For many couples, getting divorced starts with jokes and threats and, eventually, someone has enough and actually files the paperwork. However, filing for divorce starts a ball rolling that is very hard to stop. Actually getting divorced has a cost in both money and stress that threatening to get divorced did not. Before you file the paperwork, before you start legal negotiation sessions and days in court, there are a few things you want to get sorted out.
Whether you are planning a divorce with your soon-to-be-ex or are handling the first steps completely on your own, it’s important to know where you actually start that ball rolling. So sit down with yourself and your computer or a pen and paper. It’s time to sort out your plans, priorities, and where you want to be a year from now. Seriously consider these ten key issues before you begin the divorce process. When you are finished here, don’t forget to read “Everything You Need to Know About Divorce in Michigan”
1) If You Can Work Together
There is a big difference between a cooperative divorce and an adversarial one. Some people are so mad at each other that they really do want to yell and fight over every piece of furniture, but most people just want to get the divorce over with. If at all possible, it’s best to have at least a cursory cooperation with your ex. This will make it easier to come to agreements about possessions, finances, and of course who will keep the children. The more amicable your agreements are, the better.
Of course, only you can determine if you’re capable of working together through this divorce. If you can get through an hour without hurling insults, try a few harmless lunch meetings to compare notes or even getting a mediator involved for preliminary agreements. However, if your relationship has grown toxic or violent, it’s alright to resolve to handle the divorce separately with legal counsel involved.
2) Your Divorce Goals
Never go into a divorce with the idea of ‘just ending it’. This mindset sets people up to get taken advantage of, or fighting over things that don’t matter. Instead, set some goals for how you want the divorce to end. Don’t go in blind, emotional, or ready to give up everything just to get out of the marriage. Even a few practical goals will help you keep perspective and use the legal system to get a fair split no matter what your emotional state is like during the process.
Think about what you want most out of the divorce, and how you want your life to be afterward. This should help you define how you handle the divorce. Consider what you want from the split possessions, finances, parenting time, and of course who you want to be after the divorce. Make one of your goals not to do anything you will regret when you are rebuilding your new life.
3) Your Most Important Possessions
In every married household, there are a few boxes or closets of things that one person cares about and the other person really doesn’t. Your family photos, your mother’s sewing machine, those college essays you’re still proud of. There may also be a few pieces of furniture that came with you into the marriage you’d be sad to lose in a blanket settlement.
Also, don’t underestimate the passive-aggressive viciousness that can occur in some divorces. While your spouse may not intentionally allow your precious items to get destroyed if they are in temporary control of them, it’s possible. Make a list of all your most important possessions and then ensure that these items wind up in your care as quickly as possible. For anything that needs to be legally agreed on, like furniture or cars, write a clear reason why these things should leave with you.
4) What You Can Let Go Of
Now that you’ve considered what matters most to you, take some time to consider what you don’t care about. For many people, their instinct in divorce is to fight for every last penny and cooking pan. But you can gain a lot of leverage, time, and peace of mind by realizing what you could let go without a second thought.
What don’t you care about? You might realize that the whole garage could fall into a pit and you wouldn’t miss a single tool, so cede it all to your ex. Or if the family pet was always more of your ex’s than yours, letting go can win you a lot of negotiation points if your ex expected to fight for their beloved pet.
Letting go is one of the most powerful things you can do, as long as you have already secured what you really care about taking with you.
5) What’s Best for the Children
If you have children, divorce will be hard on them. Even if you’ve divorced before, even if your children are from a previous marriage. No matter what else you want from the divorce, it’s vital that you think about what is best for the children when deciding who they will live with and how you will build your future separate households.
Children need contact with both parents if at all possible and a stable regular home so they feel safe and secure each day. Too much moving around in your custody agreement will make children insecure about “where they live”. Too much fighting about custody will make them feel like the divorce is their fault.
Put your emotions and possessiveness aside and figure out what kind of agreement will provide the most stability, happiness, and fair parenting time for your children. Everything else should be worked out from there. And, remember, custody agreements can be re-worked later if circumstances change.
6) Who You Will Talk To
No one gets divorced completely alone. You will have a number of intense emotions to sort through. Anger, betrayal, loneliness, and a grief for the relationship that didn’t work out. You may struggle with feelings of self-worth, rage, or sudden bouts of sadness that strike when you least expect them. You may also have trouble keeping your emotions from affecting your work or how you deal with your children.
Going through a divorce, everyone needs someone to talk to. If you have a close friend or relative who has always been there for you and is providing the support you need, consider yourself lucky. Remember to reach out to your support system and don’t be afraid to lean on them a little during this time. Take their advice and take care of yourself.
However, if you don’t have someone who is conveniently therapeutic to rely on, don’t be shy about seeking therapy. Many people who have never needed therapy before can benefit from a therapist during and immediately after a divorce. Plan to have someone to talk to, someone you won’t feel bad laying out your troubles to and someone who will give you good advice.
7) How Your Separated Finances Will Look
Now it’s time to talk finances. This is by far the messiest part of any divorce because so many things can go wrong. There are a number of laws and protocols to separate a married couple’s assets into ‘equal’ parts, but the reality is likely to be more specific. You and your spouse will both want some furniture, vehicles, and possessions that will sort naturally. Whoever winds up with the house will also be saddled with the property taxes, mortgage, maintenance, and HOA fees.
Then there’s how your taxes will change as a single person. Married couples get a large number of taxation discounts and benefits, meaning you’ll need to brace yourself for a higher tax burden on your single income. Don’t forget to calculate for utilities, groceries, debts, and recurring monthly subscriptions. You may even want to think about a career change if you want to improve your independent finances. But be careful about additional major life changes right now.
Do not get caught off-guard by post-divorce finances. Do your homework, get some financial advice, and figure out what your finances will look like after divorce (and what your ex’s finances will look like). From here, you can realistically plan your life after divorce.
8) How You Will Live On Your Own
Now that you know what your budget and costs will likely be after the divorce is complete, it’s time to frame what your life will be like on your own. Make a practical plan for where you will live, how you will live, and how much it will cost. Figure out where you will live and always designate a room for your children if you have any. Even if you do not have primary custody, a room for your children will make them feel more welcome and stable when they visit and will strengthen your arguments for custody or greater visitation time.
No matter how alone you’ve felt before the divorce, life after the divorce is going to be different. You can save yourself a lot of the shock of feeling alone and changing your lifestyle by planning for how you will change. There will be more time to yourself and, more importantly, you will be making decisions without considering your ex. likely, you will also probably be facing a smaller budget so plan for it.
Instead of mourning your restaurant budget, embrace the idea of learning to cook inexpensively at home. Instead of feeling weird about sleeping alone in a once-shared bed, plan to completely redesign your bedroom. Build a new, delightfully self-focused bedtime routine. Planning how you live will help you move forward in a positive and purposeful way.
9) How You Will Live During the Divorce
Another interesting complication that many divorcing couples forget is what it will be like to live together during the divorce. Life may have been uncomfortable before, but it has also still been shared. Filing for divorce is the only way to fully separate your lives. Many couples are still living together when they start the divorce process, and this can get awkward.
It will be uncomfortable, but seriously consider how you will live with your ex during the divorce process. Now may be the time to find an apartment for yourself or talk to your spouse about moving out. Starting the physical separation process early, can make the divorce and your transition to unmarried people much easier. Especially if the divorce is a peaceful one where most important decisions can be made during the separation phase.
10) The Right Legal Counsel
Finally, you need to find a lawyer who you share a perspective with. Not every divorce lawyer offers the same kind of support and guidance. Some specialize in getting the best financial deal for their clients, some focus their experience on winning child custody. Consult with several attorneys and find one that will help you get what you desire from the divorce agreement.
Here at Sutherland Law, we specialize in helping people like you achieve the divorce settlement you need. Whether you are concerned about assets, or preserving what is best for your children, we are here for you. For more information about divorce best practices or for a compassionate consultation, contact us today!