Take control of your uncoupling with this crash course in divorce
Nobody plans on getting divorced. But hey, life happens. And no matter how consciously you uncouple, the process can be complicated. We know, because we went through it. If you’re contemplating saying “I don’t,” here are the nuts and bolts to keep in mind. And remember: it gets better.
Right Off the Bat: Consider paying an attorney for an hour to answer your burning questions, so you can go into the process with your eyes open (especially if you have kids, you’ll need to understand how custody and child support are determined). To safeguard your finances, separate your money so you’re not responsible for your soon-to-be ex’s spending. If you don’t have one already, open your own bank account, and get a credit card in your name. Redirect automatic withdrawals so you don’t damage your credit. Close overdraft accounts, equity lines, lines of credit, and credit cards your spouse can access. Next up, if you’re on a family cell phone plan, get your own ASAP so no one has records of your texts and calls but you.
Next Steps: Don’t assume marital assets (which can include anything from a house you bought together to a shared record collection to a pet) will be split 50/50. Courts consider a lot of factors, including earned salaries and length of marriage, plus the earning potential and health of each spouse. If you don’t have savings or you’re out of work, ask a relative or friend for a loan to get you through the first few months after you separate. Most states have temporary support orders you can request through the courts. Though your post-split expenses and earnings aren’t clear yet, draft a budget to paint a picture of what you earn and spend, what you can afford, and what you may ask for from your ex. If you’re the breadwinner, odds are good that you’ll be the one responsible for paying alimony.
Brass Tacks: The type of divorce you choose is important. If your split is simple, investigate a DIY divorce with the help of a paralegal ($). If you need to save money and are on amicable terms, mediation with a neutral third party ($$) may be for you. Collaborative divorce ($$$) means you each hire a lawyer with the goal of avoiding a trial. If you and your spouse can’t communicate and your assets are significant, you may select arbitration ($$$$), hiring a panel of lawyers. Litigation ($$$$$) is the last resort—it’s the most expensive and time-consuming path. Even a simple divorce can take several months, a difficult one up to several years. Be prepared for the long haul and take care of yourself—mentally and physically—as best you can.
The more you learn, the more the divorce process will feel manageable. And you may even discover, as we did, an unexpected upside, whether it’s learning what you truly want, forging new friendships, discovering how strong you are, or all of the above. –Suzanne Riss and Jill Sockwell, optimistsguidetodivorce.com
Adapted from The Optimist’s Guide to Divorce by Suzanne Riss and Jill Sockwell (Workman Publishing, 2017). Copyright © 2016
Illustrated by Alessandra De Cristofaro
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