The Divorce Dream Team Answers Common Divorce FAQs

05/04/2011 08:56 pm ET | Updated Jul 04, 2011

Generally, there are two things that impair a person's ability to make good decisions through a divorce.

The first is the emotional state of the soon-to-be-exes. Most divorcing people have periods of feeling overwhelmed by fear, anger, sadness and other negative emotions.

The second impairment to making good decisions is lack of knowledge in the various areas you need to know about such as finances, real estate, investing, taxes, and insurance.

The Divorce Dream Team ™, which consists of eight professionals in California and Oregon, will answer some of the most common questions and concerns newly divorcing people have. These answers are meant to provide general information to a broad range of situations.

Frequently Asked Questions About Divorce

This article is the first of what we hope to be many that will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about divorce.

Managing Your Emotions Through Divorce

I've never felt such intense emotions before in my life. I'm not able to concentrate. What's going on? Am I going crazy?

You are probably not "going crazy," but you may be experiencing extremely heightened emotions. What this means is that you may be flooded with intense negative emotions. As a result, your perceptions get distorted and your thought processes become impaired. This is normal but the feeling of being out of control can add layers of fear to the already scary experience. Because divorce is such a loss and major transition, it makes sense that you would feel powerful feelings. The key to getting through this time is to make sure you have adequate emotional support. Friends can be a great source of support, but certainly professional support, with a therapist, mediator or clergy person who specializes in divorce, is most helpful. Groups are powerful in that everyone in the group understands the pain and won't get tired of hearing your story. Often, there are lower fee resources at churches or mental health agencies. There are also free 12-step programs that can be very helpful.

Warning signs: If you find that you are filled with rage, you often cry uncontrollably, you lose track of where you are when you are driving, for example, or you talk to anyone and everyone who will listen about your situation (even the stranger at the grocery store), you probably aren't getting the level of support you need. I advise you to seek some professional help through a mental health agency or local church or synagogue.

How long does a "typical" divorce recovery take?

How long it takes to "recover" from a divorce depends on a number of factors, including how long you were together, how good the relationship was, how committed you were to your spouse, whether the divorce was a surprise to you or not, whether you have children together, whether you or your spouse is involved in a new relationship, your personality, your age, your socio-economic status and so on. There's no way around the grieving, but there are things you can do to help yourself move through the process faster: 1) ask for help (and let it in); 2) be as informed as possible about the divorce process and resources you will need; 3) surround yourself with supportive people - stay away from those who bring you down or make you feel bad about your situation; 4) watch your mental story-telling (i.e., I'll be alone forever or I'll be a bag lady on the street). Catastrophizing is tempting but try to keep your thoughts and feelings to what's happening in the moment. Your grief will eventually pass and life will find a new sense of normal again.

Creating a New Relationship With Money

What is my financial future going to look like?

Taking the time to think about who you want to be in five years is a constructive thing to do to help you guide your decision-making now. Staying lost in what you think your financial future will look like is setting yourself up for fear. You can get good information, talk to professionals in the fields of financial advice and counseling, and make informed decisions that will shape the future you want to create.

I've never handled the money. How do I learn to do this?

A good first step is to make a list of all your bills and due dates. As a second step, write down everything you're spending that isn't a bill. This includes groceries, things for the kids, money spent on errands, etc. Doing these two steps will give you the information you need to develop a realistic plan for your spending.

If I have to sell my current home, will I ever own a home again?

A good way to look at your finances is that you can have everything you want, just not all at the same time. If owning a home is your top priority, then you can save for it and achieve your goal. If you're keeping too many financial goals as "top priority," though, then you are putting yourself at the risk of sabotaging your future.

Expert Real Estate Tips

What are the most important factors when selling my home?

Without question, the price and the condition of the property. The first step is to price the home correctly, with the help of an experienced Realtor. Secondly, have your Realtor carefully walk through the home with you, room by room, and get their recommendations to repair any cosmetic defects that could deter your potential buyer.

How do I sell my home in a slow real estate market?

Your first step is to review your list (asking) price, and make absolute sure you are in line with the other recent comparable sales in your neighborhood. Secondly, you need to make sure your home is getting properly exposed through open houses, broker open houses, internet, advertising, and signage. Finally, make sure there are no obvious cosmetic defects you can repair that are prohibiting the buyer from making an offer.

Investment and Retirement Accounts

How do I evaluate my investments during and after my divorce?

Whenever your life situation changes, whether because of divorce, change in employment, or health, you will want to determine if your investments are suitable for the new circumstances. Here are items to consider.

1. What are your goals? For example, do you require additional current income to maintain your lifestyle? If so, is it feasible to take the income from investments, or do you need to keep your investments growing for kid's future college costs or your retirement?
2. Has your "risk profile" changed? Has capital preservation become more important or can you afford to take on more risk in your investments in hope for higher growth? Once you have answered that you will have a guideline on how to allocate your investments between stocks, bonds, money markets and real estate. You also need to have realistic expectations regarding what you can expect from your investments given the asset allocation.
3. If your tax status or bracket has changed, investments need to be evaluated to determine if you are getting the best after-tax return. For example, in non-retirement accounts, given your tax bracket, is it advisable to be in taxable bonds or perhaps tax-free municipal bonds, or a combination of the two.
4. Be sure to update your accounts. Have you re-titled your accounts if they will now be in your name alone and have you updated the beneficiaries for your IRA and 401k?
5. If you and your spouse have been using a financial adviser, is it someone you trust and feel comfortable with? Does the person have the temperament to answer your questions and help you design your new personalized investment strategy? If you haven't used a financial adviser you may want to gather recommendations from friends and other professionals (i.e. accountant, attorney), conduct interviews to identify the person who may be the "best fit" for assisting you in the process and perhaps managing your investments.

Business & Employment Advice

I have been out of the workforce forever and I don't know where to start now given I will have to go back to work.

Starting a new job or business following a divorce can be exhilarating, but it can also be draining, depending on your emotional state. Begin by asking yourself what contribution you make to those around you? What are you passionate about? What are you good at? What would your dream life be? Sometimes what you're good at and passionate about are different, but often they are the same. Do research on the demand for the product or service you're interested in. What is the job market like? Will the pay and benefits be enough to sustain you and your children? See if you can go on some practice or "informational" interviews. Read books on the subject such as, What Color is Your Parachute? By Gail Sheehy. In this economy, you may have to take a "B" job until you get on your feet and complete the divorce process. Know that everyone has fears around stepping out and getting is a normal part of the process.

I want to start my own business...what do I do?

Often we do not take the first steps in starting a business due to fears we have that is might not work out. Before undertaking a new business venture, ask yourself if you are really ready? If you are not ready, and you can wait, do. If you are not ready but you can't wait, do what you can to clear the emotional, mental and financial baggage you may be carrying from the marriage. Ask yourself, "What incompletions do I have in my relationship that are keeping me stuck from moving forward to a new life?" Make a list of resentments or dashed expectations and do what you can to heal those places. Getting a business coach can be helpful if you have the resources. Completion is the doorway to a new future. People often stay stuck in the past, which shuts the door to what is next. Leave the past in the past so you can move forward in your life.

Insurance Needs

How does getting a divorce change my insurance needs?

The top 5 issues to be certain to discuss with your attorney:

1. If you are dependent on your ex-spouse for your income, especially if you have children together, you'll want to have a life insurance policy on him to provide for you and the children when he is gone.
2. If your ex-spouse has you named as the beneficiary on the life insurance policy, be certain to have it become part of the divorce settlement.
3. Who will pay for health insurance for the children? If both of you have health insurance, you'll need to decide which plan is better for the children's health needs.
4. If you're insured under a spouse's plan through work, beware that your spouse could drop your health insurance without your knowledge before a divorce.
5. You may be eligible for COBRA. Divorce is a "qualifying event" for COBRA coverage, so if you're dropped from your spouse's group health insurance, you could be eligible to buy that plan yourself for up to 36 months.

The Divorce Dream Team TM contributing writers include Susan Bross, Kathleen Daly, Myra Natter, Dianne Morrison, Delores Schoffman, Susan Pease Gadoua.

If you would like to write in with a question, we will do our best to answer it in a future FAQ article. Email us your question at: