Divorce can be overwhelming. Often it’s an incredibly tough decision based on heightened emotions, anger and regret. In the midst of all of that, a flood of paperwork and financial choices that can affect the rest of your life come pouring your way.
There’s no way to make going through a divorce easy emotionally. There are, however, ways to make the financial and logistical burden involved go more smoothly. Attorney Loni Coombs has some tips for helping to keep the burden of the legal side of a divorce as small as possible.
“Divorce is such a hard time because you really feel like your life is out of control,” Coombs said. The first thing to do is to research divorce law in your area to make sure you’re prepared for what’s coming. One of the things you’ll learn is that, though the decision to get a divorce can happen in a moment, the actual process can be quite long. Another is that California is a “community property” and what that means: “Anything you acquire during your marriage whether it’s assets or debts will be split 50-50 when you get divorced.”
Don’t burn your money on lawyers
“Divorce attorneys are sort of infamous for stretching it out and making it very adversarial,” Coombs said. “All your money ends up going to the attorneys when you really need it for yourself.”
Coombs recommends using a mediator, rather than attorneys, if your divorce is relatively straightforward. “A mediator will be more objective and help you focus on coming to a resolution and doing it in a quick and timely manner,” she said. Some cities even have free attorneys at city courthouses who will help you fill out the paperwork free of charge.
Make decisions on your own
In the wake of a breakup, it can be hard to even speak to the other person, let alone make big decisions together. But finding a way to do that can stop you from losing control and having incredibly important choices being made by a stranger. “If you guys can’t decide that for yourselves, you’re going to go in front of a judge and that judge is literally throwing himself into the middle of your marriage,” Coombs said. “He’s going to tell you how much time you’re going to be able to spend with your kids, how you’re going to raise them, where your finances are going to go. You lose control of all of that stuff.”
Organize your finances
In a lot of ways, a marriage is a financial agreement and a divorce is like the splitting up of a business transaction. It’s important to know exactly where you are financially before you make the break. “Go through all of your tax returns. Go through your insurance policies, your retirement policies. Make a list of all your assets and all of your debts so you can figure out how to split,” Coombs said.
A lot of couples get too focused on what they have and forget to consider what they’ll need going forward. “A really helpful thing to do is go through a monthly budget of what you’ve been spending when you’ve been together,” she said. “Now anticipate what you’re going to spend when you’re apart.”
Keep emotions out of it
Decisions based on feelings can set the rules that will affect the life of you and your kids for many years, long after the emotions have cooled. “There’s a lot of hurt. There’s a lot of anger,” Coombs said. “Don’t use the divorce process to vent that. Really focus on this as a business transaction to set up a financial plan. Keep the feelings out of it. Deal with that elsewhere.”