“Feare no more the heate o’ th’ Sun,
Nor the furious Winter’s rages.”
– William Shakespeare
As with any devastating storm, your divorce can often leave a path of destruction. Feelings of helplessness and despair regularly take over. Fear prevails. Anger may ensue. Must it be this way? “NO.” Can you avoid it? The answer is an affirming “YES.”
The key to weathering any storm is preparation and planning. Aesop’s fable, “The Ant and the Grasshopper” illustrates this point artfully. The fable begins one summer day when a Grasshopper, who is hopping and singing to his heart’s content, comes across an Ant. The Ant is working hard carrying an ear of corn to his nest when the Grasshopper suggests he join in his frolicking. The Ant answers, “I am helping lay-up food for the winter and recommend you do the same.” The Grasshopper responds by saying, “Why bother about winter?” When winter comes the Grasshopper finds himself without food and dying of hunger while he watches the Ant distributing corn and grain from his stores. At this point, the Grasshopper realizes only too late that “It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.”
Preparation and planning will be essential in reducing the conflict and stress that so often overshadows divorce. Once the decision to divorce has been made, take the time to prepare mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually for what is about to unfold. Explore your feelings and motivations. Identify your wants and needs. In his article entitled “Waging War Against Procrastination,” Dr. Bill Knaus points out that “Decisions are affected by the preparations you take prior to taking any action.”
Divorcing couples so often forget that they are the most critical piece of the divorce process. Retaining the right attorney and/or mediator will be important. However, you and your spouse will be setting the tone of your divorce. You will be making the decisions. Most importantly, you and your spouse will be the ones having to live with the final resolution. Taking the time to reflect and gather information will be instrumental in keeping you focused. It will lessen the chance of being driven by emotionally based decision-making. It will help you “keep your eye on the ball.” Remember that even if a judge is left to make the ultimate decision as to your divorce, the choice to proceed to trial is yours. Why choose to leave the determination of your life to a stranger?
Prior to retaining an attorney, take the time to complete the following few steps that I refer to as P.L.A.N.S. This is best done as a couple, but it can still be effective if done on an individual basis as well.
Step 1: PINPOINT the issues in your divorce. The following issues are among those most addressed in divorce.
- Child-Related Issues
- Who will have decision-making authority (legal custody) relative to your children?
- Where will your children live?
- How should the time with your children be shared between each parent?
- How much in child support will there be?
- Who will cover the medical, dental, and vision insurance for the children?
- Who will be responsible for paying the out-of-pocket expenses including premiums, medical expenses, dental expenses, orthodontia, mental health, and vision expenses?
- How do you want to handle the participation, transportation, and payment of the extracurricular activities for your children?
- Who should be responsible for paying school fees including private school tuition, tutoring, or other fees?
- Do you want to create or maintain educational funds for your children?
- How will you handle college related payments on behalf of your children?
- Alimony and Other Related Issues:
- How much income does each of you earn a year?
- What will your monthly expenses be during the divorce and after divorce?
- Does one of you need additional financial support from the other spouse?
- How long will that person need additional financial support?
- Who will cover health insurance during the divorce? Where will each of you get health insurance coverage after the divorce? How will it be paid?
- Should you get or maintain life insurance on our lives while the children are minors?
- Property and Liabilities:
- What real property do you own?
- Who will get the property and who will pay for it?
- How do you handle the marital home? Does one of you get the home or do you sell it? Who will pay the mortgage on the home?
- For the moving spouse, where will you live during the divorce and after?
- What is the value of your real property?
- How do you handle joint bank accounts during the divorce? Do you maintain or close them?
- How do you want your debts and other obligations to be paid (e.g., mortgages, auto loans, auto insurance, credit cards, and other loan obligations)?
Step 2: LIST your marital assets and liabilities that may include the following:
- What do you own as a couple?
- Real property
- Recreational vehicles
- Personal property
- Bank accounts (savings, checking, money market, etc.)
- Education savings accounts
- Investment accounts
- Retirement accounts
- Life insurance policies
- What debts do you share as a couple?
- Mortgage, home equity loans, HELOCs
- Personal loans
- Automobile loans
- Student loans
- Credit cards; and
- Any other liability.
Step 3: ASSEMBLE all documentation. You must verify your incomes, assets, and liabilities. You may need to contact your accountant or financial advisor to help you with this step. Documents may include monthly statements, titles to property, copies of policies, billing statements, tax returns including W-2s, 1099s, and K-1s, and other supporting tax schedules and attachments, appraisals, property tax assessments, financial statements, and loan applications.
Step 4: NOTE the issues that are most emotionally charged for you and your spouse.
Step 5: START writing down the ideal outcomes. First, begin by imagining the ideal outcome from your perspective. Write this down. Second, imagine the ideal outcome from your spouse’s perspective. Write that down. Third, identify where the areas of agreement and disputes will likely be. As part of this process, consider looking at the areas where compromises may be made.
These exercises will not only help you with getting organized but are also intended to help you see the divorce from each side’s perspective. As the wise Chinese military general, strategist, and philosopher Sun Tzu once said, “If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.” Know yourself and know your spouse. By viewing the situation from both perspectives, you will be better prepared for finding a resolution.
Following the steps above will be well worth your time. You will be in a much better position to face the winter storm of divorce.