If you are thinking about divorce, be aware that you need to gather a lot of information before you file. Although it may feel sneaky to do some reconnaissance work without your spouse knowing, or before you announce your intentions, it is imperative that you have a plan in place before taking the life-altering step of ending your marriage. Thinking about filing? Here are 8 savvy ways you can start preparing now…
Do NOT take advice from friends and family. Just because your friend’s Aunt Sally got lifetime support doesn’t mean you will. Divorce laws vary from state to state, so Florida-based Aunt Sally may have gotten a completely different settlement if she lived in New Jersey. Your outcome will also be determined by your judge’s interpretation of the law, your attorney’s aptitude, and your ability to resolve conflict with your ex. Bottom line? Listen to advice from family law and financial professionals only!
Gather as much financial information as possible. If your spouse has been in charge of the money, you may be completely in the dark about your financial situation. Your attorney will not be able to give you an accurate assessment of your likely settlement or child support figures without access to financial documents: W2s, 1099s, credit card statements, bank statements, investment portfolios, retirement accounts, mortgage statements, etc. [See our Financial Checklist for a printable list of items to collect.]
Identify prospective attorneys and schedule consultations. If you were getting major surgery, you’d probably want a second (or third) opinion, so apply the same research to finding the best attorney for you. When meeting with prospective attorneys, make sure to ask the following: What is your hourly fee? Will I be dealing with you or your associate? What percentage of your cases end up in litigation vs. mediation? How much paperwork do you typically generate (the more paperwork, the bigger the fee)? Then ask yourself: Do I trust this person? Do I feel a rapport? You’re not looking for a friend or a therapist, but you do need to feel that you can have a good working relationship with your attorney.
Get an estimate of spousal and child support. If you’ve been a stay-at-home mom and your spouse has a regular salary, determining alimony and child support should be fairly straightforward. If, however, your spouse is self-employed, determining spousal and child support could be more difficult – especially if they take payment in cash or find ways to hide income. But you must get a best and worst-case support figure in order to budget your finances.
Child Custody. You could be Mother (or Father) Of The Year and not get the custody arrangement you and all your friends believe is a slam-dunk. While you may be convinced that your ex is an unfit parent, your judge may not. Courts want children to have access to both parents. So unless your spouse is dangerous, or is MIA, be prepared to share visitation time with your ex (which is called “parenting time” by the courts). Yes, it will be painful to miss important moments with your child, but remember: child custody is determined in the best interest of the children, not the parents.
Prepare a post-divorce monthly budget. If you’ve left the finances to your spouse, the task of preparing a monthly budget may feel daunting, but it’s a vital step towards financial literacy. Go through your bank statements and figure out how much you spend every month in different categories (mortgage, groceries, health insurance, car payment, children’s tuition, etc). How much money will you need to cover that amount? What fat can you cut from your budget? Will your support figure and/or work income be enough to keep yourself afloat? If not, you will need to downsize and obtain other sources of income.
Housing. Women especially often feel that they need to keep the house (if they own one) for the kids’ stability. But they often let emotion overshadow practicality. If you’re going to struggle to pay the mortgage and upkeep on your home, your kids are not going to feel secure, and neither will you. If you cannot comfortably cover your mortgage, property tax, homeowners insurance, and maintenance costs, you are much better off divesting yourself of your house (either sell or be bought out) and renting. That way you can have cash on hand for emergencies (which, invariably, there will be).
Consult with a financial planner. If you have sizable assets, consider consulting with a certified financial planner. This person will help you calculate how much you will need for retirement (and if you can retire) and advise you on how to invest accordingly. Working with a financial planner is especially helpful if you’re not used to managing finances.
Once you decide to divorce, do not waffle! Should-I-Stay-Or-Go ambivalence will confuse and frustrate your ex. There is never a “good” time to divorce and your kids will be affected. But this is not a reason to stay in an untenable or abusive situation. You are the judge of what’s best for yourself and your children – not your attorney, your therapist, your friends, or your family. When you decide to put your divorce plan in action and get on with your life is a decision that is all your own.
The choices you make now about finances, support, whether or not to keep the house (if you own one), and co-parenting will determine your quality of life, and your children’s, in the years to come. Need help coming up with your plan for your divorce? We can help. Please contact us today to schedule your confidential attorney consultation.