1. Speak with a qualified family lawyer as soon as possible, well before the divorce process begins. A qualified family lawyer can discuss what your options, right and responsibilities are, as well as make suggestions to help further prepare yourself for an eventual divorce. You can also get a rough estimate of what your divorce will cost during your initial consultation; this could cut down on expenses in advance. Find out who the best lawyers are in your area and don’t be afraid to meet with more than one. While it may be tempting to storm out of your house in a blaze of glory, don’t! Check with your lawyer first to find out what the legal implications might be.
2. Learn Your Finances and Copy Documents. Make copies of everything you can find…3 years tax returns, bank statements, employee benefit statements, investment statements, retirement account statements, life insurance policies, financial statements, mortgage and loan statements, etc. Know the passwords and user names of these accounts , if possible. If your spouse is self-employed it is important to find as much information about the finances of the business as possible. If you see large transfers of money or you suddenly see funds being used to pay down debt that is only in his or her name be especially vigilant and get copies of statements. Again, it may be tempting to storm out of the house in the aforementioned blaze of glory but slow down and plan things out. Also, you never know what might happen that could help save your marriage in the meantime if it’s meant to be.
3. Deal in FACTS rather than FEELINGS on Financial Matters. Start by making a budget. Write down your expenses (current expenses and projected post-divorce expenses), your projected income (wages and possible spousal support or child support). Also do some longer range financial planning keeping in mind what’s really important…is it financial security, is it freedom, is it passing money to your children? This is where it helps to seek advise from a professional.
4. Understand the Rules and Process First. To the extent that you can, educate yourself on your state’s divorce guidelines. Know whether you live in a state that allows spousal alimony and if so, what the guidelines are. Understand what a temporary hearing is and how that may set the tone for the entire divorce. Learn about how the length of time you have been married and the assets that each of you may have brought into the marriage are a factor to consider. Don’t forget to consider social security and whether you may be eligible to receive social security benefits if your soon-to-be ex-spouse is eligible to receive social security benefits. Knowing some basic facts can help eliminate unrealistic expectations before you proceed.
5. Get Help from Professionals. In addition to consulting early with a well-qualified family law attorney, you should also get help from other professionals, such as a CPA or other financial expert. While having close friends to talk to is critical during a divorce, meeting with a therapist, pastor or rabbi in the early stages is also important. Also, if possible consider hiring a personal trainer and dietician…you’ll need to take extra good care of yourself to offset the effects of stress during the process.
6. Keep an Open Mind When It Comes to Your House. Don’t automatically (and emotionally) claim that you have to keep your house as part of the divorce. While stability for you and your kids are huge considerations also keep in mind the liquidity of the rest of your marital assets, your post-divorce monthly cash flow and the annual household upkeep and taxes on your existing home. Remember, you are looking to take assets and income that supported one household, splitting them and now trying to support two households.
7. Don’t Make Impulsive Decisions. Don’t decide t change jobs, change cities, change houses, etc. No need to increase your stress level by making BIG decisions too soon.
8. Protect Yourself. Consider opening a separate banking account if you don’t already have one. If you do have one, change the password for the online access. While you are it, change all of your passwords (email, Facebook, accounts, etc.). If you move money to your separate account, be careful not to remove more than your fair share of the marital property or you may be accused of depleting the marital assets. Best to check with your attorney before you move assets around.
9. Consider Insurance Coverage. If you are covered on your spouse’s insurance, get complete medical and dental check-ups done for you and the children. It’s important to have necessary procedures done now while you are covered. Begin checking into getting your own coverage for health, automobile, and home, and take these expenses into account for your post-divorce budget.
10. Be Patient. Understand it’s a process not an event…a marathon not a sprint. Some divorces can take one to two years (or longer) to finalize. Also understand that if you have children you never completely separate from your spouse…you still have children to raise, weekends, holidays, summers and grandparents to split.
11. Be Open To Saving Your Marriage. Just like you wouldn’t abandon your business if you had a bad year or two, don’t bail on a marriage if you are hitting a rough spot. The grass may NOT be greener on the other side and divorce takes a toll on everyone including your children. Don’t rush things unless you are in an abusive situation. Once you set things in motion for a divorce things may never be the same again.