about the divorce? Where will they live? Who will they live with? When will they see the other parent?
How will household bills get paid during the divorce? What are you and your spouse going to do about joint credit cards? Will both of you be able to continue to use them?
MOST IMPORTANTLY, DECIDE WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU.
What are the most important things for you to get in your divorce? Make a list of what you MUST HAVE, not things you might simply WANT, and you should limit this list to your top three things. Next, make a prioritized list of things that you would really LIKE to have as part of your divorce settlement. This is your WANT LIST. Lastly, list everything else you would get as part of your divorce settlement in a perfect world. This is the list of things it WOULD BE NICE to get, but you are willing to let go.
Also, try to figure out what might be important to your spouse. If you know what he/she might want, it will help the negotiating process run more smoothly, ultimately resulting in a settlement that works for both of you.
Contemplating divorce? If so, please contact our team for a complimentary consultation and a more informed divorce decision for you and your family.
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Cheryl Godwin is NOT AN ATTORNEY AND DOES NOT PROVIDE LEGAL ADVICE. All information she provides is financial in nature and should not be construed or relied upon as legal or tax advice. Individuals seeking legal or tax advice should solicit the counsel of competent legal or tax professionals knowledgeable about the divorce laws in their own geographical areas. Divorce financial planning is a fee-only process that does not involve investment advice or securities or insurance transactions.