Divorce has a way of pulling the rug out from under you, even if you are the one who initiated the divorce. The adversarial nature can cause the process to be extremely expensive, and there are usually no “winners” in divorce. Splitting one household into two only multiplies the cost. However, education, planning and rational thinking can help curb the financial impact. Here are some suggestions to help you keep costs down during divorce.
1. Be mindful of spending. The financial reality of tomorrow may be quite different from today, so it is essential to track and identify how money is being spent each month. It may be necessary to eliminate any unnecessary spending until you have a clear understanding just how much money is needed and the various sources of income available.
2. Do your own discovery. Accurate information on your case is critical for the professionals you hire to adequately represent you. They will need detailed information regarding all assets, debts, sources of income, expenses, tax information, real estate holdings, and employee benefits. You are your best source of information. Invest your own time locating and providing as much of this information as possible. If you don’t, your attorney will have to spend significant time (and your money) gathering the information or requiring your spouse to produce the documents. Keep copies of all documents in an organized fashion. Realize that in some cases, documents can sometimes “disappear” as emotions escalate, so it may be best to store all copies of documents in a neutral safe location.
3. Limit conflict and increase communication. You must recognize that the more you “fight” the longer and more drawn out your divorce will be, and the more it will cost. Don’t let your attorney or your spouse’s attorney encourage conflict. Try to think rationally and keep the lines of communication open with your spouse. If you can remain open to compromise, it will potentially save thousands of dollars. There is no benefit in trying to extract vengeance on your spouse or try to make your ex pay for their bad behavior. Leave revenge at the door. The division of marital property typically culminates in a fashion that is fair and equitable to both parties.
4. Get help to understand your financial situation. Financial issues and property division can be one of the most complicated and time consuming aspects. Costs can quickly escalate the more drawn out a settlement becomes. You retain an attorney because of their expertise on legal issues, however many attorneys do not possess specialized knowledge dealing with complex financial issues. Seek the services of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) to get the necessary help organizing information and understanding the various property and tax issues, and other decisions you will be facing before you consent to a settlement. Using specialized software, a CDFA can show a variety of property division options to visually illustrate the short and long-term financial implications for both parties. Reviewing the financial impact of a settlement, not just on the date of division but also into the future, can help you move forward with confidence. These types of reports can also help you and your attorney demonstrate to your spouse an equitable division of the marital property. Professional assistance during negotiations helps assure you don’t make irreversible mistakes.
5. Don’t use your attorney as your therapist. The divorce process is stressful. With that said, your attorney is your legal representative, not your psychologist. At $200 - $400 per hour, it is very expensive to use your attorney for this purpose. If you need support, use a trained mental health professional. Their hourly rate will be significantly less expensive and services may be covered by your health plan.
6. If at all possible, stay out of court. The costs of a litigated divorce can often “wipe out” or seriously deplete a couple’s marital assets. Investigate mediation or collaborative divorce as a way to save time, money, and avoid an adversarial atmosphere. These approaches help find common ground and settle on an agreement that is mutually satisfactory. If the parties can be flexible and determine solutions to their issues, this can help promote a cooperative relationship in the future. This often helps the parties to move on with the least amount of stress and conflict, especially when there are children involved. To effectively co-parent, both parties will need to work together post-divorce to minimize negative consequences the divorce may have on their children.
7. Be empowered with knowledge. Relying on your attorney to manage every aspect of the divorce can be expensive. Take charge of your situation by researching the divorce laws in your state so that you can get a general overview of what to expect. As you become more knowledgeable and informed, that will help diminish some of the fear and uncertainty that may be present, and you will benefit from making logical decisions. Take advantage of community resources like your local library or the internet to research and learn as much as you can.
No two divorces are the same, and it is imperative to remain levelheaded and realistic so that you can make good decisions for yourself and your family throughout the process.