By: Elise Pettus | CoveyClub.com
Photo by Will O on Unsplash
When I realized I was facing divorce 8 years ago, I knew that I needed to take action and had big decisions to make. But I was the first in my social circle to split and had no friends to turn to for advice or even a good attorney referral. That led me to start UNtied (www.UNtied.net), an in real-life and online support and education network for women navigating divorce and the rebuilding of their lives. Now in its 6th year, UNtied provides live information evenings, weekend workshops and social events, lifestream and video plus The Powder Room, a private Facebook forum for candid conversation on all things divorce.
These 10 steps, with tips distilled from over 40 expert panels and surveys of divorced women, will prepare you for the process, reduce your stress, and protect your future.<
I often hear women say they “aren’t ready” to talk to a lawyer. It might be that they can’t yet wrap their heads around what is happening, or they’re afraid they might “escalate things” or they don’t know what kind of attorney they want (a mediator or a litigator?). Do not put it off. Do it now. Knowing early on where you stand and what your options are will help you enormously. Connecting with a knowledgeable, experienced professional who has your back will also give you a sense of strength and readiness. Not sure how to find a good matrimonial attorney? Consider asking friends who’ve been through a divorce, or an attorney you know and trust, if they can refer you to a good family lawyer. Don’t hire an attorney who doesn’t specialize in family law. For suggestions of lawyers in the NY area, check out UNtied’s Professional Directory).
This is the time to get a firm grip on the financial details of what you and your spouse make, what you owe and what you have accumulated (i.e. income, debts, and assets). That means gathering bank statements, mortgage statements, investment accounts, retirement accounts, loan documents, tax returns, etc. Watch the snail and digital mail for new statements, and be alert to any changes your spouse makes (a new account, money disappearing from a joint account, large expenditures, etc.). Use your camera phone to record documents that are not in your possession. If you don’t have access to these records (if the statements are online, and you are not the spouse with the password), request a copy of your tax return from the IRS.
For everything. From babysitters to hair colorists to groceries. Gather receipts on all your expenditures for three months (six months is even better), go over credit card statements for three to six months, and break down your spending by category. You can do this in an Excel or Google spreadsheet. You might also consider signing up with Mint.com or You Need a Budget, two applications which help you tally and categorize expenditures. Knowing exactly what you currently need to live on is essential. It forms the basis of any request for support (temporary or otherwise), and it sets you firmly in reality when it comes time to make decisions about your future.
You can’t completely disinherit a spouse but you can limit the portion of your assets they receive (note that the degree to which you can reduce their portion varies from state to state).
If something really, really bad should happen to you between now and the day you become legally divorced, think about who you’d want to have the authority to pull the plug or make life or death decisions on your behalf. If it isn’t your soon-to-be ex, then amend it now.
Preferably at a separate bank from where you keep a joint account. You will need it going forward and you want a place to deposit any monies that come directly to you.
Begin building up some cash in this separate account for divorce-related or future-related expenses. Make regular deposits — maybe some of your paychecks, money from family members or other income. Think of it as an emergency fund which might help you pay the retainer to secure a good attorney or the deposit on a rental apartment.
If up until now you’ve shared all of your credit card accounts, get a new card in your own name. Find out your credit scores and if you have credit “issues,” consider hiring a professional to help you restore your rating.
Be very careful about what you post on Facebook or send in an email. Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want your spouse or his or her attorney to see. Consider getting a new and private email account for all communication related to your separation or divorce.
Many people discover that during the rockiest moments of a split when they most need affirmation and understanding, family members and longtime friends either don’t get it or just can’t seem to deliver the kind of support they need. There are lots of reasons for this, (which we will save for another time), but it’s painful to feel isolated when you need community more than ever. The antidote? Find a way to connect with others going through similar experiences. You might find a support group at a local community center or through a local parenting organization, synagogue or church. There may be a group offered by a nearby family-therapy practice or even Meetup.
If you can connect with others going through a divorce, not to mention those who’ve gone through it and come out the other side, you are likely to find real understanding and support. Having a circle of people who “get it,” can have a huge impact on your well-being. It can help you feel saner, provide calm and give you needed perspective on your own issues. You’ll be able to speak honestly and authentically — you’ll even be able to share some needed laughs that others who haven’t been down this road (sorry marrieds) simply wouldn’t understand.