Develop a Game Plan for Separation or Divorce

If you and your spouse face impending separation or divorce, there are important legal and emotional factors to consider. Whether you intend to hire a lawyer to represent you in Family Court or you wish to represent yourself, here are several things to keep in mind:

Put a game plan together. The legal process of divorce or legal separation can be costly and time-consuming, but you can take action to avoid unnecessary expenses and time spent. The key, as I tell all of my clients, is preparation. Before embarking on the process of filing for divorce/legal separation, living through litigation and dealing with the final judgment, you should develop a game plan to see you through.   Create a budget for future expenses of the legal process, develop a timeline for where you want to be in the process at what times, attempt to anticipate potential obstacles (e.g. cooperation or lack thereof of your spouse) that may delay the process and identify possible solutions to avoid/alleviate those obstacles.

Shore up emotional support. Even under the best of circumstances, divorce is an emotional roller-coaster for everyone involved. There will be moments of happiness (knowing you’ve made a decision that hopefully improves your life), but there will be many more feelings of anger, depression, sadness and regret.

It’s easy to see, therefore, how maintaining one’s composure throughout the process is a real challenge. Get prepared by cultivating (or strengthening) an “emotional support system.” This usually consists of trusted family members, friends, a clergyperson, therapist or someone else in whom you can confide and share your feelings.

Prepare your children. Regardless of how amicable the impending process may be, your children will be negatively affected. There’s no way around it.

If possible, talk with your spouse or partner about how best to approach the children and explain what’s going on now and what will happen next. I don’t mean discussing the legal issues, rather, focus on how their lives will probably change during and after the process. Help them find a way to deal with their emotions and the prospect of separation anxiety that will likely occur. It’s far better to address this beforehand, rather than wait for children to act out as a result of the divorce/separation.

Compile your financial information. If you haven’t already done so, compile information and documentation about finances – both yours and your spouse – held individually or jointly – including assets, debts, income and expenses.

Once proceedings get underway, you’ll be glad you put all this together in advance.  Not only does it save time, but after the divorce petition is filed and litigation starts, even the most well-meaning people begin playing games, concealing important details about assets and debts, etc., that can lead to costly discovery efforts and will ultimately affect the final resolution of the key issues of support and property/debt division.

In many marriages, one or the other spouse is often in the dark about household finances. One spouse handles most, if not all, financial matters (paying bills, depositing checks, etc.) and the other person lives in “willful blindness” of the grand scheme of the household finances. That’s all well and good when people are in a happy situation with trust all around, but it’s the worst possible scenario in the event of divorce or separation. At that point, the person who hasn’t been involved is generally clueless about the status of individual and joint assets and what money went where – and definitely at a disadvantage  when it comes time to either negotiate a global settlement or present your case in court.

Set goals for life after divorce or separation. As difficult as it is to imagine, you will have a new life after this painful episode. Try to see yourself after the legal process is over. Where do you want to be after the divorce judgment comes in? What do you want out of the settlement and what are you willing to accept? (These questions apply both to finances and child custody, where appropriate.) The court expects you to be willing to negotiate, so your attorney needs to know ahead of time what is your “ceiling” (i.e. what would be optimal for you) and what is your “floor” (i.e. what you would accept) in the overall settlement of the various pending issues of your matter (e.g. custody, support, assets and responsibility for debts).

Again, preparing for the road ahead in advance of the legal process is the best thing you can for yourself and your loved ones. Otherwise that road will be a very bumpy one (and much more expensive than it has to be).

Are you in need of legal counseling or have any questions about the above topic? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offer a free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from family law/divorce, bankruptcy, and estate planning to criminal/DUI matters and landlord/tenant disputes.

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