5 Crucial Steps to Make Your Divorce Less Painful
When you walked down the aisle to say “I do,” you never anticipated that your marriage would turn into a definite “I don’t.” And now, as a divorce looms in your future, there are a lot of decisions that have to be made, none of which seem very attractive. These decisions are critical in terms of effects on your finances, your children, and your future. Some of the decisions will affect your extended family and social circles as well. In short, there is a lot to think about.
Certain concrete strategies can help you walk through the minefield of divorce without causing even more collateral damage. And there are specific steps you can take to protect your assets, your relationships, and your emotional wellbeing.
Here are 5 steps you should consider, that will help you navigate the divorce process and make the best decisions that will affect the next chapter of your life.
Decide what you really want out of the divorce.
This may seem obvious, but surprisingly, many people are so focused on getting what’s fair that they lose sight of what they really want, what they don’t want, and what they actually need.
It might help to make a three columned list, one column for things you need, one for things you want, and one for things you can or should let go of. Then, take a deep breath, and begin to make a thoughtful and honest list of what’s really important. You can refer back to this list to help you stay on track when you are negotiating a settlement with your ex-spouse.
Although there may be significant tension between you and your spouse, take some time to consider the things that he or she wants, and consider what their motivations might be. The time you take to consider these things will help your attorney understand what’s really going on, and will put you in a better position to decide what to ask for, what’s worth fighting for, and what you can do without.
Think of your divorce as a business transaction.
Romance aside, marriage is essentially a binding legal contract. Therefore a divorce is – in simple terms – a legal proceeding to terminate that contract. Of course, there are myriad emotions associated with the termination of a marriage contract. However, when you are making decisions regarding marital assets and responsibilities, you will serve yourself best if you can keep those emotions in check as much as possible.
An experienced divorce attorney is critical to help you understand and protect your rights. Divorce attorneys know the various state and regional laws, and can offer opinions about what a court might do based on their experience in other cases. Then, based on your priorities, needs and desires, your attorney will attempt to negotiate a settlement agreement with as little emotion and animosity as possible.
Take an honest look at your financial situation.
Ideally, before you file for divorce, you should begin to collect information on your and your soon-to-be ex-spouse’s financial situation. Free credit reports can be ordered through AnnualCreditReport.com or CreditKarma.com. Get copies of your tax returns, bank account statements, loan balances and any investment accounts you may have. It is also helpful to have a bank account and credit card in your own name, to begin to build an individual credit profile.
The more financial information you can organize in advance of your first appointment with your attorney, the better the attorney will be able to understand your situation and protect your needs. Being organized in advance will save you time, and perhaps even more important, will save you money in terms of attorney’s fees measured by billable hours.
Assemble your team of experienced divorce professionals.
As soon as your friends and family discover your marriage is in trouble, you will be inundated with well-meant advice. However, that advice may not necessarily be helpful, or accurate. They may be caught up in their own emotions as they observe your situation. While they may mean well, unless they are divorce attorneys they will not be experts in the laws that apply to your situation – and may give you incorrect information or erroneous advice.
Use friends and family to lean on, stay with or cry on their shoulders. But you need an experienced team of professionals to assist you from a dispassionate legal and financial position of strength.
Your divorce attorney
First, you will need to select an attorney who specializes in divorce and family law. He or she will help you decide between the three primary pathways to a divorce: mediation, collaboration, or traditional litigation (going to Court). Each has its own upsides and downsides. Your divorce attorney can help you decide which option fits your unique situation.
The first step to your next chapter is a carefully drafted Settlement Agreement. This is where the skill of an experienced divorce attorney is extremely important. The Settlement Agreement is a lengthy document that sets forth the exact terms and parameters of your divorce, and it is absolutely critical that it is drafted meticulously by an experienced divorce attorney. Your assets and your financial future are at stake, and once it’s signed, it’s legally enforceable.
You should also retain an accountant, to determine what assets are available to you. Many find that it’s best to consult a new accountant, rather than the one who has been handling your joint finances during your marriage. You want one who is looking after your individual best interests, not your interests as a couple.
Your counselor or therapist
And of course, there’s the emotional aspect of divorce. Most divorcing people find it very helpful, if not critical, to meet with a therapist for a while to help them find a way to emotional health after the tremendous toll a dissolving marriage takes. A good therapist can help you process your feelings, and can give you tools to assist you as you try to communicate with your ex-spouse, to avoid falling into the same traps that caused so much stress in your marriage.
Yes, all of these professionals do cost money. However, in the long run, seeking professional advice will save you time and energy, and will keep you from making costly financial mistakes.
Focus on what’s ahead of you, not what’s behind you.
It may be difficult in your present circumstances, but the best thing is to look forward, not backward. The decisions you make today will form the new life that lies ahead of you. While your focus may need to be on the business aspect of the dissolution, remember that you have unlimited possibilities ahead of you, and that is a reason for hope!
Of course, there will be challenges ahead in terms of finances, co-parenting, and emotional recovery. But taking positive steps forward (and avoiding missteps) will point you in the right direction to realize the future you want to create for yourself.