If you are considering leaving your Domestic Partner or Spouse, a good plan of action is essential. I am not talking about taking your ex for all you can. What is most important is making smart choices without letting your emotions get the best of you. The more you think about your next steps (with a clear mind) — the better your position will be when the divorce is over.
If you are a parent, separation is even more complicated. You’ll need to be prepared for how to tell your kids about the divorce — and preferably, with the cooperation of your spouse. You will also want to think about how to help your kids cope and understand how their lives will be impacted. Reach out to your support system and local resources (such as Kids Turn) to alleviate as much of their anxiety as possible.
While child support and alimony can be helpful, it certainly will not take care of your finances in total. By the same token, if you are the higher-earning partner, be prepared to see a large cut in your net income. Damage control is crucial, but leaving your spouse penniless is not an option either. Financial planning is key! You will want to seek legal advice to determine the approximate amount you can expect to receive or pay in support. Making a budget is important. You will also want to control debt — when possible, keep your credit card expenditures to a minimum. Continue to pay bills to avoid problems in court. That being said, you will have to prioritize your bills to ensure the most important ones are taken care of (rent, mortgage, insurance, essential utilities, credit card minimum payments, loans and income taxes).
If you don’t currently have copies of statements for all of your family accounts, get them now. Consider taking inventory of all personal property, including videotaping or photographing items in the house. It can be almost impossible to prove their existence when they “disappear” post-separation (“he said, she said”) but if you’ve got evidence, you will likely be in a better place. Gather joint documents like tax returns, too. While the law provides that each of you are entitled to access (disclosure) to all financial documents, some spouses will do their best to ‘stonewall’ their ex, which can lead to time-consuming and expensive litigation.
Making your career plans a top priority can help you become self-sufficient. If you aren’t going to be able to support yourself post-separation, start thinking about career counseling, re-training or going back to school — while you can!
We know that divorce is devastating. Your jointly held goals are now gone and we’ve all struggled with depression. Create new, attainable goals for your future. I suggest a written list that you can cross off as you accomplish new and different tasks. Having something positive, productive or fun to look forward to can make you feel a whole lot better.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family. Don’t be afraid to make new friends who aren’t connected to your spouse. A divorce support group may sound uncomfortable or silly, but has helped many of my clients to feel less isolated and more proactive.
Nothing about divorce is easy, but focusing on your emotional and financial well-being can not only help you in the NOW — but will set you up for a more prosperous and satisfying future. It can also make your divorce less messy and give you a sense of empowerment.