Filing for divorce was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I didn't know where to start, what the actual process was or what my expectations should be.
When I was on my fourth attorney, because no one was advocating for me, I realized how unprepared I was. If you are filing for divorce, follow these 5 steps to get yourself ready to navigate the challenging road ahead and avoid costly mistakes.
1. Your first step: make sure you have a place to live. Once you have that settled you'll have the peace of mind to know that you and your children won't be uprooted or scrambling to have a roof over your heads. Having this matter solved is a boost to your ability to think clearly, feel safe and make the all important decisions which are ahead.
If you own your own home it is likely the largest financial asset you have and also a lightening rod for emotions. It holds a lot of memories. Consider this one carefully as I have worked with many women who made the wrong choice and it caused deep regret.
Contact a Realtor who specializes in working with divorcing families to assess your home's value and get a clear picture of the market in your area. Discuss the pros and cons of staying in your home, moving on to another place, or perhaps renting until the divorce is final and you have a handle on your finances.
If you are considering staying in your home, speak with a lender right away. If the current mortgage is in both your names, you will have to refinance and qualify for a loan based solely on your credit and finances. The lender can run some numbers to help you decide if keeping the house is financially feasible and something you feel comfortable taking on. Don't let anyone tell you that one party can just be removed from the current mortgage and everything will be fine. It doesn't work that way and following this advice can cause confusion and the need for post divorce litigation to correct the situation.
2. Get your team in place! Yes, divorce takes a team and you need to have yours in place so you have professionals advocating for you and informing you clearly and respectfully.
A legal professional is a must even if you are doing the divorce "pro se" or without full legal representation. This is a tricky one and where I made some major missteps. You have to understand your legal rights and get a road map of the actual steps from filing to final decree in your state. That way you won't be wondering what happens next.
Ask around for referrals and investigate your options of litigation, mediation or collaboration.
If you choose mediation please understand that the mediator is a neutral party and will NOT be your advocate. If your situation won't be highly contested, mediation or collaboration are good choices because they are less expensive and less divisive.
Wildflower Group offers two really informative videos in our library which feature an attorney. She gives guidance on how to interview a legal provider and she discusses red flags to watch for in your divorce. https://www.wildflowergroup.net/blog/women-legal-issues-and-divorce
If you choose to do the divorce yourself, take the path of mediation or collaboration it's vital you have a legal professional review all documents before you sign anything. Most attorneys provide unbundled services, so you can hire them to do certain things but not handle your entire case. It's like ordering from a menu. This saves money and assures that you have someone advocating for you.
You might also need a Realtor, loan originator, financial advisor, tax professional, therapist, divorce coach, career counselor, nutritionist, home stager, divorce support group or fitness trainer. Think ahead and gather everyone together so they are working collaboratively. Remember that you are the team captain! They work for you (that includes your legal advisor) and you will be the decision maker after receiving their professional advice on an issue.
3. Get your finances in order now. Gather bank statements, tax returns, pay stubs, investment accounts, real estate properties, your credit scores and any other financial information that could be included in the divorce.
Make sure you are very clear about what will be considered marital property, as people are often surprised by this. If you feel there will be a challenge regarding your soon to be ex spouse hiding assets, understand the steps that might be needed to investigate and locate these assets. There are professionals who specialize in this area.
4. Focus on your children. This is an area where professional guidance might really be called for. Children are often forgotten in the divorce process, feel guilty or are used as bargaining chips. You want to avoid any of these scenarios at all costs. The laws vary in each state regarding the rights of children and parents in a divorce, so make certain you know what the laws are so you and children will be protected and won't experience any surprises.
There are many studies done on how divorce effects children so do some reading on the subject to best know how to help your kids navigate this often thorny transition. If professional help is necessary, seek it out via referrals from friends and family members. You are the parent so take the lead regardless of how your soon to be ex spouse is handling it, or maybe because of how they are handling the divorce.
5. Take care of yourself! Remember the adage that "the caretaker needs to take care of the caretaker". This means something different to everyone, but it does mean that you have to be up to the task of making life decisions. You can and must make this next chapter the best it can be for you and your children. This involves adult children too, who are often deeply affected by their parents' divorce.
Start with gathering the best team of professionals you can so you don't feel alone in this effort, and understand if a team member isn't a good fit or advocating for you, you can replace them. Remember I had four attorneys!
You also need to gather a group of friends and family members for your personal support. This is a time to surround yourself with positive energy. Turn to those who will encourage your efforts to start this new chapter without telling you that they know best and you are making mistakes in your choices. You will identify those that are giving you valuable guidance and eliminate those that perhaps have their own personal agenda.
Remember to physically take care of yourself with a nutritious diet and get some type of exercise even if it's going for a walk. Have a group in place that you can call on when you need a moment for yourself ( which you will). Perhaps you can trade child care to keep the costs down while taking a breather. This works well for both you and the kids.
Have a list of friends to call when you're in need of company to go to a movie or concert. This also comes in handy when you are attending legal or financial meetings. Bring someone with you so you have another set of ears or someone to take notes. When nervous or feeling anxious it's easy to miss part of the conversation.
Remember through all of this, You Are Not Alone! Wildflower Group is here with the support you need to create the future you want. Our goal is to assure your divorce has a successful outcome. Stay Strong and Bloom On! https://www.wildflowergroup.net/