How you prepare for your divorce is as important (if not more important) than the as the actual divorce process. Here are some keys to making the divorce process go smoothly.
1) Become as informed as you can be about your financial life.
The more information that you have about your finances the better position you will be in to make decisions. If your spouse is normally the one who pays all the bills you should download copies of the joint bank statements for the last two years. Many people think that only the other spouse has access to this information, but if your name is on the account, or you are a signer on the account, you have access. You need to have an understanding of your finances.
There are important questions that you need to be able to answer.
- What income do you have in the household?
- What bills are paid on a regular basis?
- How much disposable income is left after the bills?
- What accounts do you know of that are out there?
- What are all of the possible assets in your household?
Not just financial accounts, but credit accounts as well. If you think you don’t have access but you have a statement or an account number, start doing some research on your own to become informed. Call the company and ask, “Am I on that account? Am I an authorized user on the account?” Most times you’ll find you are, but you think you don’t have access to it. You do. Get the statements. Don’t worry about what the statements say for right now, just get them. During this time of COVID, many financial institutions are making these statements available to authorized account holders or users electronically, allowing you quick access.
Your spouse has always filed the tax return, and you may have never had a chance to look at it or you’d rather not be bothered with it. There are ways to still access that information. You can go on the IRS website and request various types of tax transcripts of joint tax returns. You don’t have to wait for tax transcripts to be mailed to you, rather the IRS is providing these transcripts electronically. Their website explains the type of information you will need to access these transcripts. Your tax returns can tell you a lot of information. For example, you can find out how much money your spouse has been making, financial institutions that report interest income, and whether any 1099’s have been issued by entities reporting income for your spouse. You can find out what you generally owe in taxes.
2) Explore your options for divorce processes
Start researching the various ways that you can go through the divorce process. There is the traditional litigation mode. You should investigate mediation, informal settlements, and more importantly, Collaborative Divorce. The Collaborative Divorce process has an open exchange of information. There is a way to do this in which everybody can become informed. Maybe you do not have access to certain financial accounts or statements. Maybe you are not fully aware of what is going on with the children’s educational financial planning.
After the divorce, you are in a better position to care for yourself and your children, once you are more informed, and have the tools and knowledge to plan for your financial future. If you have been finance adverse, you need to get passed that. Post-divorce you are going to have to start taking care of business.
In the Collaborative Divorce process, a financial neutral will help you prepare a post-divorce budget. You are not left on your own. Your spouse also has access to this financial neutral. The financial neutral works with both of you to try to come up with a win/win situation. It does not have to be adversarial.
3) Talk to several attorneys.
Hiring an attorney is as personal as hiring a doctor. It must be somebody that you feel comfortable having very personal discussions about your marital life and your family life. Find out if your case a good case for the Collaborative Divorce method. There are some that are not, but I would say in most instances they are, especially right now during the pandemic when it has become more difficult to “get” into court.
You should also look for attorneys that are collaboratively trained and have had multiple trainings. Membership in Collaborative Divorce Austin or Collaborative Divorce Texas is a good indication of those that are not only trained, but fully committed to this process. There are attorneys that say they have been trained and do collaborative divorce work, but then later you discover that the way they are handling your case is not, in fact, very collaborative. Some times, this can be a bait and switch approach, where the attorney says that they do handle cases collaboratively, however, your case is not a good fit for collaborative. If you hear this from an attorney, seek out another opinion. This is your case and your future and worth the effort.