There is no easy way and no shortcuts to prepare for divorce. Whether your spouse has blindsided you, or you yourself took steps to initiate, divorce is a deeply emotional and complex process. It will touch every area of your life. The best way to prepare is to address four key areas that will be affected by divorce.
1. The Emotional Side
One way to prepare yourself for the emotional impact of divorce is to make a list of trusted people in your life. These should be a mix of friends, family, and professionals who can be your support team during the season of your divorce.
Having support is vital to your emotional health, and you need trusted people you can share your feelings with, knowing that your words are safe with them. Your team should include people who can support you in different ways, as divorce touches every aspect of your life. Your team can include a long-time friend, a mental health counselor, a spiritual advisor, a divorce support group, and even your doctor. These are people who can help you process the various ways that emotions affect your mind, body, interactions, and perceptions.
Having a variety of people on your support team also means that you are seeking appropriate help from each person. There’s a reason treating your lawyer as your mental health counselor is not recommended! Your lawyer’s expertise and time should be spent protecting and defending your needs in court. Likewise, your mental health counselor’s time is best spent giving you a safe space to process, grieve, and feel heard.
Surrounding yourself with trusted friends and professionals gives you both comfort and useful tools as you process the emotional impact of divorce. It gives you a healthy outlet for your feelings, which is especially important if there are children involved. Focusing on your own emotional health apart from them will free you up to be present and available when their emotional needs arise.
Having a team of trusted people can help ease the emotional burden of divorce and give you healthy outlets for processing your feelings, making peace with your situation, and moving forward with confidence.
2. The Financial Side
The financial side of divorce can be difficult to prepare for because there are so many factors that make each case unique. Do you have children? If so, what kind of custody agreement are you seeking? Are there significant assets that need to be valuated and split up? Do you own a business together? Each of these examples has their own set of financial complications.
Your best step, regardless of your unique situation, is to get all your accounts together and sit down first with a financial planner and then a lawyer. They both fill a vital role on your support team. Working with financial and legal professionals is the most proactive way of accurately evaluating and protecting your assets. The type of information you need to compile for both meetings can include: bank information, employment and income details for both spouses, properties under one or both your names, business information if you or your ex is a business owner, retirement accounts, investments, pensions, life and health insurance policies, credit reports, debt amounts, inherited wealth, vehicles, and luxury items. If you are older and going through a “gray divorce” you’ll also need to include your estate planning documents and decide on who should hold your power of attorney. The goal is to get a clear picture of both your joint assets and any assets that you and your ex each hold privately.
When meeting with your financial planner, having all the above information and documentation organized can set you up for success on your own. This is doubly important when you have children and expect to either share or have full custody. When meeting with your lawyer, this information is going to help them get a clear picture of the total assets of the household, which will allow them to make a case for the amount you deserve.
It may take time to gather all the necessary information, particularly if you are dealing with an angry ex who is trying to withhold information. But you will be better prepared for the divorce, both mentally and financially, if you have a clear picture of your financial situation.
Your lawyer can guide you through the legal process of protecting your assets, creating a separate bank account, or setting aside resources for an emergency fund. A financial planner can help you track expenses, set an appropriate monthly budget, or provide tips for building good credit on your own. There are even certified divorce financial analysts who can help you work through a complex case. If your case requires it, you may also request support from forensic and tax accountants as well.
Having trusted legal and financial professionals on your team will allow you to better protect your interests and financial future following a divorce.
3. The Legal Side
Even if you and your former partner are separating amicably and with maturity, you still need to understand your rights. What you don’t know in a divorce can hurt you. Hiring a lawyer doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to go after your ex with ill will. What it does is to demonstrate a commitment to yourself to understand the legal side of the process that you are undertaking. This helps you effectively advocate for your needs.
Your lawyer can help educate you on state laws and other aspects that could affect your case that you may not yet be aware of. And when there are children involved, it is that much more important that you have expert legal representation who has helped other families go through this process.
An established family law practice has supported hundreds, if not thousands, of families through the process of divorce, custody, and other aspects that will affect your children. A knowledgeable lawyer will anticipate and prepare for your case in ways that you can’t on your own. You’ll receive the benefit of someone who has a keen understanding of how to best set up a case that will give your family the resources and closure you need.
If you are dealing with an abusive spouse, or one that is struggling with substance abuse, you will need to create legal boundaries. This process goes much more smoothly when you have a lawyer on your side. They can work with the courts and law enforcement to put restraining orders or temporary orders of protection in place to protect you and your children. Legal boundaries can also cover areas such as your housing, finances, health care, and child care. These are necessary areas to protect if you are leaving an abusive situation. A lawyer can take some of the pressure off of you by using their legal knowledge to advocate for your immediate needs.
4. The Mental Side
You’ve gathered your team of supporters, you have a solid knowledge of your finances, and you have secured a lawyer. If you haven’t already, now is the time to prepare your mental “game” as you begin the divorce proceedings. How you process this time mentally can significantly affect how you react during your divorce, and how you come out the other side of your divorce.
People don’t choose to divorce because they want to be miserable. And even if this divorce was sprung on you without warning, you owe it to yourself to set yourself up for success. This is where preparing mentally can drastically affect who you are or who you want to be after divorce.
We wrote an article on mentally preparing for a custody battle, and many of those strategies work for handling divorce whether or not children are involved. The first step is to mentally prepare for the long road ahead. Divorces rarely resolve quickly or easily. Even an amicable divorce can bring up issues of contention from the marriage, or disagreements about how to split assets or share custody.
Mentally preparing yourself for the divorce taking a while to resolve will help you keep from falling into depression or despair. Work with your lawyer to better understand a realistic timeline and create a game plan for issues that may arise that could slow down your divorce. A frank conversation with your lawyer can prepare you for the future better than just hoping for the best and being disappointed if your case drags on. Setting reasonable expectations will keep your mental game strong no matter how long your case takes.
You also need to mentally prepare for how you will handle interactions with your ex. Look for areas of common ground and focus on those. See if they are willing to establish ground rules for how you will communicate, particularly on topics that are known to cause contention in your relationship. Being upfront about wanting to resolve issues with maturity will set the tone for how future interactions play out.
Even if you are dealing with a contentious or vindictive ex, you can make a commitment to yourself of the ground rules you will play by. For example, no bad-mouthing your ex especially in front of children, and not engaging with them when baited. Think of neutral statements that you can rely on and use with confidence if your ex tries to get a rise out of you. Something as simple as “I’ll discuss this with you at a later time when we are both calm” can diffuse a tense situation, or at the very least help you keep your cool. This tactic reaffirms your commitment to be mentally prepared to deal with the worst in a mature and respectable way. It also means that your ex can’t use angry outbursts against you in court. Going through a divorce is like being under a microscope, so mentally preparing to be on your best behavior no matter what will only increase your chances of seeing the divorce resolved to your benefit.
At Torrone Law, our attorneys will advocate for you with compassion and understanding. We will do what it takes to bring your family to a place of wholeness after divorce.