The divorce process benefits greatly from advance planning.
Editor’s note: In her soon-to-be-published book, Breaking Free: A Step-by-Step Divorce Guide for Achieving Emotional, Physical and Spiritual Freedom, veteran family law attorney Rebecca Zung provides a day-by-day guide for navigating through every state of divorce. The following adapted excerpt answers the question she hears most often: How do I best prepare for divorce?
Day 21 – Knowledge
The shock is wearing-off and you’ve decided to divorce. At the same time that you’re dealing with overwhelming emotions, you must remain sharp mentally. The choices and actions during this time will impact the rest of your life.
Imagine that you are preparing for a long hiking expedition in mountainous terrain. You will need to pack the right provisions and equipment to survive. In the same way, you’ll need specific types of knowledge to effectively support you through the divorce process. To prepare adequately, you will need to:
Take Stock. Get intimately acquainted with your financial picture. Find out in whose name your assets and liabilities are titled. Include bank accounts, real estate and any outstanding mortgages, automobiles and remaining debts – everything. Your job is to become a sleuth and gain as much information as you possibly can. Review your credit report to confirm it is accurate. Copy (or photograph with a smartphone) every shred of financial information you can find.
Open Accounts. Establish your own bank and credit card accounts. This applies especially if you are the non-monied spouse. Your attorney may be able to get you some temporary support down the road, but it may take a few months. Be sure you have a way to support yourself for a period of time, if need be. If you don’t have credit in your own name, applying for a credit card is an easy way to start to establish that.
Determine Income. Try to pinpoint your spouse’s income. Look for a Social Security statement, income tax returns, W-2s, K-1s, or 1099s. This can be tricky. For example, if your spouse owns a business that pays personal expenses on his or her behalf, those expenses may be characterized as income in the divorce case. Try to find any financial documents on the business such as tax returns, general ledgers, income statements, and bank statements.
Calculate Expenses. Determine your true cost of living. This includes everything from your home expenses, utilities, car expenses, groceries, grooming, expenses for the children, entertaining, dining out – even pet expenses. Every dollar you spend will count in a divorce.
Budget Accordingly. Establish what your post-divorce budget will be. Include all of the living expenses just as you did for your current expenses, only this time project what your expenses will be after the divorce.
Examine your Estate. Determine what your current estate plan provides. If you have a formal estate plan, get copies. Review it to determine who you’ve given power of attorney, designated as your healthcare surrogate, your trustees, you executor, and your beneficiaries. You may want to change those prior to filing for divorce. Once a case is filed, some courts issue orders precluding changes.
Your Job is to be a sleuth, to gain as much information as you possibly can.
Identify Beneficiaries. Determine the beneficiaries of your retirement accounts. Again, you may want to change these prior to filing your action for divorce.
Determine Digs. Decide what you want to do about your living situation. If you own the home jointly and you want to sell it or let your spouse remain there after the divorce, then vacating the home may be fine. On the other hand, if you want to keep the home to live in, or the home is in your spouse’s name, moving out could impact your chances of getting exclusive occupancy of the home during the pendency of the divorce.
Change Passwords. Start changing your passwords to email, Facebook, financial accounts and anything requiring password access.
Rally Support. Find a good therapist with whom you feel comfortable, or speak to your church pastor. And make sure that important friends and/or family members can support you – by listening or going out for dinner – during this time.
Day 21 – Exercise
Go through the 10 items above. Start making a list of where you can get the information or whom you should speak with to get the information. Tackle one item on the list each day until it is completed.
Day 21 – Meditation/Affirmation
“I am building the proper tool kit to be sure that this life transition is as smooth as possible for me and my family.”
Rebecca Zung, Esq. is the founding partner of the Law Office of Rebecca Zung-Clough, PLLC, a firm that specializes in marital and family law matters.