How to Plan an Exit Strategy Before Divorce
If you are considering leaving your domestic partner or spouse, a good plan of action is essential.
We're not talking about taking your ex for all you can. We're talking about making smart choices without letting your emotions get the best of you. The more you think about your next steps with a clear mind, the better your position will be when the divorce is over.
Planning for divorce: Children
If you are a parent, separation is even more complicated. You'll need to be prepared for how to tell your kids about the divorce – preferably with the cooperation of your spouse. You will also want to think about how to help your kids cope and understand how their lives will be impacted by the divorce. Reach out to your support system and local resources (such as Kids' Turn) to alleviate as much of their anxiety as possible.
Planning for divorce: Finances
While child support and alimony can be helpful, they certainly will not take care of your finances in total. By the same token, if you are the higher-earning partner, prepare to see a large cut in your net income. Damage control is crucial, but leaving your spouse penniless is not an option, either. Financial planning is key.
You will want to seek legal advice to determine the approximate amount you can expect to receive or pay in support. Making a budget is important.
You will also want to control debt. When possible, keep your credit card expenditures to a minimum. Continue to pay bills to avoid problems in court. That said, you will have to prioritize your bills to ensure the most important ones are paid: rent, mortgage, insurance, essential utilities, credit card minimum payments, loans, and income taxes.
If you don't have copies of statements for all of your family accounts, get them now.
Consider taking inventory of all personal property. This includes taking photos and videos of items in the house. It can be almost impossible to prove their existence when they "disappear" post-separation ("he said, she said"). But if you've got evidence, you will likely be in a better place. Gather joint documents like tax returns, too. While the law provides that each of you is entitled to access (disclosure) to all financial documents, some spouses do their best to stonewall their soon-to-be ex-partner, which can lead to time-consuming and expensive litigation.
Planning for divorce: Career
Making your career plans a top priority can help you become self-sufficient. If you aren't going to be able to support yourself post-separation, start thinking about career counseling, re-training, or going back to school.
Planning for divorce: Future
We know divorce is devastating. Your jointly held goals are now gone, and it's natural to struggle with depression. Create new, attainable goals for your future. Consider making a written list with items or tasks you can cross off as you accomplish them. Having something positive, productive, or fun to look forward to can make you feel a whole lot better.
Don't be afraid to reach out to friends and family, and make new friends who aren't connected to your spouse. A divorce support group may sound uncomfortable or silly, but it has helped many clients feel less isolated and more proactive.
Nothing about divorce is easy, but focusing on your emotional and financial well-being not only helps you NOW, but it will also set you up for a more prosperous and satisfying future. It can also make your divorce less messy and give you a sense of empowerment.