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.
Finally, if you are in a wonderful, supportive, loving marriage, congratulations! What is your backup plan when your marriage starts to go off the rails? What is the worst thing that could happen to you and your family and can you do something now to protect yourself and the children?
WHAT ABOUT PARENTING OUR CHILDREN
Everyone has their own parenting style. Some are strict authoritarians and others are more laissez-faire or hands-off and laid back. And there are a lot of people in between those two extremes.
After helping hundreds of people through the divorce process, the best approach would be to share the parenting of the children if possible. I realize that each family is different, and they must do what works best for them.
However, when you are trying to prepare for a future divorce, which may never happen, you can minimize the impact on your children, if they are used to having two, actively involved parents. This will help mitigate the problems that can occur when one parent has taken all or most of the responsibilities for the children.
When parents divorce, the one household that the children are used to and have come to rely on for stability is split into two, separate households. When they are with the parent who has historically taken on all the responsibilities related to the children, it will be like their pre-divorce experience.
However, when they are with the other parent who has not been involved with the children and has been content with letting the other parent take on all the responsibilities, the children are going to experience some cognitive dissonance or confusion. 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, transportation to and from school and extracurricular activities.
To minimize that shock and confusion for the children, it might be a good idea to start off sharing the parental responsibilities or slowly transitioning to a more equal sharing of the responsibilities.
Of course, you must do what works best for your children and your family situation.
WHAT ABOUT OUR FINANCES
Every married couple handles their finances differently. For many people, what they saw their parents do is what they feel, think, or believe is normal and what should be done.
Some couples maintain joint bank accounts only and make all financial decisions jointly. This works for some. There is at least one celebrity financial advisor who advocates against this because it takes away a person's sense of autonomy and agency.
Your religious beliefs or culture may dictate that you must have joint accounts and make all decisions jointly. Or your faith or culture might mandate that your husband handle all the finances.
Other couples are made up of two individuals who are strong individuals and want to keep their finances separate. However, when it comes to major purchases, such as a home or car, they will come together and make the decision jointly.
To prepare for a divorce, it will become important that you have your own source of funds. Whether the source is credit cards, bank accounts, or a safety deposit box full of cash, you may find yourself in need of your own source of financial support.
Sometimes when couples divorce, one spouse might decide to clean out all the joint accounts or remove their spouse's access to bank accounts. If that happens, what are you going to do to fund your basic living expenses?
If the spouse who withdrew all of the money from your joint accounts leaves the house and refuses to provide any financial support, you might find yourself in a situation where you are unable to pay for anything. Mortgage payments, credit card bills, medical bills, school tuition, food, clothing, gasoline, tolls, cell phone bills, all must be paid. If you are unable to pay them because of the terrible acts or behavior of your spouse, 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.
If you find yourself faced with a divorce, having credit cards as a source of emergency funds can be a lifesaver.
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.
Again, your culture or religion might require you to do this. If so, the revelation about your family's financial situation might come as a great shock to you during a divorce.
WHAT ABOUT MY ABILITY TO WORK AFTER A DIVORCE
Some couples may decide that it is best for the children, for one parent to stay home and not work.
This is okay and 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 that is what alimony is for. You might be right! However, alimony laws change and there may not be enough money available to give you the support you need.
If possible, limit your agreement to stay home and not work. For example, when your child(ren) reach school age, do you have to remain at home without a job? Or a home-based business or remote work situation might be a good option.
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.
WHAT ABOUT ALIMONY
Alimony laws change. They can 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 and will not result in the same result for you.
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.
PUT TOGETHER YOUR SUPPORT TEAM
Build your support team about the issues that will come up in a divorce, such as 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:
LEGAL – Most people need a divorce lawyer. That statement may seem self-serving because I am a divorce lawyer. However, it is factually based. Going through a divorce is like being dropped in the middle of an unfamiliar dense forest with no food, no water, no map, no compass, and no guide to help you.
You will need to identify all the dangers in the forest, like poisonous plants. In addition, you will need to identify all the helpful plants that can provide nutrients and water. You really need a plan to escape the forest.
The same problems exist in a divorce. You need a guide who can provide you with a map, a compass, and a plan to exit the divorce without suffering significant harm in the process. You need to know what evidence and facts can help you and what can hurt you. You need a lawyer to help you survive the divorce process and exit your divorce in a position to be able to move forward.
Don't view your lawyer as a tool to wage war against your spouse or your personal gladiator who will enter the divorce arena and fight all your battles for you. While divorce is often intensely emotional, your lawyer is best when they can help you put things into perspective and provide you with an objective legal opinion. If you have children, your number one responsibility is to make sure that your divorce minimizes any harm to them.
PHYSICAL – The intense emotional aspect of a divorce can be a silent killer. Added to the incredible level of stress that accompanies a divorce, these two divorce aspects can wreak havoc on your physical well-being.
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!
FINANCIAL – 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.
EMOTIONAL – 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.
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.
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.
SPIRITUAL – 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.
CHILDREN – 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.
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.
SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS
Clean up your social media accounts prior to your divorce.
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.
IDENTIFY ALL OF YOUR 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.
CHANGE 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.
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.
WILLS 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.
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 A SKILLED, AGGRESSIVE, COMPASSIONATE AND EXPERIENCED ORLANDO DIVORCE LAWYER TODAY
Starting a divorce can be difficult. Divorce is the second, most stressful event someone will ever experience. It is important to have a guide who can help you identify your 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 is all we do here at Leap Frog Divorce. We're ready to help you today, and we have affordable options.