Especially if you’re a woman, I can almost guarantee that you’re worrying about child support and whether you can keep the house. But in the scheme of things, child support is relatively temporary and you should do some heavy number crunching before you keep the house. (See my blog post here on that topic). So what will really have an impact on your future?
- Select a lawyer who knows how to negotiate. A lot of people want a bare fanged tiger who will annihilate the other side. If only. What an angry and overly aggressive attorney usually achieves is big legal bills, which doesn’t exactly result in direct benefit to you. While you certainly want someone who will work for your interests, I’d suggest a cool head in an inevitably hot situation is more productive of actually getting a fair divorce in a reasonable time. And my personal observation is that judges hate someone who loses their temper and prolongs the case.
- A lot of women (and some men) throw up their hands when asked to provide data for the financial affidavit. They’ve never kept precise track of expenses, they don’t know how to use a program like Quicken or Mint, and therefore they have no real idea of what it will actually cost them to live post-divorce. You don’t want to settle, THEN find out that your real, justifiable expenses are far, far higher than what you represented to the court. You can’t just make this up or guesstimate. So dig out credit card statements, bank statements (including how many ATM visits you make), receipts emailed to you by Amazon, Land’s End, Net-a-Porter or wherever else you shop, and try to reconstruct what you really and truly spend. Get help (from a financial planner like me) if it’s all too overwhelming or you’ve never done it before or the best you can do is fill up a shopping bag with receipts. Don’t be modest and don’t be ashamed about this—it can be hard to face but it’s a critically important step for your current divorce case and your future. If you want to worry, here’s the place to put your energies. This gives most people a great big headache. The rest become financial planners or CPAs.
- Plan what you’re going to do post-divorce. Given the times we live in, if you have any kind of education, you’re probably going to be expected to go back to work at some point if you’ve been a stay-at-home-parent. Divorce cases can drag on for years—time enough to get further professional education, join networking groups and associations, and update your skills. If your wardrobe consists of denim jumpers and clothes from Goodwill, you’ll need to upgrade your personal appearance. When was the last time you were at a dentist?
- If your share of assets might be large enough that you don’t have to go back to work, you still have a job—managing those assets. Sure, financial advisors (like me) can offer you valuable assistance and manage it for you, but you’ll feel a lot more secure and be less likely to be fleeced by some sharpie if you have some understanding of what’s going on, and why the advisor is recommending the specific actions and investments. Boring? Confusing? Really, just read 15 minutes a day—financial magazines (Kiplingers), websites (Vanguard has great free education materials, also NAPFA.org), gosh, even Susie Orman if you must (post on her here). Don’t believe everything, and don’t believe people who scream at you (Jim Cramer, ugh). You’ll be proud of yourself, honest.
- Don’t spend the next 10 years arguing about the kids. Unless your spouse has horns and a forked tail and shows up that way in court, visitation is going to happen. The less conflict your kids have to listen to, the better they’re likely to come out of this. Put a lid on it and get on with it. By the time they get to college, they’ll have plenty of notes to compare with all the other kids who have a)divorced parents (50% of us) and b)insane parents (all the rest according to the kids). Nobody looks at their kids and says, I hope to make your life as miserable as possible. Not even your soon-to-be-ex-spouse. So don’t.
- Divorce isn’t really about evening things up, punishing anyone, or even really about what’s right. It’s about money. See a psychologist, see a financial planner, find friends who will listen. They’re all cheaper per hour than your attorney. Let your attorney do what he or she does best—work the law and negotiate for your best achievable deal. Nobody comes out of a divorce whole. You want to come out of a divorce with the ability to restart your life.