Just as every marriage is unique, every divorce will be unique as well.
So preparing for divorce can be a highly individualized process, but there are still some general considerations to think about before moving forward.
How Do I Protect Myself in a Divorce?
The best way to protect yourself in all three of these areas is to arm yourself with good, solid information.
This will include a full understanding of the divorce process in your state, what laws may be applicable to your situation, what rights you have under those laws, and how to mentally minimize the anxiety that you will encounter as you work through everything.
Of course, the easiest way to protect yourself is to hire an experienced family law attorney.
For some people, this not only makes sense, it can be almost mandatory due to the complexity of the assets involved, child custody issues, alimony and other related hot button issues.
But for other divorcing couples, an attorney may not be part of the equation. This might be due to a lack of resources needed to pay an attorney, or a divorce may be relatively simple to resolve, with no children and few assets to argue about.
In these types of cases, you should still protect yourself by reading as much as you can about how your divorce will play out in your particular county and state. Going this route can save you thousands of dollars in legal fees and is often times the quickest route for a divorce from start to finish.
What Do I Need to Know Before Getting a Divorce?
You need to start thinking about what kind of divorce you prefer.
Depending on your relationship with your spouse, you may be able to resolve your custody, support and asset division issues through mediation or collaborative divorce instead of having lawyers hash things out and perhaps going all the way to a trial, which is the most expensive form of divorce.
The more money you save in a divorce, the more money you will have for your new life afterwards.
Get a good understanding of your local legal process.
The legal process of divorce varies from county to county and from state to state.
The more you understand how divorce works where you live, the better equipped you will be to go through the process, with less anxiety and less fear of the unknown.
Documentation is critical.
Whether you live in a community property state or an equitable distribution state, the division of assets is perhaps the most critical element of your divorce.
It will determine what assets you will walk away with to start your new life.
You must start gathering all the documentation that you can as early as you can in the process to make it easier on yourself in the long run.
You will need to gather the following financial information
- Bank account statements
- Investment account statements
- Grant deeds for real estate
- Mortgage statements
- Bank accounts
- Credit cards
- Pension benefit statements
- Retirement account statements
- Personal and Business tax returns
- Personal property
- Business holdings
- Details on any lawsuits you may be involved in
- Other related financial information that will be used to divide assets between you and your spouse later on.
If you have signed any pre- or post-nuptial agreements, make sure you have copies of them as well.
Also get copies of prior divorce judgments, life and health insurance policies and if pertinent, immigration or naturalization documents.
You will also want information for any children, including birth certificates and social security information.
If you expect challenges about what will be considered community property vs. separate property, pull together supporting documentation to prove that part of your case as well.
Because some spouses will attempt to hide asset information, it’s best to do this before you formally ask for a divorce.
Determine how your cash flow and expenses may be affected.
When you split assets and income, you will need to adjust your monthly budgets to adapt to your new reality.
Whereas before you had one house payment, one set of utility bills, one health insurance policy and so forth, you and your spouse will now have two of each of these (and others) to deal with.
Your credit may be affected, you’ll lose discounts on things like auto insurance, cell phones and other related expenses.
It’s also critical to document these things if you are expecting to collect alimony and child support in the future.
If you have been a stay-at-home parent, you may need to now look for a job.
If you have been taking care of your home, children and domestic duties, to survive on your own you’re probably going to need to find a job.
It’s never too early to update your resume, look at taking classes to keep your skills current, and start working with placement agencies to assist you in re-entering the workforce.
In some cases, you may be able to get spousal support for training to assist you in re-entering the workforce if you have been out of it for an extended period.
Decide what assets are the most important to you.
Some people want to stay in their homes after a divorce.
Others place a high value on other financial assets such as stocks, bonds and retirement accounts, or how much alimony and child support they will need in order to survive following a divorce.
Prioritize what’s important to you and that will help you set a negotiating game plan in action when it comes time to do so.
Find out if you are in a community property state or an equitable distribution state and understand how those laws will apply to your situation.
Asset division is a give and take process, and to get what you want, be prepared to give up your interests in something else.
You don’t need to “tough it out” as you go through a divorce.
In fact, just the opposite should hold true.
Understand that it will be a rollercoaster of emotions including anger, sadness, frustration, and depression.
Some people are better equipped than others to deal with it. Other people will take it hard and there are emotional strategies you should consider putting in play as you cope with what is happening.
Seek out support.
Divorce is hard, but it’s even harder when you try to go it alone.
Find a sympathetic friend or family member, a divorce support group, or consider going to a therapist to help you work through the wide range of emotions you’re going to encounter as you work through the divorce process.
Keep lines of communication open with your spouse, if possible.
Some couples find it impossible to talk to their spouses after an initial split, and that’s understandable.
However, just because you’ve separated, does not mean you are done in your relationship with that person.
It will take some time to unwind things and the better job you can do of communicating with your spouse, the easier and quicker it will be to get to the end of the divorce process.
If you have children, consider how a divorce will affect them.
Children are more perceptive than you might think, and when they sense mom and dad are not getting along, it will undermine their very being.
When that moves from arguments to an actual split and eventual divorce, kids’ lives can be deeply impacted.
You must take time to reassure them that they are still loved. And above all else, refrain from expressing anger toward your spouse when talking to your children.
It will solve nothing and only make a tough situation worse for the ones you care about the most.
Be good to yourself.
It’s normal to try and dissect why a marriage ended, but placing all the blame on your own shoulders is going to impede a lot of healing that needs to take place.
Accept what has happened, try to look to the future, and stay positive even during those inevitable tough and awkward days you will experience.
Resolve to yourself that it will take time.
You may be in a hurry to move on to the next chapter in your life.
You may be in full avoidance mode and “just want to get it over” as quickly as possible.
When you think this way, you only hurt yourself and it could lead you to make costly mistakes or put more stress on you than you already have.
Divorce takes time. There are hundreds of decisions to make.
Going one step at a time is not only the best way to go – it is the only way to go.
How Long Do I Need to Be Separated Before Getting a Divorce?
In some cases, there is no waiting period and it’s possible to finalize your divorce fairly quickly.
In other states, you will need to be separated for a much longer period, as much as a year or more.
States with separation periods on the books use this as a cooling off period which may give a couple a chance to work out their issues and possibly save a marriage.
There are also some advantages to being separated instead of getting a divorce.
This could be due to religious reasons, tax implications, immigration issues, or healthcare or other ongoing costs.
Some couples may also choose to remain separated rather than getting a divorce to avoid incurring a loss due to the sale of a family home.
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