The oft-quoted stat is that fifty percent of all marriages fail. Reasons vary, from financial disagreement to old-fashioned adultery, but the point is that the divorce rate is high. Regardless of the reason, however, before approaching your spouse or separating, you must do some serious planning to protect your interests. If you are considering getting a divorce, try to make the best out of the situation, using these pointers, and place yourself in the more advantageous position.
The very first thing you want to do when thinking about a divorce, is to figure out your financial situation. Money is the foundation of any divorce proceeding, so you want to make sure you have everything down pat. First, you will need to determine what you earn. This sounds easy, but you would be surprised at how many people can’t pinpoint their income. Second, determine what your spouse earns. This is a slightly more difficult prospect, but still somewhat easy. You want gross and net income after taxes. Third, figure out what your monthly expenses are, and ascertain fixed expenses versus variable expenses. Finally, create several spreadsheets that reflect your gross income, net income, and overall expenses. Play with the numbers a little bit. Use your spouse’s income on one sheet, your income on another, and combined income on a third. Create as many iterations of your income and expense sheet as possible. Realize that knowledge is power.
2) Inventory your assets.
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) Determine whether there is any non-marital property.
In some jurisdictions, this mantra is actually true, meaning that you get to keep your separate property. Because of the many nuances of separate versus marital property, and whether it even matters, refer to pointer #6. But for now, just make sure that anything that you owned prior to the marriage or obtained through gift or inheritance from a third party, stays separate from anything you acquired during the marriage. For example, don’t sell that rare coin collection that you received as an inheritance from your uncle and place the proceeds in your joint savings account.
4) Child support and alimony.
Just be aware that these could be issues in your divorce case. Of course, if you don’t have kids, child support won’t be an issue. But alimony often is a hot topic and you need to know what your exposure is in that regard. Likewise, if you are considering asking for alimony, know what factors your state looks for in determining alimony.
5) Do not tell anyone.
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) Contact 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.
Unfortunately, when separation and divorce is imminent, you must be a little selfish and think of yourself. It does not make you a bad person to consider the above pointers – in fact, it would be naive not to do some planning.