You’ve finally made up your mind. After months, perhaps years, even decades, of wavering, trying, trying again, you’ve come to realize that the pain of ending a marriage is less than the pain involved in holding on to it. So now what do you do?
Step 1: Find a Lawyer
A divorce is never simple. Even if you and your soon-to-be-ex are on friendly terms and are in total agreement on the need to go your separate ways, you still have to deal with the legalities involved in ending your official relationship. It maybe you want an attorney who can handle everything for you. Or perhaps you’re going to try and do a lot of the heavy lifting yourself. Whichever the case, each party should have an attorney to represent their interests. Last month we dealt with this challenge in some detail and, rather than repeat this information, we suggest you can use this link to the blog to get the details for yourself.
Step 2: Create a file to store everything
Not only does a divorce involve coping with extreme feelings of loss, guilt, grief and psychic pain – it also generates lot of paperwork. And since you’re probably not be at the top of your game psychologically, make it as easy on yourself as you can by planning ahead. The first of these plans (we’re going to suggest several) is to have one easy to get to place to store all the bits and pieces associated with the process.
This could be a file cabinet with different folders in it for things like household bills, proof of joint ownership, bank accounts, children’s school reports, etc. Or perhaps it’s just a cardboard folder like people use to organize their records for tax preparation. Or maybe you’ll feel more secure getting and using a large safety deposit box at the local bank. The point is, to keep what you need together, so you won’t have to hunt for information or important documents when you need them.
Step 3. Prepare your Financial Records
Make a list of financial accounts – bank accounts, credit cards, loans, etc., property deeds, and other assets that have your name on them. Then record the account numbers, where they are and how much they indicate you own or owe and who is in control of them – you, your spouse or both. Are there other accounts that are used for the household that you are NOT on because they are in your spouse’s name? If you can, make and keep a record of these as well.
Make and keep copies of mortgages, deeds, car registrations and any other proof of ownership that may become part of a settlement arrangement. The copies ensure that whoever has possession of the original document, you will still be able to refer to it.
Step 4. Create a Realistic Budget
Create a budget of what you and any dependents who will be living with you will need to cover day to day expenses AND any emergencies that may arise. Make sure you include things like haircuts for you and the kids, movie tickets, the cleaners, car repairs, etc. Base it on what has been spent in the past. If there is a huge difference between what you lived on as a couple and what you’ll have to spend as a single person, consider how you can cut your costs or eliminate some altogether. When you finish, you should have a realistic idea of what you’ll need to keep a roof over your head and feed yourself and your family.
Step 5. Decide How to Break the News
Probably one of the hardest, if not the hardest things, you’ll have to do when you divorce is to break the news to your children. Ideally, you’ll tell them with your spouse. But before you do, you should be able to answer their questions (and of course they’ll have them) about where they’ll live, go to school, and will they be able to see both parents. Think all of this through from your end first before discussing it with your spouse. You can’t control other people, but you can be in a better position to get what you want if you KNOW what YOU want first.
You’ll also have to tell your friends, neighbors, co-workers and relatives. Decide who to tell first and what to say. Remember, while close friends and family may be supportive and want to help, few people have the time and energy to deal with someone else’s misfortune for too long. If you know how you’ll support yourself, where you’ll be living, what you’ll take with you, and so on, you’ll have more confidence to deal with the future and can be more positive about your life ahead.
In the best of all possible worlds, your spouse should be someone who can help you with some of these decisions. Sometimes, if both parties want the divorce, this is possible. But when it isn’t – you may want to take steps 1 through 4 before breaking the news to your soon to-be-ex.
The surer you are on what to do, when to do it and why you’re doing it the more power you’ll have to negotiate an exit on your terms. And because you’ve taken time to think things through on your own, you should be better able to consider your spouse’s side with less emotion. This is important – especially if children are involved. You may be sundering a relationship but completely burning all your bridges is rarely the most productive strategy.
Step 6. Make a Plan for Everything Else.
A divorce doesn’t just change your marital status. It’s going to affect every phase of your life. Developing realistic plans on what to do before you have to do it gives you a foundation for productive action. Here are some of the things that should be included in your “Life During and After Divorce Plan”:
Housing. – Where will you live. If you plan on staying in your current home, who is going to handle the mortgage, maintenance and any emergencies that may occur like a hot water heater that has to be replaced.
If you’re moving in with relatives, how long do you anticipate staying on. Where will you actually be living and what are the expectations of those you’ll be living with. The more answers you can come up with now, the less stressful your future will be.
If you’re renting or buying a new place of your own, consider things like where will the kids be going to school and how will they get there. Will you be close to a grocery and a drug store? Will your commute to work be adversely impacted? The answers to these questions should be part of your calculation to move there.
TIP: Unless you are definitely staying in the same residence after the divorce that you’re in now, consider getting a post office box. This will ensure any documents, bills, legal communications will reach you even if your household is in a state of flux for a while.
If you’re not working now, you may have to get a job to cover expenses. How will you find work? Who can help you make connections that could lead to a job?
If you’re getting some sort of financial assistance from your ex-spouse, make sure you understand how much it will be, how it will be delivered, how often and for how long? Also find out if there any restrictions on how you can spend the money and how the change will affect your taxes.
What to Take
Make a list of what you want from the household in the way of furniture, dishes, linens, books, etc. You may not be able to claim all of the things on your list, but at least you’ll know where to start when negotiating who gets what. In addition, thinking through what you want and why will allow you to make choices that are based more on reason than emotion.
Divorces are by their very nature emotionally devastating. Probably the only thing worse is jumping into another relationship before you’ve ended this one. The fact is, just dating while still in the process of divorce can negatively impact your case. The best rule is – stay on your own until your decree is final.
Contacts via social media may seem to offer emotional support however you must be very, very careful about what you’re communicating and to whom. Remember, ANYTHING you post via facebook or other social media could find its way to your ex or their lawyer and be used against you. Seemingly innocent pictures of you with new friends, traveling, wearing new clothes, etc. could be shown as proof that you’re acting inappropriately, have more income than you need and are undeserving of the court’s sympathy. For more on this, see our blog on social media.
Even sending out private emails has its dangers. The party you send them to may share them with others who can send them on to others without your knowledge.
You can however, still have an active social life. Cultivate platonic friendships face-to-face, develop professional contacts proactively, volunteer for non-profit organizations, work for causes that interest you and get to know your family better. And when you’ve happily moved on to another relationship, these activities will continue to enrich your life.