If you are contemplating, going through, or have just lived through a divorce you probably have a good understanding of the stress it causes. This stress can be completely overwhelming and now, ironically, the person you married thinking would be the one you’d share all of life’s ups and downs with is probably not going to be that helpful here, to say the least. We know all too well that this is a total train wreck in life. But we also know many, many people who have survived and done just fine if not spectacular on the other side. What you need to get through this, besides a time machine and a bottomless bottle of wine, is a good checklist. Here’s one we’ve put together for women just like you:
As soon in the process as you feel safe to do so, grab some divorced girlfriends and talk with them confidentially about what they went through and what they learned.
These women will run the gamut from weak to strong, victim to victor. Their experience will be different from yours. However, take their stories and learn from them. We’ve had special training in divorce planning and have worked with clients going through this life stage for over two decades. We’ve learned the most from women who have been there, done that.
If you don’t have it already, open up a credit card and a checking account in YOUR NAME ONLY.
After you do it, get some money in that checking account to handle at least a few months of expenses. This is critical if you don’t have income of your own. You may have to do this slowly, or you may have the luxury of being able to tell your soon to be ex you are doing it without an issue. Once you do this, don’t abuse said credit card and checking account. Going through divorce doesn’t give you permission to screw your future self by overspending.
If you are the responsible party, transfer the important stuff to your new checking account.
Let’s say you make the money and you pay the bills. You may want your income source going into this account now, and you may want important bills- say the mortgage- coming out of it to make sure it gets paid. Let’s say your spouse makes the money and pays the bills- status quo is ok if they are responsible, but if you have something you want to make sure gets paid (say your attorney fees), you may want that coming out of your own account and need to adjust for that.
Get yourself organized.
We get it. This sucks. But you can’t afford, no matter how many homes you have or how much jewelry is around your neck, to bury your head in the sand now, sister. You need intel and you need it now. You need tax returns, bank and investments statements, liability statements, deeds to property, employment benefits, and all your legal estate work. If there is a business (or multiple businesses) involved, ideally, you’d have organizing documents on all of that as well as balance sheets and profit and loss statements. The earlier in the process you can get this stuff, the easier your life will be later. There is no magic computer you can type a social into that will pull all of this up on. You have to dig if you are like the rest of us and haven’t kept it all in perfectly organized file cabinets and notebooks since the day you walked down the aisle. Depending on how active you have been in the finances this may be easier or harder, but don’t take it for granted that you can get it later. Weird stuff happens during a divorce.
Create TWO budgets.
You want one budget for the transition period, which depending on the situation could be year or more. There may be a lot of unknowns here depending on housing, and expenses with minor children if you still have them. Do your best to make an educated guess. The next budget is for your hopefully happily ever after life after the divorce is final. You’ll want to envision (as realistically is possible) your new life and put numbers to it. Both budgets should include housing expenses, staples like utilities, groceries, transportation, and kid expenses, and well as the non-necessities like travel and gifts. Non-necessities can be increased after the divorce is final if you do okay and can afford them. Both budgets, along with how you spent money while married, will be critical for creating a budget for your financial affidavit that will be required in the divorce process. More on that in a bit.
Think about your kids.
We say that like we don’t know you can’t think of anything but the kids right now. Many people get divorced when the kids leave the nest. This may be you, or you may have younger ones at home. In either case, think about what they need financially and legally not only through the process, but after. If they are older, but still dependent, you need to make sure you have what they need covered between you and your soon to be ex. This may include powers of attorney in case something happens to them so you are not fighting over health care or financial decisions with your ex. Younger kids are going to need their expenses paid, and a custody schedule worked out between the two of you not only for the process, but also a permanent one for after. This is a GREAT area to talk to you circle of divorced friends about.
Hire an experienced team you communicate well with.
This is a great time to evaluate your current financial, accounting, and legal advisors. If you’ve never liked them, what a great time to switch. If you have someone you’ve loved- now is the time to use that relationship to gather information- including referrals to others who could help you, like your divorce attorney. Make sure everyone you hire has an ego that is checked at the door and is willing to collaborate and communicate with others on your team. Be sure they all are aware of how the other is paid so they don’t build up excess fees on your behalf without knowing it. And don’t overlook hiring a good therapist. Your girlfriends will rock, but a good therapist is trained to help you move forward.
Financial details add up big.
We could write an entire column on this. Oh wait, we did. It’s also on our website under “Financial Details Add Up Big in Divorce”. Finish this first, but then check it out. The bottom line of it is, we’ve seen people make major mistakes financially because they didn’t think the details through thoroughly. They were worried about getting the house instead of half the pension they may have been entitled to. They didn’t build tax planning into their divorce negotiation. Or maybe they just forgot that an IRA is not worth the same as an after-tax account.
Risk management is critical during and after divorce.
What we mean by risk management is liquidity and insurance and legal protection. Hopefully, you have some cash on hand and it’s enough to see you through the process. You also have to make sure you have adequate insurance protection for you and your children. If you have life insurance on your soon to be ex, don’t cancel it or let it lapse during this process, especially if they will be paying you some sort of property settlement, maintenance, or child support. Finally, with risk management, protect your credit as well. Get a credit report and check your accounts often (weekly is not too much) to make sure your spouse isn’t up to something they shouldn’t be doing in your hopefully good name. This is particularly important if you are the main breadwinner and have a spouse who is hostile to the idea of divorce. Yes, we’ve seen some stuff.
Start building the new life while exiting the old one.
If you work, spend as much time as you can enjoying your job. Plan for how you can build your career- hopefully, it’s a source of pride right now. If you have children, try to just be with them. You don’t need to buy them, you just need to be with them and listen to them. You can assure them that while this certainly affects them, they are loved and valued, and then try as hard as you can to just relax with them knowing they are resilient. Build friendships and community. You will have alone time- maybe more than you have had in a long time. Fill it with things and people you love, or use it to find things and people you love. Finally, if you are not employed, but need to be, build that network now. Take some courses and start meeting people who can help get you back in the saddle.
More than anything, we would tell you after years of experience, the best thing you can do is to take really, really good care of yourself. Treat your body like you love it. Treat your mind like the wonderful miracle it is. Feel your emotions and express them with friends, art, writing, or loud music in your living room. Ride horses, exercise, sleep (no one will judge you for an entire day in bed- especially if you are doing a gangbuster job getting your stuff together)! Do limit the retail therapy. That can be like gaining 100 pounds by switching to an all pizza and potato chip diet during the divorce. Not bright, and your future self will not thank you. You will get through this, and how well you take care of yourself will be a predictor in how well you fare through the process.
We’ve said it before (in this very article)- divorce sucks. No one celebrates it. No one brags about a divorce, “It was so wonderful, I can’t wait until my next one!” But you will survive it and with a little luck this checklist will help, if only to give you the joy of a credit card in only your name and permission to lie in bed for an entire day.