What to do when contemplating divorce

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 about what we should do next. (I was in the same boat while getting divorced in law school.)

Most people usually do one of the following:

  1. Ask a spouse what he/she thinks they should do
  2. Ask a best friend for advice
  3. Start searching for a good affordable divorce attorney
  4. Read every book about whether to get divorced
  5. Ask for help at the courthouse
  6. Talk to a therapist
  7. Haphazardly do things to prepare
  8. Procrastinate

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 do the same, which is understandable but risky. Risky in that doing any of the above could make your divorce process more difficult than it needs to be.

For example, if you ask your spouse what he/she thinks you should do about ending your marriage, he/she may be angry and not have your best interests at heart. Hence, instead of being forthright and fair he/she could begin liquidating assets, freezing accounts, shredding documents – you name it.

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 after practicing law for more than twenty years it is this: you do not really know someone until you divorce him/her.

Like chameleons changing colors.

So, if most of the first steps regularly taken in divorce are risky, where do smart people begin when they are contemplating divorce?

I recommend taking these three steps, preferably with a divorce strategist, attorney or coach.

Please note: You may complete these steps in any order. But if you have an emergency, please immediately contact a licensed divorce attorney in your state and ask for help. 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.

Be sure to assess:

  1. Your finances, including your income, liquid assets, expenses and debts
  2. Your spouse’s demeanor, temperament and personality
  3. Your demeanor, temperament and personality
  4. The level of complexity in your lives, which may increase the complexity of your divorce

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 had occasional outbursts when I disagreed with a choice 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 or become overly perfectionistic, do your best to complete the assessment quickly and don’t delay in taking Step Two.

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 and often become more complicated with age. 

For example, if a divorcing spouse moves out of the couple’s home and uses his/her separate property to pay the principal on the loan, the spouse who remained living in the home during the divorce may be ordered to retroactively pay the fair market rental value to the community for the period of his/her exclusive use. The court must then determine the fair market value of the property, the increased value of the home and/or the amount of principal paid, in order to finalize the divorce.

Another common complication that may arise in a slow moving California divorce occurs when a couple own a community property business, one of the spouses continues to work in the business after separation while the other does not and the business appreciates in value after the separation. In which case the court must determine if the working spouse acquired a separate property interest in the business after the date of separation.

So, the process of getting divorced is usually easier when it occurs as close to the date of separation as possible with one caveat:

There are instances in divorce when taking action sooner is not better than later. For example, if a couple own real estate or stocks it’s possible that dividing and/or selling later could be better than sooner. So it is worthwhile to speak with an attorney and other experts like accountants, appraisers and Realtors to determine if action should be taken sooner or later.

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, I suggest speaking with an experienced licensed divorce attorney while contemplating divorce.

Having an understanding of divorce laws and procedures as they apply specifically to your marriage can really make your decision and planning easier.

Also, by speaking with an attorney you will:

  • 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 it can be foolish to take matters entirely into your own hands.

If you are in California and would like to take this step with me, please visit this page and complete the form provided.

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, impossible. Regardless, identify all of the options you have for resolving each of the issues in your case.

Most experienced divorce attorneys have worked with many other clients to resolve the same or similar issues you are or may be facing. So it usually is worthwhile to ask an attorney or strategist to help identify your options and share creative solutions successfully used by others.

You also may consult with other experts who can provide relevant information pertaining the issues in your case. You might contact a real estate agent, mortgage broker, appraiser, vocational evaluator, accountant, financial advisor, business valuator and/or therapist.

In most divorces options abound. So do your legwork to uncover any and all that may help make your decision to divorce easier.

If you know your options, you can make decisions more quickly. You can develop divorce strategies for achieving your most desired outcome and avoiding your worst fears.

If you live in California and we are a good match, I would love to answer your questions and help you while contemplating the decision to divorce. Please hop over to this page and complete the form provided to get started now.

This article is not legal advice. You should consult an attorney if you have legal questions that relate to your specific divorce.

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