We don’t get married expecting to divorce so when we are contemplating the decision or it has already been made, most of us aren’t exactly sure of what we should do next. (I was in the same boat while getting divorced in law school.) So, we usually do one of these things:
- Ask our spouse what he/she thinks we should do
- Ask our best friend for advice
- Start searching for a good affordable divorce attorney
- Read everything we can get our hands on
- Go to the courthouse and ask for help
- Talk to a therapist
- Haphazardly do things we think we should probably do to prepare
When I was contemplating divorce I asked my best friends for advice, haphazardly opened a new bank account then picked up the divorce packet from my local courthouse.
Depending on your circumstances, you may choose to do any one of the things listed above, which is understandable but risky. Risky in the sense that it could make your divorce more difficult.
For example, if you decide to ask your spouse what he/she thinks you should do about ending your marriage, he or she may be angry and not have your best interests at heart. Instead of being forthright and fair he/she may transfer money, stop paying bills or do something worse.
It may be hard to imagine your spouse doing anything that would cause you or your family harm, but if there is one thing I know for sure it is this: you do not truly know someone until you divorce him/her.
Over the last twenty years I have seen divorcing men and women declare war against their divorcing spouses for any number of reasons.
In some of the worst divorces I’ve witnessed, money has disappeared, profitable businesses have been ruined, funds were frozen, visitation was denied, assets were disposed of. And, to make matters worse, the innocent spouses who suffered the collateral damage in these divorces often never saw it coming or suspected it might happen but chose not to prepare.
So, if most of the first steps regularly taken in divorce are risky, where do smart people begin when they are contemplating divorce or the decision has already been made?
I recommend beginning with three steps, which in short, will give you a bird’s eye view of your current circumstances, options in light of your state’s applicable divorce laws and with the right guidance, the smartest solutions to resolving your practical and legal divorce issues.
By taking these steps you should be able to determine what you can do to make your divorce easier and develop an overarching plan intended to help you avoid your worst fears and achieve your desired outcomes in your divorce.
Note: You can complete these steps in any order. If you begin with the second step, the first step may be easier. But the outcome of the second step may be more cost-effective if you complete step one first.
If you have an emergency, I urge you to contact a licensed divorce attorney immediately to determine exactly what you should do in light of your situation. If you aren’t aware of any emergencies, read on.
Step One: Assess your Situation
Whether you are contemplating divorce or the decision has already been made, you must realistically assess your situation. By assess, I mean take an objective but up-close and personal, high-definition look at your life exactly as it is right now.
Three of the most important facets to understand initially are:
- Your finances, including your income, liquid assets, expenses and debts
- Your spouse’s demeanor, temperament and personality
- Your demeanor, temperament and personality
It probably goes without saying but these three aspects of a divorcing person’s life usually dictate the level of ease or difficulty in a divorce.
In addition to taking a look at your personalities and financial situation, you must also assess the level of complexity that exists in your divorce. This assessment is best completed with an experienced divorce attorney’s help (see Step Two).
Your initial assessment should be as complete as possible and may look something like this:
Our finances: We have an estimated net worth of $3 million, which is invested in our home, business, and various investment accounts. Our outstanding debt is approximately $2 million, which includes our mortgage and business loans.
My spouse: He/she does not want to get divorced but has come to terms with the fact that it is going to happen. During our marriage he/she made most of the decisions about our finances and did have the occasional outburst when I disagreed with a choice that he/she wanted to make.
My temperament: I don’t want to get divorced but believe it is the best choice. I appear confident but don’t really know much about our financial affairs. I sometimes find it difficult to say what I want or need.
Housing: We have one very large home in a great school district and the kids can walk to and from school. Our monthly homeowner’s expenses average $8,000.
Employment Status: My spouse works full time in our business and I help on occasion. Prior to getting married I worked as a marketing account executive but I stopped working shortly before the birth of our eldest child. I’ve been out of the workforce for eight years now.
Your assessment can be as detailed as you are but if you tend to procrastinate, feel overwhelmed or your circumstances are such that a complete assessment could take weeks or months, don’t let your inability to complete an assessment prevent you from taking Step Two (below) as soon as possible.
Time is of the essence in divorce and acting quickly to assess your situation and understand your case in light of the law can reduce complications.
Divorces rarely get easier with age. In fact, most divorces involving the division of assets and debts, child custody, child support and/or spousal support become more complicated with the passage of time.
A common complication arising from the passage of time occurs in California divorces when a divorcing spouse moves out of the couple’s home – which for purposes of this example is a community property asset – and uses his or her separate property to pay the principal on the loan. Later, he or she asks to be reimbursed for the separate property used to pay the principal on the loan, and seeks to charge rent to the spouse who remained in the house. This problem comes up even though the remaining spouse did not explicitly choose to remain in the house and wouldn’t have done so if he or she knew he or she could be charged the fair market rental value of the home during the occupancy.
Another common complication resulting from delays in California divorces occurs when a couple own a community property business. One of the spouse’s continues to work in the business after separation and the other does not. The business appreciates in value after the separation, as a result of the efforts of the spouse working in the business after the separation. Arguments then ensue about the characterization of the business and its appreciation – whether they are community or separate property.
I’m sharing these examples to make a point. And to inspire you to take the steps sooner rather than later – with one caveat:
There may be times in divorce when taking action sooner is not better than later. If you own real estate or stocks, it is possible that dividing and/or selling later could be better than sooner. In order to figure out if action should be taken sooner or later, speak to a divorce attorney and any other relevant experts.
Once you complete your assessment or determine it is going to take a while to complete and you can’t afford to wait, take step two.
Step Two: Pay a good licensed attorney to give you a legal overview of your case
Whether you intend on representing yourself in divorce, using mediation or collaborative divorce, or hiring a trial attorney, speak with an experienced licensed divorce attorney at the beginning of your case. If you are in California and would like to take this step with me, please visit this page and complete the form provided.
Ask a licensed attorney in your state to explain your divorce laws and procedures as they apply specifically to the circumstances of your life. Do this even if you think your divorce is simple or you and your spouse have already determined how to resolve your divorce. I urge you to do this because you need to:
- know what you can do, can’t do, should do or shouldn’t do
- know what can happen if you do or don’t do something
- understand how your state’s divorce laws and procedures apply to your situation, and what a judge may or may not do if required to make decisions in your case
- know if you have any deadlines you need to meet, how to meet them, what to do if you missed any, why you don’t want to miss them, and anything else you need to know about those deadlines
- understand the ramifications of the things you are thinking about doing or have already done
- understand the methods you can use to resolve the issues in your case
- begin identifying any experts you may want or need to work on your case
- understand the options available to you, which is the focus of my suggested Step Three below
- know what a good divorce attorney would need to know if you were hiring him or her to represent you in your divorce
Get this information from a good divorce attorney. You will need to pay for it because most good divorce attorneys, myself included, charge for their valuable time and insight. The word “fee” may scare you, but don’t let it. The clarity, relief, urgency, power you gain from this investment is worth it.
If you are wondering, “Can I get all of the information I need in a free consultation, book, conversation with a divorced friend?” The answer is maybe, but I doubt it. Every divorce is unique and what has worked for others may not work for you. Moreover, divorce is a complicated legal process and in my opinion, it would be foolish to take matters entirely into your own hands unless you have no children, no property, a short term marriage and no disagreements with your spouse.
Step Three: Identify your options
Although it may not seem like it at first glance, you probably have a lot of options available for resolving each of the issues in your divorce. Your options may vary in desirability and feasibility. Some options may be obvious while others are not. Some solutions may be easily executed and others seemingly impossible. Regardless, identify all of the options you have for resolving each of the issues in your case.
Ask the divorce attorney you speak with to help you identify your options.
Divorce attorneys with years of experience have already worked with many clients to resolve the same or similar issues you may face. This experience enables them to share creative solutions successfully used by others.
In addition to discussing your options with an attorney, speak with other professionals who can help identify your options. Experts you may contact are real estate agents, mortgage brokers, appraisers, vocational evaluators, accountants, financial advisors, business valuators and therapists.
Options are beautiful and essential to consider while you are contemplating or initiating divorce.
If you know your options, you can make decisions more quickly. You can develop divorce strategies focused on securing your most desirable options and simultaneously know what your fallback options are in the event you need them.
If you are getting divorced in California and would like me to help make your divorce easier, please hop over to this page and complete the form provided and complete the form provided.
This article is not legal advice. You should consult an attorney if you have legal questions that relate to your specific divorce.