Many people think that they are able to work out with their former partner or spouse a divorce settlement that includes division of assets, child and spousal support, custody access, and all other parenting decisions. Perhaps. Here is the BUT… What makes you think you can now sit down with your spouse and sort through issues that are emotional when you were not able to sit down and discuss your differences and concerns to work things out to save the relationship?
Here are five key questions to ask yourself before you decide on a do-it-yourself divorce:
1. Are you or can you be civil and respectful with one another to discuss difficult decisions?
You likely will not be able to have productive discussions if you have been prone to arguing with one another, particularly in the last few months or years of your marriage. The other side of this coin is silence: if one party shuts down and does not say anything, how will the other be able to understand their wishes?
In my role as mediator, I take the emotion out of the way needs, wants, and feelings are communicated between the parties so the message can be “heard”.
2. Is there a dominant party who may override the wishes of the other party?
There is always a more dominant party in a relationship. It could be part of the reason your marriage failed, as one of you may have felt victimized and unheard. If you are the more vulnerable party, will you be able to stand up to your spouse to ensure your rights are being honored? A mediator creates a balance of power between the parties, giving voice to both and ensuring a more balanced agreement is reached.
3. How familiar are you with your finances – or finance in general?
Couples always divide up responsibilities between themselves. It is quite common that one is tasked with managing the financial affairs of the household and other the kids or household responsibilities. It was the same in our case. My ex-husband looked after the insurance, mortgages, loans, dealing with our financial advisors, and filed our returns, and I looked after the kids, their activities, and running the home – including paying the bills. We were both accountants, but with each of us having jobs, one person can’t do everything or be involved in everything. Although an accountant, I needed to “get up to speed” fast upon separation to understand our financial assets to be able to make informed financial decisions. You will need your former spouse to educate you on this or provide the information. Over 80% of the issues in divorce involve money. Will you be able to get the understanding you need, including any tax implications on your own? As a CPA CA, I provide my clients the financial understanding they need to make an informed decision. This includes understanding the options available to them and their tax implications. If you have complex assets like family businesses, pensions, real estate, vested and non-vested employment assets, etc. It can be even more challenging.
4. Do you know family law?
Let’s face it. You don’t know what you don’t know. Yes, anyone can learn and read up on family law, including the thousands of cases that have been adjudicated available online. But… how much time do you have? Professionals spend years obtaining accreditation and experience to help their clients understand their rights, responsibilities, and obligations under law. It is important to so some of your own research to gain an understanding to ask questions of any professional. In my view, unless you get the specific training, you will never know everything you need to protect your rights. I would never try to fix my own car as I don’t know how. Outside of simple things like changing a tire, I seek qualified professionals. It would be a huge risk to both parties if they do not have the proper legal information in their divorce.
5. How much can you trust your soon-to-be ex-spouse?
Trust is one of the biggest issues between divorcing couples. I could not trust that my ex-spouse would have my best interests at heart, as part of the reason for our marriage failure was because he breached my trust. Each party wants to get the best possible outcome for themselves, and this means each party will have opposite objectives. As a mediator, I bring a neutral perspective to the options and terms of settlement to both parties. I do not advocate for either party, and help each party reach a fair settlement that is not biased to any one party.
If any one of these questions give you a reason to pause, then you likely should not try to do it yourself but instead seek professional help. In the long run, it will be more cost-effective and less stressful.
Written by Mary Krauel, CPA, CA, EMBA, CDFA, owner and senior negotiator of PRM Mediation.