Once you make the hard but important decision that you’re going to get a divorce, one of the first things you have to face is the inevitable cost. And I’m not talking in the more esoteric sense of the term “cost” (like the emotional cost or interpersonal cost) I’m talking about two important resources: time and money. The latter is renewable the former is not. At the outset I make it clear to clients that I would rather you put YOUR children through college than mine.
Contrary to the beliefs of some, divorce attorneys do exist for a reason: even with the best of intentions, people who are divorcing often aren’t fully aware of the ins and outs of the law, including what rights you have. Divorce isn’t just about dividing up “stuff”—it’s also about thinking through your own future (for example, retirement), ensuring your children are provided for, and creating fair divisions of assets that aren’t easily divided up.
The truth is, by the time you decide to divorce, often that decisions is directly related to an inability to negotiate productively within the marriage. If there’s an unequal distribution of power in the relationship, if there’s a lack of trust on either side, or if there’s simply an inability to understand one another or see eye to eye, the possibility of amicably and fairly disengaging from each other is usually slim to non-existant becomes almost impossible. Whether you like the idea of a divorce attorney or not, you might need one. (Luckily, a lot of us are actually nice people.)
On that note, here are my tips for keeping the legal aspects of your divorce as simple as possible, thus saving me time and you money.
Write down your goals.
Not only does writing down your goals help you figure out what you really want and need out of this process, it also is there as a reminder in case you lose your bearings. Everyone—and by that I mean everyone—gets emotional during a divorce, at some point. Having concrete goals helps you keep your s*** together. I tell clients all the time there are three things you should identify at the start of a divorce: what you need, what you want and what you’re entitled to. (It’s worth noting that that second thing is typically informed by that third thing).
Familiarize yourself with the family finances.
One of the biggest shocks for many people, male and female spouses alike, is how little we pay attention to the flow of incomings and outgoings. Spend a week or more using your spare time to go over your bank statements, bills, taxes, 401(k)s, insurance policies, and so on. Have all the documents on hand in case we need them, and make copies of the crucial stuff. If you don’t have access to a copier use a handy app like Scannable or Evernote (I use both all the time in my personal and professional life).
Review everything your spouse reports.
Even with the best of intentions, mistakes can be made (on either side). People also lie like crazy sometimes when they’re getting divorced. Review everything your spouse reports to make sure your reports line up.
Close joint accounts.
Any purchases made from joint accounts can create problems during the divorce, and you could end up paying for stuff you didn’t buy or spending tons of money in legal fees trying to “sort out” what was pre-divorce and what was post-divorce. Keep it simple. Close the joint accounts. . The simplest thing is just to close them. Online accounts, too: chances are you’ve logged into your email account from your spouse’s phone, laptop or iPad, or vice versa; privacy is important now. Change passwords or close them down. PLEASE NOTE, however, that you should either: (A) let your spouse know you’re doing this before you do it (so they don’t panic and think you’re raiding the piggy bank; or (B) take only HALF of the money in the account and let your spouse know that you’ve left the remaining half in there for his or her sole and separate use.
Figure out how much money you need.
“Need” is a subjective term, but let’s think about it this way: what is the amount of money that will allow you to live comfortably until and through your retirement, taking into account your lifestyle and your existing annual income? This is your goal going into the divorce.
Record all your expenses.
Collect all the records you have from the past year or two, and then keep a record of everything you spend from now until the divorce is finalized. This will help answer any questions that may come up about expenses.
Come to my office for legal advice—not personal advice.
I fully understand people seeking personal counsel during a divorce, because it’s a seriously tough time, but your divorce attorney is likely not the best person to be providing emotional support. Frankly, we’re not trained for it and we probably have a higher rate-per-hour than many people who ARE trained for it. If you need someone to talk to about the big stuff, there is zero shame in getting therapist – I can even give you a referral. Plus, it has the added benefit that you and I can focus on what we can do best together: win your divorce.
Don’t want to pay spousal support? Help your spouse get a job!
One of the most difficult positions to be in is that of a spouse who has sacrificed key career-building years to raising a family, to allow the other spouse to work, and then to face a divorce in which they are left without any professional skills to fall back on. I don’t condone putting anyone in that position, regardless of what spousal support can be provided; I have seen many people in this position, and it’s not a nice place to be. If you can hack it, commit some real effort, time and money into supporting your spouse in building skills and attaining a good professional situation.
It’s a common misconception that divorce attorneys want long, miserable, drawn-out divorces—because that means more money from that one client. In fact, we usually want the opposite. A single difficult divorce can take up a lot of time and resources, and keep us from serving other clients—so I want to handle your divorce with as much efficiency and as little conflict as possible, without sacrificing in results.
You also might not be aware that divorce attorneys are often trained in (or have offices that offer) mediation as well as litigation. My office offers mediation services, and it is for some couples a less expensive and more tolerable option. Feel free to get in touch with us about our mediation services.