Planning for divorce sounds so cold and calculating. But the alternative – stumbling through your divorce like a leaf in the wind with no plan at all – is hardly better.
In fact, it’s worse. Without a plan, you will find yourself at the end of your divorce wherever you end up, not where you want to be.
The most effective plans start before divorce has become a part of your reality. Sadly, as soon as you mention the word “divorce” everything changes. You and your spouse quickly become strangers and the trust that once existed in your marriage is gone. So is the opportunity to start your divorce in a way that avoids the most misery.
If you are thinking about divorce, what can you do now, before you even mention divorce, that might help make your journey a little easier?
Here are 10 Things You must Know Before You Divorce:
1. Whether Your Marriage Can Be Saved. Call me a hopeless romantic, but, unless you have crossed the point of no return and you are sure that your marriage can not be saved (or that it can not be saved unless you both work on it, and your spouse won’t work on it) you are not ready to file for a divorce. If you are not sure whether or not your marriage can be saved, you may want to explore counseling, or maybe even a controlled separation, before you pull the trigger on your marriage.
2. Your Spouse. That may seem like a no-brainer. Of course you know your spouse! That’s why you want a divorce! But, what I’m getting at is really deeper than that. Does your spouse want a divorce too? Would your divorce be easier if getting divorced was his idea? Is he open to divorcing amicably, or should you brace yourself for a fight? The more you know your spouse, the more you can anticipate your spouse’s likely reaction to your divorce, and the better prepared you can be for whatever divorce may bring.
3. The Real State of Your Finances. The more information you have about your assets (the money, real estate, retirement, and other accounts you and your spouse own) and your liabilities (your mortgage, car loans, credit card bills and other debts) before you divorce, the smoother your divorce is likely to go.
While it doesn’t always happen, it’s not unusual for information to “go missing” once the word “divorce” is uttered. Gathering as much financial information as you can before you start your divorce is a smart move. (While you are gathering, make sure to keep copies of everything you find, too.)
4. Whether You Can Survive Without Your Spouse’s Income. This means you need to know how much money you will likely be bringing in if you get divorced, and how much your expenses will be. If you don’t have an income, then you need to figure out whether you will be entitled to receive child support or alimony for awhile. You also need to start exploring your own employment options. If your expenses are out of control, you need to figure out a way to get them back in line. No matter what your financial situation, you need to know it before you mention the word “divorce.”
5. Your Plan B. By that I mean that, while your divorce is going forward, how are you going to live? Where are you going to live? How are you going to handle your kids? Hopefully, your divorce will be reasonably amicable and you and your spouse will be able to work together so that everyone’s needs are met as much as possible. But what if that doesn’t happen? If your divorce gets ugly and your spouse turns into a creature you don’t recognize, what are you going to do? Do you have somewhere you could stay for awhile? Do you have access to at least enough money to squeak by? You need a Plan B.
6. Your Credit Score. If all of your accounts are joint and you have never established credit in your own name, now is the time to do so. Applying for credit cards in your own name will likely be easier now before you file for divorce because credit companies will look at your combined household income when determining your credit line. You don’t want to build up debt on those cards, but having the credit available may provide you with a financial safety net that can be a lifesaver later. (This may also be a part or your Plan B.)
7. The Truth About Divorce. No matter how much you plan, your divorce will take longer and cost more than you think. That’s just the way it goes. Your divorce will probably be more difficult than you expect, and it will cause repercussions in your life that you never dreamed of. That doesn’t mean that, in the end, it won’t be the right thing to do. It’s just going to suck while you go through it.
8. You Are Going To Lose Friends As Well As Your Spouse. People will take sides. Or they will walk away from both you and your spouse because they don’t want to take sides. People will judge you (even when they have no idea what is really going on!). Other couples will feel awkward inviting you out as the fifth wheel. When you divorce, you will lose friends … but not your real ones.
9. No Matter Their Age, Your Children Need You. Divorce affects children of every age. If your children are minors, your divorce will affect them even more because it will also affect where they live, how they live, and who they live with. If you love your children, you will do your absolute best to make sure that you minimize the damage to them as much as possible. If you have any questions about how to do that, learn now. Talk to a child specialist. Take parenting classes. Research the best way to break the news of divorce to your children, and the best way to handle your divorce after that.
10. Which Divorce Process You Want to Use. There is more than one way to get divorced. Today you can use divorce mediation, negotiation, litigation or collaborative divorce to get through the divorce process. Each of these divorce processes has pros and cons. Divorce lawyers often gravitate toward using the process that they are the most comfortable with. Because of that, you can’t just walk into some lawyer’s office and assume that s/he will thoroughly discuss all of these processes with you. You need to understand your options before you walk in so that you can make sure that the lawyer you eventually hire has experience in working with the divorce process that you want to use.
Knowing these ten things before you start your divorce will hopefully make your divorce process a little bit less painful. To learn more, and to avoid the ten most common mistakes people make during divorce, check this checklist I created to help you avoid those mistakes.
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