It has been well documented that January is the month when most people file for divorce. For some couples, it's because they want to avoid upsetting the family traditions during the holiday season. For others, New Year's signifies a fresh start, and at the top of the resolution list is a marital dissolution. The more pragmatic folks will make the decision to divorce in January for tax reasons. If you start the New Year separated, then you don't have to file a joint tax return in that year.
Regardless of why you might choose to step out of your marriage, once the decision is made, divorcing can be difficult, painful and potentially confusing. Particularly if you've never been divorced before. You can't know what to expect.
There are loads of great blogs on the Internet to help you decide which divorce route and lawyer to choose. They also provide invaluable questions to ask your current and/or prospective lawyer. But there are details about divorcing you can't count on your divorce attorney to share with you. They live the process every day, and have for quite some time. They may not always remember, or even think to tell you about the little details or underlying complications that you as a divorce newbie might face.
So, as we head into this New Year of possible endings, in order to bring about new beginnings, here are five nuances of divorce you need to know.
1. Your life will change.
First and foremost, don't let anyone tell you that your life, or your standard of living, won't change. If you think about it logically, it has to. You and your former spouse will be financially supporting two households rather than one. All the day-to-day expenses, like mortgage, gas, electric, even trash collection, will double. There are the unexpected expenses you may not have focused on, like health insurance and church dues. Companies and organizations like these make single status adjustments, and it's likely to be more costly on an individual basis. Other expenses that you may have taken for granted while married could become your sole responsibility, like kids' haircuts. It might be wise to make an itemized list of absolutely everything you can think of that you spend money on. That way you will be clear about your future expenses and how you want to proceed through your divorce with each and every line item.
2. Lawyers talk in lawyer-speak.
Your lawyer can be the best in town, but if you don't understand what he or she is saying to you, you might agree to something you shouldn't have. I learned the hard way the consequences of being reticent to ask questions, or being afraid that I might look stupid because I didn't understand their jargon. Thus, I agreed to terms in my divorce that had detrimental consequences to my financial future. Do you know what "stipulate" means? I do now, but didn't then. Don't be afraid to ask your attorney to explain anything and everything. The money you spend on the small details could save you big in the long run.
3. Watch lawyers' charges.
Divorce is a business. Lawyers are not benevolent guardians watching over you and your financial future. Lawyers are service providers and they are in business to make money. Oftentimes lawyers charge by the hour. The time that they spend on your case might include answering your emails, phone calls or making copies at the copier. One lawyer charged for the time it took him to bill for his charges! When you engage a lawyer, make sure he or she discloses everything their hourly charges include.
4. Question their advice.
As much time as you might spend in your lawyer's office, on the phone or emailing, he or she still cannot totally understand you, your children or your life. Only you know what is important to you and how you hope your future will unfold. They may advise you to proceed in one manner or another, and while it might be best for them to settle your case or even a logical conclusion to an issue, it may not address the deeper emotional, mental or financial comfort you are looking for. Ask them to provide you with alternative scenarios. Then process through how each might play out in the long run. You might also want to get a second opinion from an expert in the field you are negotiating. For example, if it's in regard to buying your family home, get input from a real estate pro. If you need answers on the tax consequences of your choices, bring a tax preparation specialist or CPA into the process. Issues that might affect your children's health and well-being might require calling on a family therapist.
5. Nobody wins.
Lawyers often speak in terms of winning or losing the case or the court battle. The truth is, in divorce, nobody wins. It is a mentally, physically and fiscally draining process. If divorce is the route you've chosen to take this New Year, then prepare yourself. The best way to try and ease through the process is to mitigate your emotional attachment to your former spouse, former life, and especially any material anything. Not to say that you walk away with no financial stake in what you built as a couple -- that is not prudent. But if you can relinquish your attachment to physical goods, like artwork (take the cash equivalent and buy yourself a new piece of art), dishes (did you really like that pattern anyway?), or the vacuum cleaner (yes, I've heard of people arguing over items like this), you'll be better off. The truth is, once you are out of your old life and into creating your new one, all the old stuff will only be reminders of what was and you'll probably end up getting rid of it anyway.
No matter how you proceed with your divorce, always remember that the health, happiness and well-being of your children comes first. They did not ask to be brought into this world, you made that choice. Now, it is your responsibility to do your best to see that their quality of life is least affected by the changes, and that no matter how you go forward as a family, your love for them will never waiver.
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