By Erin Levine
This might sound counterintuitive, but perhaps the most important part of your divorce is the very beginning – even before you file paperwork to mark your date of separation. Making smart decisions at the beginning of your divorce will benefit you throughout the entire process. But, emotions are usually raw at this point, especially, and it is totally normal if it’s difficult for you (or your spouse) to think clearly. So, let me help you think through your exit strategy.
How will you tell the kids?
If you have kids, plan in advance for how you’ll tell them about the divorce. Preferably, with the cooperation of your spouse. Remember: despite your differences, you both love your kids and want the best for them. Work together for their benefit to help them cope and understand how their lives will be impacted. And, to the extent that you can, let them know what to expect in terms of immediate changes, especially regarding home and school, to help them prepare for the transition. If your spouse is too raw, angry or emotional to confirm her/his willingness to stick with this plan – stay committed. No matter how upset you get, prioritize your children. Lead by example. Your spouse will come around. Hopefully sooner than later.
Where will you live?
Some states have notoriously high housing prices. (I’m looking at you, California.) Can you afford to move out of the marital home? Can your ex? Some couples set ground rules and decide to continue living together in the marital home after filing their date of separation, for financial reasons or because moving out feels to “big” or “scary.”. Others might rent an apartment or move in with a relative or a friend. Regardless of what you decide to do, I urge you to consider your options and have a plan in place before you begin the divorce process. Otherwise, I think you know what happens. You get wrapped up in someone else’s plan – and let’s face – it probably hasn’t been designed with your best interests in mind.
What personal items are valuable to you, that you want to make sure are in your possession?
Especially if you’re considering moving out of the marital home, think about your personal property and items you want to make sure you retain possession of. Move it to a safe place now. Or, if that’s not allowed in the state you live in, inventory property. Take photographs, make lists. You don’t want to risk not having access once the divorce process begins.
Same thing goes for financial paperwork. Before you and your spouse start divorce proceedings, make sure you start a file of important financial documentation – joint assets and joint debt at the time you formally separate. My colleague Ian Lyngklip wrote an excellent article about ensuring that your credit stays in tact after divorce, which includes valuable tips on how to create a file to track your finances during divorce.
How will divorce impact your finances?
Living on one income can be a lot different than living on two – which is why divorce has a huge impact on most peoples’ finances. Meet with a Certified Divorce Financial Advisor if you can. They can be a tremendous asset in helping you sort through your financial situation and in setting things up for more solid footing during and after your divorce.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon that one spouse might try to hide assets from another in divorce. If you sense this might be the case, you might want to look at hiring a forensic accountant, whose job it is to identify, clarify and value assets in a marriage. Particularly useful if one person in the marriage is self-employed, if you share joint ownership in a business with your spouse, or if you’ve both been contributing to a joint asset. It’s hard to move forward unless you have a true picture of your current financial situation.
If you’re not sure where you stand, or where you will stand, hiring someone with the financial expertise to help you feel and be more confident about your financial picture is key.
Will divorce impact you at work?
If you think things might go south quick (and your job feels secure enough to withstand some upheaval), it’s a good idea to let (at a minimum) HR and your boss in on your situation. You might need to take extra time off work for court appearances or meetings with attorneys or mediators. You don’t want your boss thinking you’re not engaged, or that you’re looking for another job. If they know what’s really going on in your life, they’ll probably be more sympathetic to a midday appointment here and there. If you aren’t ready for that yet, how about sharing what’s going on in your life with at least one co-worker that you trust and can provide you with some support?
How will you tell family and friends?
You could rely on the rumor mill. But do you really want to? There are certain people in your life who you’ll want to make sure hear about your divorce straight from you. Think about who those people are before you start divorce proceedings and find the best way to break the news.
Remember two important things: 1) Some people may not know how to react. Anticipate this and be okay with it. Change is hard. They’ll be mourning the end of this chapter in your life, just like you did (and likely still are). Let them hear, digest and come to terms with your news. 2) They are going to want to be there for you, but they might not know how you want them to be there for you. So, think about this before you break the news, and be prepared to tell them.
My article, How to break the ‘D’ news to friends and family: Helping them help you is a great place to start.
If you want to think through more scenarios, good for you! The more organized, confident and prepared you are at the outset of your divorce, the more organized, confident and prepared you’ll feel throughout this entire process. Here are a few more articles that might be useful:
- Pre-divorce planning: Do you have an exit strategy?
- Should I stay or should I go? 5 issues to consider before you move out of the marital residence.
- Pre-leaving Checklist
About the Author
Erin Levine is a Certified Family Law Specialist and the owner and managing attorney of Levine Family Law Group, based in Oakland, CA. She is the founder and CEO of Hello Divorce, a platform that helps users divorce on their terms, offering curated articles and resources, DIY videos, instructional form templates, flat-fee legal services and mediation. Learn more or register for a free Hello Divorce starter membership at www.HelloDivorce.com. For advice, inspiration and tips to help you navigate your divorce, follow Erin on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.