There is no magic bullet when it comes to surviving a divorce. Even under the best of circumstances, divorce is an emotional and financial roller coaster that will challenge you from start to finish.
That’s why we put together 60 actionable tips to help you get through divorce and make your life a bit easier along the way.
We’ve broken them down into five key areas:
- Asset Division
- Alimony and Child Support
Let’s dive in.
How to Get Through a Divorce Financially
1) Close your joint accounts. Open separate accounts. You need to make a clean financial break from your spouse and closing joint accounts and opening accounts in your name only is a highly prudent course of action to keep you from possibly being on the hook for debt you didn’t incur. You don’t want your credit score or your credit history to take a hit, especially when you need to learn to stand on your own financial footing.
2) Update important life documents. Your spouse may have handled things like your estate planning, financial planning, power of attorney documents and medical power of attorney documents in the past. But now that you’re on your own, you need to make critical decisions about who you will want to inherit your assets if you pass away, who you will want to make important decisions when you’re not able to, and other related key life decisions. Update all documents to reflect the new people who will be handling these things for you in the future.
3) A lawyer can help you with legal stuff but a finance professional should help you with financial stuff. If there is any degree of complexity in your marital finances, you don’t want to take the chance of getting burned at a time when you’re going to want and need every penny that you can hold on to post-divorce. Find someone who specializes in divorce financial planning or a similar professional you can trust. Talk to your attorney for recommendations of people they have worked with in the past if you’re not sure where to start.
4) Keep your personal business personal. You’re running at a heightened emotional state when you go through a divorce, and you’ll be tempted to talk through your issues with just about anyone you think will listen and be able to offer reasonably sane advice. Don’t do it. Find a few trusted friends or family members, use the professionals in your life who do this for a living, and keep your business private and confidential.
5) Don’t get greedy. You may want to punish your spouse, but divorce laws are set up so that there is a fair and equitable distribution of assets. If you attempt to bull your way through a divorce, you’re only going to cost yourself a lot more money and you could actually wind up hurting your final disposition if the court sees you an unwilling to do the right thing. Keep an even keel, understand that what you are going to do is compromise and then determine the best course of action in conjunction with the people who are helping you.
6) Make health insurance a priority. Like a majority of Americans, you have probably enjoyed pretty good health benefits for much of your adult life. But in a divorce, health insurance coverage can be one of the trickier issues to navigate. A final settlement may include one spouse continuing to provide health coverage for the other. But you may also wind up having to provide your own health insurance, sometimes for the first time in your life. Chances are, your children will be taken care of as part of the settlement, but you may not be. If there is an issue worth fighting for, and one where you can gain leverage, this one is it.
7) Think about doing a self-guided financial audit. Once you have your settlement in place and you know how assets will be split, you need to come up with a short- and a long-term financial plan and related goals. Start by creating a monthly budget. Determine what your living expenses and income will be. Figure out what kind of reserves will you have. Will you be able to contribute to retirement accounts? Ideally, how do you want your post-divorce financial picture to look like? It’s a process and you’ll plug in elements as you go, but it’s part of the healing process when you start to take control of your finances in a more global, instead of reactionary way.
8) Build up your emergency fund. Your finances are going to take a beating in a divorce. It’s inevitable. And there’s few things that feel worse in the world than like you’re working without a financial net below to catch you if you fall. Now is not a time to take luxury trips or buy fancy cars, until you rebuild your foundation. Take a portion of whatever assets you have after divorce and sock them away for those rainy days that are sure to come. How much you need really depends on your situation, but in general, the bigger the fund, the more secure you’ll feel.
9) Educate yourself on financial matters. Some spouses are caught completely unaware in a divorce because their spouse handled all the financial matters for the family. When it comes to money, few things feel worse than not knowing what you don’t know. If you’ve got gaps in your financial IQ, make it a mission to get savvy in a hurry. Nobody else will take care of your money as well as you do. In fact, if you don’t watch your money zealously, you could become a victim of fraud or other similar crimes quite easily. Ask questions. Rely on professionals. Keep digging until you can talk to talk as well as anyone.
10) Pull your credit report. The quickest way to get a snapshot of how the world sees your finances is to get a copies of your credit reports. Review them for inaccuracies, make sure that you are taking steps to close joint accounts, consider closing out old accounts, and basically clean up your credit report which will become even more important to you on your own as you apply for a mortgage or a car loan, try to land an apartment, and in some cases, a job.
11) Consider the implications of changing your name. If you are going to go back to using a maiden name, you need to think about how this will affect your finances. If you do make a change, make sure your legal name matches the name on any credit and loan accounts. It could get very confusing in a hurry and result in errors or multiple names on accounts that might create disputes later on. In turn, that could damage your credit and your ability to move forward after a divorce.
12) Don’t weaponize your finances and assets. You’ve got to approach divorce as a business deal that needs to be resolved instead of an all-out war that needs to be won. If you try to use money as a sledgehammer against your spouse, you’re only going to see it boomerang and come right back at you, doing damage on both sides. If you want to go to war on finances, it means you’re probably not thinking rationally. In that case, it’s best to take a step back, hand the ball off to a lawyer or finance professional and let them work out details based on facts and goals instead of emotions.
How to Get Through Divorce with Children
13) Breaking the news. There’s no easy way to do it. And if your children are a bit older, they’ll already have an inkling about what’s happening. It won’t make the initial shock any less, however. If possible, try to deliver the news when both of you can do so. Be straightforward and don’t make it a long and drawn out affair.
Expect a wide range of reactions from fear, to anger, denial and self-blame. Let your children know that even though things are changing that both parents still love them. Reassure them that what is happening is not their fault.
14) Don’t put your kids in the middle. As you move through the various stages of your divorce, you’ll be tempted to bash your spouse or ask your kids to “spy” on mommy or daddy as a means of trying to gain an upper hand. If you want your child in therapy for years to come, by all means, follow this course.
But in reality, your problems with your spouse need to be kept private to as much of a degree as possible. Answer questions and assuage fears, but don’t make children an extension of your point of view or your goals in a divorce.
15) Listen. Kids will have a wide range of emotional reactions to their parent’s getting a divorce. They will have a million questions, too. Where am I going to go to school? Do you still love me? Who will I be living with? Will I still get to see my friends? Can I still play baseball or keep going to dance lessons?
As hard as it is for you to process the events in your own world, it’s mind-boggling tough for a child to attempt to do the same in their world when they have no control over the forces that have intruded.
Just like you, sometimes kids just need to unload. Be a good listener. Don’t try to solve all their problems by making promises you can’t keep. Until things work themselves out, sometimes listening is enough.
16) Maintain consistency. Like adults, children are best reassured when there is a consistency about their lives, especially in the midst of divorce. Keeping routines in place is vital to easing emotional fears. Bedtime is still at 9 pm. Dinner is still at 6 pm. Yes, you have to do your homework before you can watch TV or play video games.
The more you can keep parts of their lives the same, the easier it will be in the long run. Of course, some things will inevitably change, and you’ll need to take extra time to allow for those new routines to take hold. Be patient. Children generally have a great capacity to adapt, just don’t overwhelm them if you can help it.
17) No fighting in front of the kids. Sure, emotions are going to bubble up from time to time. But to the extent you can do it, keep your arguments and fights for a more private time. Few things can cause more emotional damage that two parents who escalate into an all-out battle in front of their children. Screaming, violence, or arguing will put your kids on a fast track to depression, worry, anger and withdrawal.
18) Watch for signs of stress. It takes a village to raise a child and while children may hide their feelings in front of mom and dad, they may lash out in other situations. Be sure to clue your child’s school in to what’s going on at home, talk to parents of their friends, perhaps seek guidance or counseling through your church or after school daycare.
A child who is under stress will lash out, show heightened emotional outbursts, become sullen, start to do poorly in school, and if the child is older, they may turn to mind numbing solutions such as drugs or alcohol.
19) Don’t lie or sugarcoat the situation. As tough as the questions may be, do your best to explain things honestly. Don’t paint an unrealistic picture of what’s to come or you will create a long-term resentment that will drive a wedge between you and your child. Choose your words carefully and be okay with telling them that you don’t have all of the answers. Be honest, even if your gut tells you not to. Just make sure you don’t vent, criticize or point fingers when you do so.
20) Legitimize their feelings and help put those feelings into words. If you sense that a child is depressed or sad after you’ve broken the news, try and legitimize those feelings by asking them about the specific reason for their sadness. Listen well, even if that paint you as the bad person for those feelings. Encourage them to talk things out so that you can offer solutions to help them cope.
21) If the situation warrants, get help. Just like you can’t go it alone in a divorce, neither can your kids. Their emotions are going to be more unbalanced and difficult to manage and for those reasons, if you need to do it, get them some professional help. A family therapist or counselor is trained to uncover deep seated issues and help kids work through their problems on their own terms.
22) Keep the messages age appropriate. You don’t need to share the same kinds of information or level of detail with as 5-year-old as you would with a 14-year-old. Keep in mind that kids of all ages are sponges and they will absorb everything you tell them. Think before you speak. Don’t be doom and gloom. Tell the truth but do it in a non-accusatory way if you can help it. Provide reassurance. But above all else, don’t lie.
23) Always engage in peaceful handoffs. If ever there is a time for a flashpoint incident to take place, it will be when you are exchanging custody or visitation. Under no circumstances do you engage in any kind of heated exchange with your spouse during these times. Your focus must be on your children who will be going through a certain amount of their own anxiety as they say goodbye to one parent and hello to another. Save your disagreements for texts, emails or phone calls at a later date. Be civil. Set an example to reassure your children.
24) Be wise in how you welcome your children home. One parent is always going to be curious how the visit went at the other parent’s house. That’s normal. What’s not normal is prying too much about time that is supposed to be private between the other parties. Ask a few questions, provide a warm and welcome hug and conversation, and move on. If your children need to tell you something about the visit, they will, but on their own terms. Parents can unconsciously make their children feel guilty about spending time with their other parent, and if your goal is to pay for a lot of therapy for your kids down the road, that’s the path you should pursue.
25) Don’t lie or try to hide assets. First, this undermines the trust you’ll need to keep things at least amicable during a break-up. Second, if you get caught doing either of these, you’ll pay a price, and it can be a steep one with civil penalties, a loss of assets, and in a few cases, even criminal penalties. You’re going to have to provide disclosures, so make sure you are honest or you may regret it.
26) Be civil. Easier said that done. You are basically dividing your lives into two pieces and there’s bound to be some emotional wreckage you’ll have to deal with, but if you can remove as much of the emotions as possible, things will go easier for you. Understand you will need to compromise. You can’t have your house, your full retirement account, the car, the boat and everything you want. So, decide what’s important to you. Engage in a dialog even if it through your attorneys and keep your frustrations to a minimum.
27) Understand the asset division laws for your state. Most states are equitable distribution states, which means that property is divided in a fair and equitable manner, but not always on a 50/50 basis. Other states, like California, are community property states which means that assets are divided on a 50/50 basis. There are specific rules and regulations that govern how assets are divided and you need to make sure you have a thorough understanding of how various scenarios will play out that will either work in your favor or against you depending on your circumstances.
28) Don’t nickel and dime yourself to death. If you have a very low level of trust with your spouse then you’ll be tempted to want to fight them for every single marital asset. Here’s the deal when you do that…the only ones that will benefit will be your lawyers who will have to engage in back and forth ad nauseum, racking up a ton of hourly charges. Instead, decide what your big priorities are (keep the house, keep the car, etc.) and start comparing notes to see where you can build compromise.
29) Understand the difference between marital and separate property. Most of the time, assets acquired during a marriage are considered marital, or community property. Assets acquired before the date of marriage or after the date of separation are considered separate most of the time. But there are exceptions. This can include gifts given to one spouse only or inheritances. Many times, these are considered separate property and not subject to division. However, the exception to the exceptions are if you commingle the separate assets with marital assets, they could inadvertently become marital assets.
30) Dividing retirement accounts requires following certain procedures. Aside from a house, a retirement account is perhaps the largest asset a couple will own in a marriage. To divide any kind of retirement account, it must first be valued and then it can be separated. To separate a retirement account, a qualified domestic relations order must be executed. Known as a QDRO for short, this legal document spells out terms of the division of the account, must be approved by a judge, and then must be approved by a plan administrator before an alternate payee can be established.
31) Consider using a mediator. If you just keep banging heads with your spouse over assets, you might benefit from using a third party to help you negotiate with each other. A mediator is a trained negotiator who will suggest non-binding solutions and provide a dispassionate third-party point of view that will help you get unstuck from the things that are causing delays and arguments.
32) Consider using other professionals to assist you. There are a number of other professionals you can tap to help figure out the best course of action when dividing assets. A certified divorce financial planner, a CPA, or an appraiser can all bring added perspective to your tasks at hand. In many cases, these costs are split evenly, but each divorce is different. Ask your attorney for referrals as a starting place to find the right people.
33) If you suspect your spouse is hiding assets, hold them accountable. If there’s one thing a spouse will try to do in a divorce, it’s trying to gain an upper hand and walk away with a larger slice of the asset pie than they are entitled to receive. Hiding assets is both stupid and common. As the aggrieved party, you can go through a discover process and have subpoenas issued to compel your spouse to reveal all of their assets. If they have a smart attorney, they will compel the spouse to do the right thing from the get-go, but don’t assume that will always be the case. Use the legal means at your disposal to protect what is yours.
34) Some parts of a divorce can be modified but a division of assets is not one of them. Alimony, child support and visitation can all be revisited at a later date as situations change, but a division of assets is final once the divorce decree is approved. That’s why it is critical to go slow and be sure about what you want and what you are willing to give back. There are virtually no do-overs when it comes to assets in a divorce.
35) Understand your options when it comes to dividing the family home. If children are involved, one spouse may choose to keep custody of the children and to have them remain in the family home. If that happens, and the other spouse gives up their interest, he or she will generally need to be compensated some other way. This can be a larger percentage of a retirement account, or pulling cash out through a mortgage refinance, or agreeing to hold off on a sale of the home until a later date.
36) A division of assets also means a division of debts. While you are legally entitled to your fair share of marital assets, you are also responsible for your fair share of any debts accumulated during a marriage. These are treated just like assets are, meaning they are divided either equally or in a fair and equitable manner (but not necessarily 50/50). Pay particular attention to which spouse will be responsible for which debt because creditors may not care and still come after both parties if the debt is not handled properly.
Alimony and Child Support
37) Alimony may be temporary or it may be permanent. The courts use many factors to determine alimony, including the length of the marriage, the contributions of each spouse to the marriage, age, health and ability to earn a living, and many others. In some cases, especially in long-term marriages where one spouse has stayed at home to raise children and run the house, judges may award permanent alimony. In shorter marriages, it may be for a specified length of time, until a spouse can get back on their financial feet.
38) It pays to know the laws of your state. This will be a huge financial issue in your life following divorce. how much you get or how much you pay is going to directly impact your bottom line. So, you need to understand the laws of your state which will vary to some degree. Judges may be bound by certain laws and in other cases, they may have a wide discretion when it comes to determining alimony
39) Child support follows an established formula in many states. Child support is generally determined by the amount of income each parent produces and then those amounts are plugged into a formula to determine how much child support must be paid by one parent or the other every month. Just as with alimony, some states are bound by certain laws, but in other cases, judges have leeway in deciding what the best interests of the children are.
40) Always pay on time. Whether its alimony or child support, always pay on time. Nothing will anger a judge more than having a parent file a complaint on a deadbeat parent. In many states, a deadbeat parent doesn’t get to be a deadbeat parent because child support orders are often attached to wages and taken out before an employee ever sees their paycheck. If you’re experiencing trouble making ends meet, work with your spouse and be up front. If you’ve lost your job, contact the administering agency for child support in your state and see about applying for some kind of modification.
41) Keep detailed records of everything. A vindictive spouse or parent may seek to harm your reputation and try to bleed additional money out of you. The best way to combat this is to keep detailed records of all your child support and alimony payments. When you can substantiate your position with facts, that will play out favorably in court versus a he said/she said type of a situation.
42) The payor has no control. If you are the spouse/parent make payments to your ex, then you have very little say as to what happens to the money once you do actually make a payment. It is used the best way that the other spouse sees fit, whether that’s buying groceries, making a car payment, putting braces on a child’s teeth or any other number of reasons. If parent doesn’t agree with where the money is being spent, they can document their issues and discuss them with their lawyer. Never threaten to withhold payment for any reason. That’s illegal and guaranteed to end poorly.
43) Understand when child support ends. In most cases, it will be when a child turns 18. However, that is not a hard and fast rule. If the child is still in high school, has special needs or other conditions that vary from state to state, it’s possible for child support to continue until age 19 and beyond.
44) If you experience a major life event, you can seek a modification in alimony or child support. If you lose your job, have a major health issue or some other defining life event it is possible to return to court to seek a modification in the amount you will have to pay each month. Be sure to provide documentation and to be truthful with any questions that are asked of you.
45) Consider the impact of other child-related expenses. You may be asked to pay for extracurricular activities or educational expenses over and above what your base child support amount is. You will need to discuss these items with your spouse to determine who is actually responsible for paying for these extras. Healthcare costs are also another area where parents can get nailed. Courts are usually insistent that both parents contribute to the healthcare costs of children, unless otherwise negotiated.
46) Keep calm. Alimony and child support are often the most emotionally raw parts of a divorce for a variety of reasons. This can lead to outbursts that you may later regret. If you want to battle, everyone will lose. Know the difference between standing your ground and unnecessary fighting. Approach things in a collaborative manner. Keep calm. Pay less legal fees. Get things done quicker. And move on.
47) Be reasonable. If your spouse makes a million dollars a year, that’s one thing. But if your spouse only makes $50,000 a year, that’s quite another. You have to adjust your expectations to reality. You may not like the final number that you hear, but there’s a good chance it will be a reflection of the reality you are living.
48) Work toward being independent. Alimony is a much-needed crutch, but it also means that you are trusting that your ex is going to keep paying in good faith. Life happens and that can disrupt even the most amicable of arrangements. Be smart and take steps to try and wean yourself of the reliance of an ex-spouse. It’s not always possible, but it will give you a greater peace of mind in the long run.
How to Get Through a Divorce Emotionally
49) If you’re struggling, get help. You’re not going to experience emotional ups and downs ever in your life like you will be going through a divorce. You’ll range from relief, to terror, to anger, and every other kind of thought in-between. Some days you will handle it better than others. On other days, you’ll find the depths of despair you never even knew existed. If you know those days are coming you can brace yourself a bit. But if things get overwhelming, get help. There’s no shame whether you’re a man or a woman. Don’t be so tough and become so emotionally calloused that your scars become permanent either. You’ve got to go live your life moving forward and you can’t do that until you crawl out a funk.
50) Do healthy stuff. Be moderate when it comes to alcohol (and drugs for that matter). You’re going to want to dull the pain and some of that is to be expected. But there’s few things that are worse than waking up with a massive hangover AND still having to cope with divorce. You’re going to have to rewire your life and now is a great time to spend time on you, eating better, getting more exercise (especially hard to do if you’re depressed, but you’ve got to make the effort.
51) Find a new circle of friends. Part of your post-divorce rebirth means making new connections that are outside your existing circle of friends and family. Join a club. Volunteer for a cause that you’ve always wanted to embrace. You get to remake yourself in the image that you want following a divorce and part of your new identity is defined by the company you keep.
52) Eliminate toxic people. While you’re finding new and vibrant relationships, also make it a point to eliminate the negative and toxic people in your life. Some people are going to choose sides in a divorce. Some people will judge you for what they perceive as a failure in your marriage. You don’t need them or their opinions. Jettison them and learn the value of addition by subtraction in your life.
53) Let go. In times of stress, you’ll be tempted to try and control as much of your life as possible. Chances are, that will only make things worse. Understand what’s within your control and what is not. Then, drop the gloves and let go. You can’t fight everything, so why not focus on the things you can control and the things that matter most to you.
54) Take your time making big decisions. You’re going to enjoy a certain new level of freedom as a single person, so don’t be rushed or bullying into making decisions that will have a big impact on your life. Not ready to date? Don’t date! Not ready to move to a new place? Don’t move to a new place? Trying to decide about going on a vacation? In that case, if you can swing it, go! The point is, you get to make decisions that may have been made for you by a domineering spouse for a long, long time. Enjoy your decision-making freedom. It is one of the upsides of divorce.
55) The opposite of love should not be anger…it should be indifference. When all is said and done, you don’t want to keep carrying around anger in your heart. It’s toxic. Instead, work towards indifference. Cast aside your relationship cares when it comes to your ex-spouse. It’s a lot healthier and you won’t be consumed in the past meaning you can more readily focus on the future.
56) Keep your kids out of any emotional vortex. As a parent, it is your duty to shield your children from the raw emotions that can bubble up on a bad day. They are trying to cope in their own way and when you heap your emotional baggage on them, it’s going to mess them up. So, don’t do it. Instead, use the time you have with them constructively. Focus on doing positive things together. Even the little stuff counts, like doing homework or going out for an ice cream cone.
57) It takes time. Everybody heals from a divorce at their own speed. What’s right for one person is not right for the next one. Only you know deep down inside how your healing process is going. Don’t listen to well-meaning friends who try to rush the process. But also be aware when you get stuck and seek out help either from friends or family or a therapist to keep your healing on track.
58) Don’t engage in reruns with your ex. After so many years, there are certain scripts that a relationship will follow. Obviously, some of them were toxic in your relationship or you’d still be together. You’ve had time to think about what those are and that should make it easier for you to reject those scenarios if you seem them bubbling up when you need to interact with your ex for whatever reason.
59) Recognize that self-loathing sucks. Quit beating yourself up. If you’ve got self-esteem issues following a break-up, recognize that you’re vulnerable to negative feelings that could manifest in many different ways. Accept any mistakes you made. Stop the input of additional bad talk from outside influence such as your ex, friends or family and reframe your thinking over time to a much more positive mental state.
60) A day at a time. A moment at a time. Divorce is awkward. Divorce can be ugly. It will beat you up without regret. You will feel battered at times. To avoid feeling helpless, break your life down into small and manageable life size bits. Focus on doing one thing at a time. Lose yourself in a good book. Enjoy, and I mean really enjoy, a mindful walk in a park or on a beach. Pet dogs. Smell roses. Watch sunsets. It all counts when you’re feeling down. Small moments are part of the big healing process. Be mindful moving forward….one small piece of time at a time.
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