The decision to get a divorce may be among the most difficult decisions you ever make, yet it is only the beginning of an often difficult and expensive process. In order to get divorced there are a multitude of legal and practical events that need to take place. Where will you live? Will you sell the house? Where will the children primarily live and go to school? Most people will suffer a financial setback post-separation since there will be two households with financial needs, instead of just one. Therefore, it is important to have a good understanding of your goals, your financial condition/needs, and what the next steps in the process are in order to develop an effective exit strategy. Following is a list of common issues and considerations to help you succeed toward this endeavor.
1. Prioritize your children
If you have minor children with your spouse, they will most certainly will be your biggest concern. How will you and your spouse cooperatively inform the children? Will your children need outside support and/or resources during the divorce process? It’s not too early to think about how physical custody will be shared and how much each parent will be involved with the day-to-day care of the children. When formulating an exit plan with children, the best approach is a seamless one. Try to consider exit plans that maintain the children’s pre-separation routines as much as possible. Review and begin completing your legal parenting plan. Become familiar with the legal terms and issues now and incorporate them into your exit strategy.
Don’t try to take on all of this heavy lifting by yourself. Gather information on resources that can assist you and your children. For example, Utah State Courts have a program for children of divorcing parents that offers support and resources to families going through divorce.
2. Consider your immediate future
Becoming single again requires a significant adjustment to one’s lifestyle. Typically, such adjustments revolve around housing, budgets, and career.
Whether you are dedicated to your career or you have been out of the workforce for a while, you will need to determine what your current employ-ability and earning potential is. You must also examine your spouse’s employment history and earning potential. A smart plan would be to locate income information regarding your spouse for as far back as possible. Locate and copy all tax returns, w2s, income statements, business bank account registers. Certain Social Security documents may show income information. Also gather any documents concerning your spouse’s education, training, certifications, or endorsements.
Examine your household budget, needs, and expenses. What are your individual debts? What are your spouse’s individual debts? Are there any jointly held debts? You will need to report a household budget when you file your financial declaration, so having a handle on this data early on will help. In the meantime, get a copy of your credit reports and examine your credit history and make a comprehensive list of all debt.
If you want to go through your divorce with as few hiccups as possible, consider putting off a new romantic relationships until your divorce is finalized. Parents of young children should consider waiting at least 6 to 8 months before introducing new partners. Although it may not be easy or preferable, staying single during the pre-divorce process can offer some clarity and much-needed personal space during this highly charged time.
3. Gather financial documentation
You will need financial documentation. Period. Are you the breadwinner? Are you the person in control of the finances and making sure the mortgage gets paid every month? Or, is it the other way around? Are you the sort of spouse who lets the other manage and control the household finances? Either way, you will need to gather and maintain a robust file of your financial documentation if you wish to have a smooth divorce. If you are not an active participant in the household finances, this step may be much more difficult. It is, in fact, a consequential reason to get started sooner, rather than later. If you move away or your spouse moves out and takes with him or her all of the important documentation, you will be thrust into the more adversarial position of having to first request and then demand these crucially necessary documents. It will make your position in the divorce much more difficult and expensive since you will probably need to pay lawyers to ascertain this documentation--either through litigation or formal discovery. Just this, alone, could wind up costing you thousands of dollars.
What documentation should you gather and save? Once your petition is filed, you will be required to share specific financial documents. These are called your “initial disclosures.” Get a copy of our initial disclosure check list for divorces and use the checklist to create and maintain your own file so that you are prepared and ready when the time comes.
4. Open new accounts
Your attorney will likely tell you to withdraw half of your marital account before proceeding with your divorce to ensure you have funds available for court and living expenses. As such, opening a new individual checking, savings, and credit card account in your name only should be done in the early divorce planning stages. It is critical that you have a financial source that cannot be affected by your spouse’s spending. Such a private account will act as your nest egg for lawyers’ fees, retainer fees, moving out expenses, or in case your ex stops paying bills or attempts to remove, secure, or hide family funds when they learn of your divorce plans.
5. Set up your own post office box
Whether or not you will be moving to another home after the separation, you should consider setting up a post office box. There are numerous reasons why this may be beneficial. First, forwarding important documents to a separate p.o. box, such as new bank account statements, credit card statements, and divorce papers, will help ensure and maintain your independence. It will help you stay organized during the separation process so that sensitive documents aren’t lost or inadvertently (or on purpose) taken by your spouse. Finally, it will give you peace of mind during the “limbo” stage between that your information is in a secure, confidential location.
6. Make a List of all Household and Personal Property
Make a comprehensive list of all major personal property items and include items such as furniture, furnishings, art, jewelry, appliances, and automobiles. Remember to include items that may be in a storage unit or safe deposit box. If possible, note each item’s market value and date of acquisition. You will need the date of acquisition to determine whether the property is marital or separate. Typically, property acquired during the marriage is “marital” and property acquired before the marriage or by inheritance is the individual’s separate property. However, Utah recognizes three general exceptions to this rule and may support an award of the property in question in the divorce or treat it as marital property subject to division (1- where the property has been consumed or commingled and lost its identity during the marriage; 2-where the other spouse has contributed to the property’s enhancement, maintenance, augmentation or protection; or 3-in extraordinary circumstances where justice or equity demand). This applies to real property and other types of property and assets. Premarital agreements can also affect property division. You should consult with an attorney and discuss your circumstances.
7. Interview multiple attorneys
If you are planning on leaving your spouse, it is wise to talk to an attorney as soon as possible. It is not uncommon to consult or research two or even three attorneys’ before settling on one to hire. Make sure you are comfortable with your attorney.
Speaking to a professional can offer a better idea of what pre-divorce steps will be most beneficial for your personal circumstances. An attorney can also inform you of any issues that may arise once you file paperwork for divorce. For more on this, read our previous blogpost How to Interview a Divorce Attorney.
8. Talk to your partner
It is never comfortable to approach your partner with the request to divorce, but it is an important conversation to have. If possible, stay civil with your spouse. Do it for your children. If you don’t have children, do it for yourself. It is well worth the investment. The more adversarial your divorce is, the more expensive it will be. With the average Utah divorce costing around $14,000, you may not afford not to.
Understand and discuss divorce options with your spouse. Can you create a realistic post-divorce budget and work as a team? If you can, this is a good sign that you may be able to co-parent well together if you have children. It is also a good sign that you will be able to manage your divorce proceeding and maintain control of attorney fees and other costs of divorce.
Divorce is a process, not an event. The better prepared you are, the better you and your children will fare overall.