“The will to win is worthless if you do not have the will to prepare.” – Thane Yost
“Fortune favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur
Planning for a divorce may take as much time, or more, than planning and organizing a wedding, yet too often people dive into the divorce process with nowhere near the amount of planning and organization they put into their wedding, if they plan for it at all. This may leave them feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and like they have no control over the situation. To prevent this, and to maintain control over the process, your number one goal should be to get organized, set your priorities, and leave as little of the control in the hands of your spouse and/or the court.
“Extricate yourself from the system, don’t try to vindicate yourself within it.” – Peretz Partensky
Tackle divorce planning like you would any large project.
Eat regular meals, get regular sleep and keep doing things that you enjoy. If you are a runner, make sure you keep running. If you love reading, make sure you set aside time to read. Put these things on your calendar if it helps you keep doing them.
To be and stay prepared, keep your life as close to normal as reasonably possible. Don’t let the divorce process consume you and overtake your routines. Divorce is hard, but does not mean your life must be miserable in the process. Finding peace and happiness will take work, but it’s worthwhile work. Do not let the divorce process consume you and overtake all your normal routines. Eat regular meals, get regular sleep, get exercise (even if you got by without exercise before—divorce will take more out of you than anything else ever has before, and your body will need exercise to meet this unprecedented challenge to your mental and physical health), and keep doing things that you enjoy. If you are a runner, make sure you keep running. If you love reading, make sure you set aside time to read. Put these things on your calendar if it helps you keep doing them. Don’t hesitate to rely on the love and generosity of your family and/or close friends. “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”
Finally, if you believe that the divorce court cares deeply about you and cares about ensuring that you are treated fairly in your divorce, think again. Accept the fact that the more in control you are of your divorce action, the less control you leave in the hands of your spouse or in the hands of the court, and let that fact motivate you, whether out of fear or the feeling of power you get having an accurate knowledge of the divorce process.
If you take the time and care to prepare, you will avoid feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by the divorce process. You will be ready for each step as it comes and you will find yourself not only feeling confident and in control, but actually being truly confident and in control.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln
So first, get a big binder or box to store important documents you will need to commence the divorce process and to store the documents that you will generate as your divorce progresses, so that all the information you need will be easily found and accessible to you.
Next, make a to-do list. Writing down what you think needs to be done. This will be the list you discuss with your lawyer. Your lawyer will likely add tasks to your list that you and he will need to work on, explain the divorce process, and (if your lawyer’s a good lawyer) will also help you break down crucial tasks into the steps necessary to get each of those tasks done as quickly and inexpensively as possible, and then organize them by importance. This will help you see the end from the beginning, get your organized and focused, and give you more control over the process. You have a plan. You can add to or subtract from your plan as necessary, as the process unfolds. Stay flexible and be realistic.
As you make your to-do list, your head may swarm (and swim) with questions. This is a good thing. It leads to the second step you take.
Use your questions to guide you in solving your problems. Write down a list of your fears and questions you may have about the process. Then research the answers to those questions. Conduct your own research to answer those questions to the extent you can. If there are questions cannot answer, take those to your attorney. Keeping track of your questions and conducting your own research will make the most of your discussions with your attorney.
After conducting your research and meeting with attorneys, make a to-do list. Begin your list by writing down what worries you most. From that list, identify what needs to be done, whether it’s you who takes care of it or someone else. You can then break those items down into the steps necessary to get each of those things done, and then prioritize them by importance. Writing it down, putting it in black and white, will not only allow you to mark tasks off as you complete them, it will keep you on track, and help keep you in control of the process. You can add to the list as necessary as you learn more about the process and what is required. Be prepared to stay flexible and realistic.
If you need a start, try this:
Talk to a marriage counselor.
Even though, at this point, you’ve probably already given up on saving your marriage, these counselors are still useful for other things. A marriage counselor can help you figure out what went wrong in the relationship, and help you cope with the grief you are likely to feel for your marriage.
Gather copies of your financial documents.
Part of filing for divorce will mean filing your financial declaration with the court showing how much real property is worth, your income, monthly expenses, and so on. It is a good idea to get your income tax returns (personal and business), w-2s, banking information, loan documents, stock certificates, life insurance policies, deeds and mortgage statements, and titles to vehicles. Any document regarding assets and expenses will be good to have on hand, and having them now will save you the pain and expense of hunting them down later.
Check your credit.
It is always a good idea to know where your credit stands. Request a copy of your credit report so you can take care of any outstanding collections or correct any errors now instead of trying to deal with them later. If you have joint credit cards with your spouse, discuss closing them to protect both of your credit scores.
Apply for your own separate credit cards.
You will need to establish credit in your own name now, and having a credit card will help to do this. To build your credit but small or set expenses—such as gas—on the credit card and pay if off monthly so you have more credit available to you than you do debt.
Make a post-divorce budget.
Using the documents you gathered earlier, assess what your cost of living and income will be after divorce. Save as much as you can now to prepare for initial expenses you may have—such as apartment deposits and moving costs.
Do not leave the marital home without talking to an attorney first.
Leaving the home may result in alimony payments, or in your inability to collect alimony. If you leave, you may not be able to return until the divorce is finalized; a process that might take a year or longer. Of course, if you are in abusive situation your safety is more important so take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your children.
While these are a good start, they are by no means a complete list of preparing for your divorce.
Meet with not one, not two, not even three divorce attorneys, but five or six (or even seven or eight). Ask your questions of a variety of attorneys to discover how many different perspectives and options there are when it comes to your divorce (you will quickly discover that all divorce lawyers are not created equal).
If there are questions to which you cannot find the answer, these are ones you can save to ask your attorney, if you hire one. Writing down and keeping track of your questions and fears will help you make the most of your discussions with your attorney. Learning everything you can about divorce early in the process will help you make informed opinions and it will give you confidence going forward. Learning everything you can about divorce early in the process will help you take a realistic approach and contribute to the control over, and the real confidence you will have in, your ultimate success.
Next, gather all of your financial information. It is vital that you have an accurate picture of your finances (your income, your living expense, your assets, debts, and liabilities, your savings, retirement and pension information) for the sake of dividing assets and responsibility for debts, as well as for calculating child support and/or alimony correctly.
The more complete and organized this information is the more successful and confident you will not only feel, but be. He or she who controls the documents controls the case. Study these things carefully until you are confident that you know and understand your current financial situation. Then get a binder or a file folder and begin to gather and fill it with documentation of your debts, obligations, income, assets and expenses. This binder or file folder should also be used to store important documents and pleadings as your divorce progresses, so that all the information you need will be easily found and accessible to you. Even if you don’t file for divorce immediately, if you are contemplating divorce, start keeping careful track of your expenses. If you need a simple, convenient way to do so, try mint.com.
Use the district court’s official Financial Declaration form (a copy of that form appears as the end of this article) to identify what the court wants to know, then gather and organize that information and supporting documentation together in one place in a binder or file folder. As much as you may not enjoy it, the more you understand your current financial situation the better you and your attorney can explain and argue it.
The more familiar you are with your finances, the better you can manage them during and after divorce. And divorce usually places a huge strain on your income and ability to meet all of your expenses, which will now include attorney’s fees and possibly child support, alimony, and new household expenses if you move out of the marital home. You’d likely be wise to save up to hire and pay for a lawyer. If you need to borrow money from family or a friend to pay for a lawyer, get documentation of the loan. A handshake agreement will likely not be believed by the court. You need proof that it’s a loan you are planning to repay, not a gift. Then keep a copy of the promissory note in the binder with your other financial documents.
Begin keeping a calendar or dated journal specifically devoted to your divorce. KEEP THIS CALENDAR OR NOTEBOOK WHERE YOUR SPOUSE CANNOT FIND IT. Write down the dates for meetings with your attorney and make notes of what you discussed. Keep track of court deadlines, mediation and other important events. Also, use it to keep track of interactions with your spouse – what you’ve discussed and what your interactions are like.
If your spouse does not keep agreements or appointments, or violates a court order you will want to specifically note this by date. If you and your spouse establish separate residences during the divorce, the calendar should also be used to keep track of visitation dates and other important interactions with your children. Keeping track of your involvement in your kids’ lives (meetings with their teachers and doctors, attending sports or other special events, and visitation or parent-time) may become evidence of your participation in your children’s lives. And it’s important that you and your spouse make sure your children’s physical, social and emotional needs are being met during the difficulties of your divorce. So keeping a calendar of these things can give you a clearer picture of how much interaction you and your spouse actually have with your children. And it can keep you feeling confident that you are meeting your kids’ needs during this difficult time.
Keeping track of your involvement in your kids’ lives (meetings with their teachers and doctors, attending sports or other special events) may be crucial evidence of the level and quality of your engagement with your children’s lives. It’s important that you and your spouse make sure your children’s physical, social and emotional needs are being met during the difficulties of divorce. Keeping a calendar of these things can give you a clearer picture of how much interaction you are actually having with your children. It serves as a reminder to you, your spouse, your children, and to the court that you are meeting your kids’ needs during this difficult time.
Start saving up for an attorney. While it is true that not everyone needs an attorney for a divorce (and when’s the last time you heard a lawyer tell you that?), if you have substantial assets and/or substantial debts, a house, cars, and young children, a do-it-yourself divorce is penny wise and pound foolish (don’t lie to yourself). Just as being in control of the documents and the facts and yourself gives you greater control over your divorce case, hiring a professional to do what you cannot keeps you focused and sane. A lawyer is a trusted advisor in times of doubt and your ally in the fight. Yes, good attorneys cost money, but when the last time you did your job well without being paid well to do it? If you care about having control over your future, and about coming out of divorce without being financially and emotionally raped, a good divorce attorney (notice I said a good divorce attorney, not just any old attorney) is a sound investment.
“One thing that makes it possible to be an optimist, is if you have a contingency plan for when all hell breaks loose. There are a lot of things I don’t worry about, because I have a plan in place if they do.” – Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
Be one who acts, not one who is acted upon. Take time to think, to plan. Do the work, stay consistent, persevere, and you will won’t feel frustrated or overwhelmed by the divorce process. You will be prepared for each step as it comes and you will find yourself feeling confident and in control.