- Get organized. Organization is the single most important thing you can do to help stabilize your level of stress, successfully reach your goals, and save money. Divorce is an emotionally charged experience. Even the most amicable separations will be difficult. So, take a step back and gather yourself. Understand your priorities and objectives in advance so you can take the necessary steps to protect yourself financially in the future.
- Copy important documents. Your attorney and advisors will need information in order to assist you; therefore, it is important to make copies of information and statements associated to asset and liabilities. Some examples would include: checking accounts, saving accounts, brokerage accounts, IRAs, pension plans, insurance policies, annuities, business interests, etc.
Do not overlook paperwork for accounts that are not necessarily in your name because assets may be considered marital property regardless of who “owns” them. Additionally, non-marital assets may not be divisible, but they may still impact the division of marital assets.
By having both current and historical financial statement information, you may also have the ability to track the “disappearance” of assets or better understand “mysterious” transactions.
- Talk to an attorney. It’s important that you fully understand the road ahead of you before you make any decisions regarding the divorce and how it will impact your future. An attorney can advise you on which actions will either help or hurt you in the divorce settlement. Certain decisions made in haste can hinder your goals later on. Although you might wish to save money by avoiding attorneys, their job is to act as your advocate and to help you understand your rights. Having someone in your corner can lead to much better decisions.
- Consider the financial impacts. We find that clients are most surprised at how divorce impacts their personal financial situation. The simplest way to evaluate the financial impact is to take your expenses, multiply them by two, and then subtract them from marital income. Although this is a gross oversimplification, the reality is that you will double the largest expense category (housing) as well as many other expense lines. Additionally, you will spend substantial dollars in the divorce process on attorneys and advisors.
We are not suggesting that the financial impacts of divorce should keep you from divorce, but we do advise all clients to enter the process with an informed understanding of the ultimate impact on the financial future for themselves, their spouse, and their children. Often a consultation with a divorce financial professional can be helpful to assist you in preparing for the financial realities of divorce.
- Children. Divorce has a significant impact on children. You must recognize how a divorce will affect your kids’ lives both emotionally and physically. Although both spouses may separate amicably and still remain closely involved in their children’s lives, the children will invariably be living a completely different life than in the past. They will experience the fear and instability that comes with a separation of their family and they will be viewed as “different” among their peers.
Additionally, children will notice financial differences. The two incomes that were once used to support a single family unit will now have to support two separate family units. It is important to decide how much child support will be needed and to create a budget that allows the custodial parent to afford the expenses associated with school, medical care and extracurricular activities.
- Decide what you want. Divorce is an emotionally draining experience and requires many difficult decisions. If there is any doubt in your mind that divorce is not the right answer, speak to a counselor or marriage therapist. You will never be able to truly focus on the important issues at hand if you are not completely committed to the divorce.
After you are certain that you are making the right decision, you need to decide what your goals are concerning custody, alimony, child support, property division and debt. Once you figure out what you want it will be easier to prepare for your case. Understanding your objectives will also help your lawyer guide you and prevent you from making any decisions that may create a hurdle to achieving your goals.
Brandi Ruffalo is a financial divorce advisor with Valuation & Forensic Partners, LLC in Chicago and Schaumburg in Illinois. She specializes in basic lifestyle and financial analyses to the valuation of private businesses or stock option.