Leah Hadley, CDFA, MAFF, mediator and divorce financial planner, is passionate about making the divorce process as painless as possible.
Are you getting divorced? What should your first step be in preparing for the divorce process? Most people immediately think of contacting an attorney when they think about divorce. I do not diminish the need for sound legal advice, however, I think a lot of us are missing steps prior to contacting that attorney. Below is a list of steps that I recommend taking prior to contacting an attorney so that you begin the process with a plan that will give you confidence and ultimately save you time and money.
Step 1: Establishing a Support System
Divorce is a huge transition and it's important to give yourself the time and space to prepare mentally for what is happening. This might mean engaging a close friend and/or family member or maybe even a mental health professional. It is time to start building out your support system to help you get through this transition.
Step 2: Take Care of Yourself
This goes in tandem with step one, but I have seen the toll that divorce can take on some people, which is why I always encourage building out that support system first. Try to get some sleep. We all think clearer when we are well-rested. If you enjoy exercise, this is not the time to give it up. Find time for a long bike ride or a hike.
I highly encourage journaling throughout your transition. My personal practice is to start each day identifying five things for which I am grateful. I had some pretty tough days going through my divorce and soon thereafter. Sometimes it was hard for me to think of five things but making myself do it helped me to be more positive and gave me more mental clarity.
Step 3: Start Getting Organized
If you were sharing an email address, it is time to establish one in your own name. If you have concerns about mail being delivered to your home, consider using a post office box. Make sure that you have bank and credit card accounts in your own name. Run a copy of your credit report. Credit Karma is a free and easy service. Read it over and see if there is anything you were not expecting to see. It can also help guide you as you begin to collect your account information.
If there are children involved and parenting responsibilities will be shared, start collecting information about school breaks and scheduling of extracurricular activities. Remember, when negotiating parenting time/responsibilities, it is important to put the children's best interests first at all times.
Step 4: Gather Financial Documents
For some, the finances are very familiar. For others, this step will be more difficult. Get yourself a notebook and some folders and start collecting and organizing the information you will need. This includes:
- Three years of tax returns
- Recent paystubs
- Bank statements
- Investment statements
- Retirement/pension statements
- Credit card statements
- Loan statements
- Business financial statements
- Any other relevant financial information
You will also need to create a budget. Start thinking realistically about what you will need to live on following the divorce. Remember, when people divorce, they are going from one household to two. If money was tight to begin with, this can be an extremely challenging proposition. It's not impossible but you may need to get creative with solutions.
Step 5: Continue Gathering Info
This is when we get into some of the information that might be a little tougher to come by and some will be more comfortable with these tasks than others. If you are not sure what to do, I recommend speaking to a CDFA (certified divorce financial analyst) because they can get you on the right track and may even offer some of these services.
When was the last time your home was appraised? Do you have items in your home that have a significant value? You may need to get them appraised as well. Are there pensions that need to be valued? Executive compensation? Businesses? These items will be specific to your situation. An important note: Do not use your spouse's accountant to do your appraisals/valuations. There are assumptions that are part of all of these calculations and your spouse's accountant is working for them. Either hire a neutral third party together or get a second opinion.
This information can be gathered at anytime during the divorce process but you will be better prepared for negotiations if you have this information available to you. If your spouse is not giving you access to the information you need, you will need to have an attorney work through the discovery process.
Step 6: Strategise & Prioritize
This is not really the last step as you will likely be working through your divorce priorities and strategy (at least in your head) throughout the process. It is important to do some research and know your options. There are tons of articles about divorce available online. Read several so you get a wide range of opinions on various issues. Take a look at the domestic relations court website for your area. They usually have lots of great resources available online.
Before you embark on this transition, think about what is most important to you. If one spouse is determined to end the marriage, it will be terminated. Thus, every avenue should be explored prior to beginning the divorce process. If you are not on board, it is time to get on board and figure out how to make the best of the situation. A divorce is not only an end to a marriage, it is the beginning of a new chapter of your life. It's in your best interest to start that new chapter feeling strong and ready with a plan in hand.
Step 7: Consult with an Attorney
Regardless of which divorce process you determine is the best for you, I always recommend clients consult with an attorney at some point during the process and possibly more than one attorney. Get recommendations and interview attorneys prior to hiring them. You want to find one that listens to you. It is also important to understand how they charge. The most expensive is not necessarily the best and the cheapest is not necessarily the worst. Find someone who is experienced with cases similar to your own.
Last but not least, be kind to yourself. If you have children, remember to put their interests first and look to the future that you will share together.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.