12 Steps To Prepare For Divorce
For some people, a divorce (also known as “dissolution of marriage”) comes as a complete surprise which turns their world upside down in an instant. For others, planning a divorce is a slow, methodical process with a lot of time to prepare.
Regardless of the circumstances of your divorce, you have a lot of work ahead of you. And while your emotions may be overwhelming, it’s important to prepare for the divorce process to give yourself the best chance of your ideal results.
How To Protect Yourself In a Divorce
Unless you and your soon-to-be ex have already agreed on everything—from child custody to division of assets—it is vital that you have someone to represent and protect your interests throughout your divorce.
If your case goes in front of a judge (known as a litigated divorce), s/he will make the final determination on all of these details. By adequately collecting information and following the 12 steps listed below, you are maximizing your chances of getting a favorable outcome.
This article is designed to give you a comprehensive overview of the steps you need to prepare for a divorce.
1. Prepare the Kids
After helping hundreds of people through the divorce processes, my best advice is to share parenting the children if possible. Florida courts tend to lean toward shared parental custody, and preparing for this eventuality will save you from some surprises later on.
But while you are mentally preparing for this new change, don’t forget to prep your children as well.
When parents divorce, one household is split into two. When children are with the parent who has historically taken on all the responsibilities related to the children, they will likely feel a sense of familiarity. However, when with the other parent (one who may not have much experience doing the active work of parenting), there is likely going to be some “culture shock.”
The previously uninvolved parent now must quickly get up to speed with daily routines such as providing breakfast, getting children ready for school, helping with homework, and getting them to extracurricular activities.
To minimize shock and confusion, it might be a good idea to start off sharing the parental responsibilities or slowly transitioning to a more equal sharing of the responsibilities.
2. Get Finances In Order
Every married couple handles their finances differently.
Some couples maintain joint bank accounts only and make all financial decisions jointly. Some may keep finances separate. Others are content to let one person handle all money-related matters.
But to prepare for a divorce, both spouses will need a source of funds that is separate from the other.
I’ve seen spouses clean out all the joint accounts and even remove their spouse’s access to bank accounts. If that happens, what are you going to do to fund your basic living expenses?
Mortgage payments, credit card bills, medical bills, school tuition, food, clothing, gasoline, tolls, cell phone bills, all must be paid. While very few judges would let this stand, you might have to wait quite a while for a judge to hear your case and provide some help for you.
I advise all my clients to obtain credit cards while they are still married to start building up their credit during the marriage. When you are married and apply for credit, you can use your family’s income as your reported income on the credit application (that includes your spouse’s income).
If you are a stay-at-home parent or a non-working spouse, this can serve as an incredible life preserver.
Be responsible with the credit. Use credit for small purchases like postage stamps, gasoline, groceries, etc. to build up a solid payment history and try to pay off the credit each month.
Educate yourself about your family’s finances. Try to avoid a situation where your spouse handles all financial issues without you having knowledge about what they are.
3. Find Job Prospects
Some couples may decide that it is best for the children for one parent to stay home and not work. This is a totally fine option that works for some families.
The problem arises when the stay-at-home parent has either never worked or has not worked for a prolonged period of time. When a divorce happens, the stay-at-home parent is faced with the reality that they need financial support to survive.
You might say, “Well, that’s what alimony is for.” True, but alimony laws change. Further, there may not be enough money available to give you the support you need.
If you think a divorce is on the horizon, limit your agreement to stay home and not work. For example, consider getting a part-time job when your child(ren) reach school age. Alternatively, you can start a home-based business or find remote work.
The sooner you can become self-supporting, the better off you will be when a divorce happens. If you are of working age and able to work, a court judge is going to require you to find a way to become self-supporting.
4. Explore Financial Independence
Alimony laws change with every divorce case that gets appealed. They can also change when our legislature implements a change to our Florida Statutes.
You absolutely cannot count on alimony or spousal support to be there when you need it. It does not matter if your best friend or your sister went through a divorce and got alimony for the rest of her life. Your situation is different.
Alimony is based upon your need to receive it and your spouse’s ability to provide it. You may need it, but if your spouse does not have the ability to provide you with spousal support, you will not receive what you need.
5. Build a Support Team
There are multiple types issues that will come up in a divorce—self-care, parenting your children, credit, retirement, employment, and taxes.
Make sure each member of your team has a specific role. For example, don’t expect your divorce lawyer to provide you with the emotional support. That job is best for a therapist.
Let’s look at some of the areas you are going to need support:
Most people need a divorce lawyer. Going through a divorce is like being dropped in the middle of an unfamiliar wilderness with no food, no water, no map, no compass, and no guide to help you.
A divorce lawyer can provide you with expert guidance and resources while steering you away from danger.
It is very likely that your spouse will be contacting a lawyer to represent their interests. Without someone looking out for you (and your children, if applicable), you may be very disappointed in the end results.
During a divorce, our brains can switch into a fight-flight response, which releases chemicals into our bodies like adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals can be very damaging if we don’t do something to help release them.
Going for a walk, hitting the gym, using an elliptical or treadmill machine, lifting weights, meditating, yoga, can all help release these potentially dangerous chemicals.
If you have been wanting to improve your diet, now is a perfect time to eat healthier. Whole, natural, non-processed foods will do your body good!
Issues with money are often a huge stressor. Consulting with a financial advisor and Certified Public Accountant can help you get the information you need to make good, fully informed decisions.
For example, it would be good to know ahead of a divorce whether there will be any tax consequences of selling your marital home. It might also be good to find out if you can access any money in a retirement account tax-free or penalty-free incident to your divorce.
Divorce can often cause shock and trauma. It can also bring out the trauma many people experienced as children or adults. For example, handling a divorce where one of the spouse’s suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) has some unique challenges.
Talking to friends and family can help up to a point. However, they will not be as neutral, objective, or skilled as a trained mental health professional. From my perspective, the old stigma that was attached with seeking the help of a mental health professional is gone.
Having a therapist to help guide you through the emotional aspects of divorce can be a lifesaver. If your spouse is a high-conflict personality type like a Narcissist or Borderline, your therapist can provide you with tools and techniques to protect yourself while communicating more effectively with them.
Divorce can disrupt some people’s faith and can bring up a lot of unanswered questions.
Regardless of your faith, there must be a spiritual leader you can turn to for support. If not, maybe there is a faith-based author who has authored a book discussing your faith and divorce.
Your kids should not and must not serve as your emotional support system.
As the parent, you need to be their support system. Some of my clients choose to get their children into therapy as quickly as possible. This can be a great option to help your children cope, adapt, and work with their feelings, thoughts, and emotions.
You might also want to talk with a therapist who specializes in divorce and children about custody and visitation issues. They can help you understand what the best custody and visitation arrangement for your family situation might be.
6. Gather Financial Information
Going through a divorce requires the disclosure of a lot of information. The sooner you get started gathering information the better you will be positioned.
Organize it so that your lawyer and/or their staff does not need to spend time and your money to organize the information.
The following is some of the information that needs to be disclosed in a divorce:
- IRS Tax Returns
- Self-employment ledgers detailing revenue and expenses
- Lease agreements
- Retirement account statements
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Mortgage statements
- Real property deeds
- All sources of income
- A listing of all assets and debts with values for each
- IRS withholding amounts
- A list of all children’s expenses with monthly amounts
- Proof of value for automobiles
You will also need your date of marriage, marriage location, date of birth for you, your spouse, and your children, and Social Security Numbers.
7. Clean Up Your Social Media Accounts
Social media is already being used to decide whether to hire or date someone, so it should come as no surprise that it’s being used in divorce cases as well.
Review all of the information on your social media profiles and make sure it does not contain anything that could be used against you. If a divorce action is filed, you will be prohibited from deleting your social media accounts or removing information.
Keep your social media accounts “clean,” and don’t post anything that might be used against you.
8. Identify Significant Personal Property
Anything with a garage sale value greater than $500 should go on a list. Provide a good description for each item along with an estimated value for each listed item.
9. Update Your Insurance
Change your life insurance beneficiary designations to someone other than your spouse.
Also, if you are covered under your spouse’s health insurance plan, get quotes now for your own health insurance. Most employers will not allow an employee to cover a former spouse on the company-provided health insurance plan.
10. Request Your Credit Report
You want to have a clear picture of all the debt you have.
Sometimes it is difficult to remember every credit card or loan we have. Obtaining your free credit report will not only show you all of your active accounts, it might also reveal credit in your name that you did not authorize.
11. Update Your Will and Power of Attorney
If you have a will, you should update it and name a beneficiary other than your spouse. If your spouse has a power of attorney for you, you will want that changed as well.
12. Make a Monthly Budget
Anticipate what your future living expenses might be when you are divorced and on your own. This will be valuable information during your divorce.
If you plan to leave the marital home and find a new place to live, start investigating what you might expect to pay to rent or lease a home, apartment, or condominium in your preferred location.
If you plan to stay in the marital home, make sure you list all the expenses associated with the home to figure out if you can afford to keep it without the benefit of your spouse’s income.
Contact an Experienced Divorce Lawyer Today
Divorce is one of the most stressful events you will ever experience. That’s why it’s important to have a guide who can help you identify the rights and responsibilities that you might overlook trying to do it yourself.
Having an attorney who focuses their practice 100% on family law and divorce is essential, because you need a professional who understands everything about divorce: the anger, the fear, the betrayal, and the anxiety about your financial future.
Divorce and divorce-related situations are all we do here at Leap Frog Divorce. We’re ready to help you today, and we have financing options.