There are tons of resources, both online and offline, on things you should do when you are preparing for a divorce. A lot of these resources give practical tips, legal insight and some even provide ways to prepare emotionally. What most fail to do though, is to give insight on how to leave your marriage strategically to position yourself for the best outcome to this process.
This is what I specialize in, I give advice that takes an integrated approach to prepare for a divorce. My approach incorporates taking EVERY ASPECT of your situation and applying them to your overall goals. The legal, practical, financial, and emotional/mental often overlap and thus one move on one can impact any of these in an unanticipated way.
I am a former family law attorney, now strategist, consultant and coach. I help women going thru divorce or custody, to position their case for success using strategy. In my advisory, consultative and strategic role, I bridge the gaps and fill in blanks where they exist. The focus is on doing what it takes to get more “wins” in your case.
I spent almost 20 years in the family law field as an attorney, mediator, guardian ad litem, speaker and writer. I offer workshops on topics related to divorce and custody, write articles for a few publications on family law and am in the process of developing programs and courses in family law.
This is Tracey’s second guest post for me, since I’ve been happily married for nearly 4 decades and know nothing at all about the divorce process. Check out her other guest post – How Your Divorce Affects Your Teen
Being strategic means several things in divorce, but the overall premise is to consider the legal, practical, emotional integratively (is that a word?). Making decisions is important but making the RIGHT one depends on how it will impact something else. Once you identify your overall goals, both short and long-term, you are better able to implement tactical measures that can increase your chances of achieving them when you look at everything as a whole. This means assessing where you are, gathering pertinent information, identifying your strengths and weaknesses; locating and allocating all available resources, and using all of this to position your case for success.
So here are the things to do to prepare for a divorce in a strategic way:
1. Make a Solid Plan to Prepare to Leave Your Marriage
You should NOT move without developing…I mean crafting a solid plan. Crafting a plan requires strength, power, and determination while developing one is just putting some things together. The difference in the two determines the overall outcome. When you take the time to craft a plan you are working from a positive space. You know what you want, why you want, and believe that you can get it.
You must take your time, be honest with yourself, and stay informed.
2. Gather ANY relevant Documents & Keep Records to Prepare for a Divorce
Getting access to documents is not always an easy task. Especially in financially abusive or controlling relationships, the controlling spouse can make it extremely difficult. However, getting documents doesn’t always mean trying to locate the actual document. If you can get a hold of emails, text messages, etc. they might hold the key to getting access to documents. Also, if you do their laundry or dry cleaning, check pockets for receipts. If you drive the same vehicle, check for receipts, invoices, etc.
3. Open a Separate Bank Account & Create Your Own Budget
It is imperative that you open a separate checking and savings account. This is not difficult at all but be strategic about WHERE you open these accounts. You don’t want to leave a paper trail, so try to open an online account and preferably with a nonprofit credit union. Start to stash as much as you can in these accounts, using cashback programs, survey earnings, etc. if you are unemployed. And of course, if you work stash away as much as you can. Start cutting back on some things that are non-essentials so that you redirect those funds. Be discrete though, not cryptic, but discrete.
Your financial status will change no matter what the dynamics of your marriage is, especially true for those with children. So, it is important to realistically prepare a budget, based on what you have and where you are right NOW. Do not rely on child support, alimony, or asset allocation, whether agreed to or not, none of these are dependable. When you start where you are now you enhance your chances of sustainability.
4. List ALL Property & Other Assets
As soon as you decide to leave, start to take inventory of ALL property/assets in and around the home. Take video, pics, and audio recordings of everything, regardless of how it was acquired or when it was brought into the home. Then when you can, start getting valuations (appraisals) of the items that are highly valued. You can get things appraised online for as low as $10 so take the time to do this when you can. Things will start to disappear as soon as the divorce process starts, so you need to prepare to prove what’s subject to division and what’s not.
5. Plot the Logistics of Your Exit
Make sure you have a safe place to go to live, and a backup place in case the first one doesn’t work out. It is super important to have peace of mind once the divorce gets underway and to have a safe, comfortable place to lay your head tops the list. Friends, family, or even a shelter are all viable options if you can’t afford to rent a place of your own.
Just be sure to discuss what is expected of you while you’re living there, to explain to the host that this process will be chaotic and to hold up your end of the bargain no matter what. You don’t need to add to the volatility that is likely to start by burning bridges.
Also, you can get a P.O. box for mail, an untraceable cell phone for safety, and an electronic sweeper to check your car for trackers (particularly where your safety is a concern.)
6. Get a Support System in Place
You can do this alone but why should you?? It helps to have someone to help you see things that you are sure to overlook. Your emotions will certainly cloud your ability to think clearly. This is just par for the course. But if you have a support system around you, like family, friends, church members, social media groups, etc., you are more likely to maintain some level of clarity. Being strategic means taking EVERYTHING into account when it comes to plotting your next move. Your support system will catch things you miss…I guarantee you that.
7. Always Get Several Lawyer Consultations to Prepare for a Divorce
We are living in an information society where free legal advice is everywhere. There are forums, social media groups, etc. where people are running to get answers to their legal questions. And although these sources are a good starting point, nothing is more valuable than legal advice from a professional. Attorneys will differ in how their approach to divorce, especially with respect to custody, alimony, and property distribution. But the benefit of getting several consultations is immeasurable. One main advantage is that the different perspectives will help to anticipate the opposing party’s game plan. Remember, being strategic is about positioning your case advantageously, you can only do this if you have a peek into the other side’s head.
You need to know what you are entitled to and what is likely to happen in your specific case, these are two different concepts. The law can spell out what you are entitled to, but the court will decide what you will actually get. The law is just a baseline, in most instances, and thus, not determinative of the outcome. Knowing the other party’s strengths & weaknesses is just as important as acknowledging your own. This is where the lawyer’s expertise comes in. They usually know the nuances of a particular court, have insight into the judge’s preferences/biases, and have familiarity with applicable exceptions to the law.
8. Time Telling Your Spouse
This is the most critical part of your strategic preparation plan. What you tell your spouse and when you tell them can put you at a disadvantage if you don’t put careful thought into it. If you’re not careful they can beat you to the punch, so to speak. Being the first to file for divorce can affect things like the grounds for divorce, property division, and in some states, custody.
You should plan the discussion down to the time and location if you can. This way you get to control the outcome. Choose a time when you are both free and open to discuss it (so, not right as they’re running out the door for work). If at all necessary, try to time it as close to filing as possible, that way they are not completely blindsided.
If safety is a concern, then you might want to have a neutral third person present too. If there is a history of abuse, some counselors will accompany you to your home to facilitate whatever measures you need to ensure safety.
9. Tell Your Children
Children are very resilient, but they will still feel all sorts of emotions at this time. If possible, tell them together. If that isn’t possible and you must tell them without your spouse, avoid the blame game, and let them know it’s not their fault. Try to wait until you know for sure that you are leaving to tell them. Adding uncertainty to the mix will only make children, especially young children, more confused.
Do what you must to stay strong for your children. You need time to deal with your own emotions from this major life event, but your children will need comfort and assurance (even if you don’t feel so sure, yourself).
10. Familiarize Yourself with All Resources
There is a resource for almost EVERYTHING. You just need to know how and where to look. Keep your eyes and ears open at all times. Not everything is applicable, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss it.
This list is not exhaustive of the things you can or should do to strategically prepare for your marriage departure. Of course, there will be things that come up that you did not anticipate, that’s unavoidable. However, if you use this list as a point of reference, you are more likely to plot your next move regardless.