We plan for everything. As parents, we plan for our retirement, we plan for our child to attend college and save for that. And, as young adults, we plan for our career by going to college to gain the necessary education. Why then, do people fail to take steps to plan for divorce?
People tolerate their spouse longer than they should. They let the steam build and build, until one day, some minor annoyance causes an explosion and then announce, “I want a divorce.” That is a hard comment to come back from if you intend to stay in your marriage. Even those that enter into some kind of family therapy can still have a problem keeping their marriage intact once you’ve declared that you want a divorce. Before you explode and announce your intentions over dinner one night, think about what you are doing and where you want to go.
Understand, I’m not advocating that you divorce. I love the people that ask me how I can sleep at night knowing that I’m profiting from the “dirty business of divorce.” Hey, I didn’t sleep with your best friend, I didn’t go out and drink all night and forget your anniversary, you’ve done all of that yourself. Trust me, I didn’t break up this family, this family was broken when I got it.
You don’t have to divorce, you can seek family therapy and try and repair the damage you’ve done (or your spouse has done). When people come to me, their marriage is over and they want out. I do my best to make sure that they can get out with some shred of their former self.
But enough about me… how should a person get ready for their divorce?
Make a Plan for Divorce
First, it often takes people years to come to terms with what they want to do. The decision to divorce rarely comes out of thin air. They’ve been thinking about it for a while. Exactly what should you know though before you tell your spouse?
You need to think about what you want.
- Do you want to make sure that you are going to have enough time with your child?
- Do you want to make sure that you have enough money to survive a divorce?
- Do you want to remain in your home or plan to move out?
The Importance of Divorce Planning
My practice is expanding more and more with divorce planning. More and more dads are wanting to work less and spend more time with their children. Moms know that they’ve been a stay-at-home mom and don’t have the finances to support herself if she divorces. You have to think long and hard about what you want in order to know where you want to go. This is where a divorce plan can make a big difference.
Emotionally, it takes people years to come to terms with the loss surrounding divorce and to be able to think rationally about the whole process. Thinking rationally about the choices you need to make, doesn’t mean that you are cold or calculating, it makes you smart. Preplanning your divorce doesn’t mean that you are out to hurt your spouse. A rational person actually makes good decisions that aren’t emotional. The rational spouse isn’t fighting over the George Forman Grill. The rational person just goes and buys another grill.
Money and Financial Issues
When it comes to money, know that the courts want you to maintain the status quo. A person will have a hard time filing for divorce and then quitting their job. If there are no maintenance or child support issues, then the court doesn’t care if you quit your job, but your actions to quit your job and be a painter on the beach isn’t going to sit well with the judge if you have children or a spouse to support. Think about what you want. If you want to paint portraits of tourists on the beach, quit your job long before you file for divorce. If you work as a painter when you file for divorce, you are going to have an easier time if you’ve been doing that for a while.
Your Personal Finances
For the spouse without a lot of money or the spouse who doesn’t know where the family money is, start educating yourself. Nothing about your personal finances will be over your head. Meet with your financial planner if you need to. Get a book or take a class, but do something to educate yourself. Nothing feels better than being in charge of your own life, and if you don’t know where any of your money is, that can be disconcerting. You aren’t in control of your finances if you don’t know where it is.. Ask your spouse about them and insist that you be given the information. Look in the mailbox to see what is coming to your house. Pay attention and educate yourself about your finances.
Your Career or Job
If you don’t have a career, get one. Now is the time. Are you a stay at home mom? Do you have any training? If not, think about what you want to do and sign up for a class. Think about a profession that can take care of you. While I love my Cricut machine and the crafts I make using it, that profession isn’t likely going to support me in the lifestyle I’d like or need. You don’t have to go out and become a lawyer, but I do recommend giving some thought as to the choice of what you want to do, so you can be self-supporting. Getting a job doesn’t mean you will be precluded from getting maintenance, but having your own income and being able to support yourself can be very liberating.
If you are a parent that spends 60 hours a week at the office, how is that going to impact the parenting time you want? If you want to take a lesser paying job that gives you more hours at home with your kids, the time to do that is before you file for divorce. Remember — a family court judge wants to maintain the status quo to minimize disruption for your children.
If you want more responsibility for doing things for your kids after the divorce, then the time to step up and start doing more is now.
- Go to the doctor’s office for your children’s physicals.
- Go to the teacher-parent conferences.
- Coach the softball or baseball team.
- Spend time with your child.
Once you’ve filed for divorce, there is going to be a hard look at what you have done with or for your child before you filed.
Seek Support from a Coach
Think about a support system too. Your friends won’t want to listen to the daily drama of your divorce, but a support system can help you achieve your goals. Consider a coach. I often use coaches in my life when I want to achieve something. When you want to lose weight, nothing keeps you more in line with your goals than your coach. Want to write a book? Get a coach. Coaches help you keep on point and help you achieve your goals. Sometimes the coach can help you decide what your goals are. After you’ve figured out what you want to do, get a coach to help you get there.
Get Help from a Therapist
Some people will require a therapist to get in the right place emotionally. The courts have no problem with people that are engaged in therapy. Typically, both parties need some sort of therapy, and knowing people are in therapy says a lot about them. It says that this person is interested in exploring potentially negative things and will attempt to fix them. That the person is open for change and hopefully be able to come to the negotiation with some problem-solving skills.
Don’t share your therapy sessions with your spouse or friends, however. This is about you and what you want to discuss in therapy. There is no reason to disclose to your spouse that you’ve been worried about all the drinking you do and you want to correct the behavior or get into treatment. All of these comments could be used against you later, so keep the contents of what you and the therapist discuss private. Likewise, don’t advertise things about yourself on Facebook or tweet about stupid and embarrassing things you’ve done. Anything on social media could be used against you later. Broadcast positive, loving pictures of your family or what you are doing with your child, and keep your therapy and whatever is going on negatively, keep to yourself.
Your Divorce Lawyer Can Help You Plan for Divorce
In the beginning stages, before you divorce, my role is somewhat like that of your coach. We’ll be here to help you decide exactly what you want out of the divorce and how you are going to achieve it. As divorce attorneys, we often work with your mental health professionals, your financial advisors, and your coach if you’ve hired one. Our goal is to ensure that when you finalize your divorce, that you’ve come out of the process with your dignity intact. You’ll be financially solvent and you’ll have a good relationship with your children. Divorce is hard and it is hard on everyone — your lawyer included. If you’ve got a clear mind and you handle the divorce process rationally, you will be surprised at how quickly the process can go. Everyone, including your children, will come out of the process with the least amount of turmoil if you take the time to plan for divorce.