In today’s society, marriages fail. It is almost an accepted norm, as fifty percent of marriages are doomed from the start. Sometimes, it is because people disagree about money issues. Other times it is because one person cannot be faithful. Many times, however, it is just because people don’t get along. Whatever the reason, if you or a loved one is contemplating separation and/or divorce, make sure you plan accordingly and take the following pointers into account.
1) Take note of your financial situation.
Your finances are extremely important in your divorce, for a lot of reasons, the most important of which being that you will need to live on a lot less income than you became accustomed to during your marriage. The first step is to determine exactly what you and your spouse earn, both individually and combined. You will need both gross income and, more importantly, net income. Second, look at your bank statements and figure out what you spend each month on expenses. Then determine which of those expenses are fixed (i.e. mortgage, car payment, etc.) and which are variable (i.e. groceries, gas, etc.). Culminate your efforts with an income and expense spreadsheet. It might even be wise to create several – one containing only your income and expenses, one containing your spouse’s income and expenses, and one for combined income and expenses. You can do it however you want, but the point is to obtain a firm grasp of your financial situation. , not the least of which is that you will have to live on one income from here on out
You will want to inventory everything that you own, whether it is titled or not. If the specific item is titled, then make a note of it. While you do not need to specifically list each item of personal property located in your home, you should list separately any items of particular sentimental value or those that have substantial monetary value (think rare art work). Also, remember that property can be tangible (house, car, kitchen table) or intangible (bank accounts, mutual funds, IRAs). At some point down the road, your property will be divided, so this list will come in handy in not forgetting anything.
3) Do not commingle your property.
Different states have different laws as to how property is divided. Some states take the position that non-marital property is not subject to division by the court and the owner gets to keep it, free and clear of any claim by the other person. But whether that is your state or not, it is important to keep your own property separate from your marital property. For example, if you have had a money market account that your parents opened for you when you were a kid, and you have never touched it, don’t go taking money out and putting it into your joint savings account. Leave it for now, and deal with it when it comes time for property distribution.
4) Child support and alimony.
Because of tip #6, this should just be a cursory review of your state’s statutes, but you need to be knowledgeable about what your potential exposure is here. For example, some states have child support guidelines, where you plug in some numbers into a chart to figure out what the child support will be. With respect to alimony, some states are far more willing to award a substantial alimony and for an extended period of time, than other states.
5) Do not speak with anyone yet.
You may be tempted to tell your best friend, your mother, your ex-girlfriend, or whoever else about your situation, simply because you want to confide in someone and express your feelings. Resist this temptation for now, for several reasons. First, you never know if that person is going to say something to your spouse, whether intentional or not. Second, by speaking to someone about your impending separation and divorce, you may make them a witness in any future divorce proceedings. In other words, your spouse or your spouse’s attorney may call them to the witness stand and have them testify about what you said. While you may want them to eventually testify, now is not the time to make that determination.
6) Get an attorney.
Look, divorce laws are complex. There are a myriad issues pertaining to child custody and visitation, child support, alimony, property ownership, valuation and distribution, insurance, taxes, fees, costs, and the list goes on, for which you are not equipped to handle. You need to obtain the advice and counsel of someone who sees these issues every day. Not only will an experienced attorney know the law, but he or she will know the local procedure. You need someone who is looking out for you and your interests.
It may sound selfish, but if you are seriously thinking about getting a divorce, it is a time to consider your own situation. Your life is about to take a major change, and you want to be in the best position to make the best out of a trying time.