Cornerstone — Preparing For Divorce

On the day they say “I do”, no one imagines that the person they are declaring they will be with “’til death do us part” will not end up being their life partner and soulmate. On that magical day, the future looks bright and a 50th wedding anniversary is in the works.

Unfortunately, as many reports in the news media have pointed out, the reality is that many of these happy newlyweds will eventually end up in court, navigating the minefield of spousal support and custody of the children. It’s unfortunate, but part of the reality of the world we live in.

If you see signs of an impending divorce, it’s important that you keep your wits about you and not panic. Yes, it is going to be a major life change, but there are steps you can take to look out for your best interests and prepare yourself for the emotional storm ahead.

The Most Important Steps You Can Take

When you first hear the words “I want a divorce”, you’re probably going to be in shock. You’re going to want to respond in anger or defensiveness. That’s OK for an initial reaction, but the truth is, if you’re going to get through your divorce in one piece, you need to put on the armor and get ready to do battle.

Your divorce might be amicable. It could end up that you and your soon-to-be-ex get along well enough that you can mutually work out a divorce agreement and custody arrangement, get it approved by the court, and walk away still friends.

However, if things get hostile, or you just can’t come to any reasonable agreement, you’re going to need to hash things out in court. There are three things you can do to help yourself in a contentious divorce situation.

First, and most importantly, you need to hire an experienced and competent attorney. They can help guide you through the court procedures and paperwork you will need to know as your divorce case moves forward. Trust us, an experienced divorce attorney has been there and seen it all — they can provide invaluable advice in this stressful time.

Second, you need to document everything. Financial records, a household inventory, and a record of communications between you and your ex are all vital resources that will help paint a picture to the court backing up what you are asking for. It will also save time with your attorney!

Third, you need to know your financial situation like the back of your hand. It’s important to know what your finances look like currently, as well as what your budget post-divorce needs to be. Your lawyer is fighting for your financial survival, so now is not the time to hold back anything, even if it’s embarrassing.

Preparing For A Divorce Legally

Getting organized is going to be a painful task, but it’s the one thing that will pay major dividends for you and your attorney. Is there anything worse than a client who shows up in attorney’s office, dumps a huge pile of papers on the desk, and expects the attorney to sort it, organize it, and make sense of it all?

In a hostile divorce, your three most important people will be your attorney, a financial advisor, and a qualified therapist. You’ll need legal counsel, a strong financial plan for your life post-divorce, and possibly someone who can guide you through this emotionally.

Preparing For A Divorce Financially

Household finances can cause a real shock, especially if you have not had direct responsibility for the money input and output. It is not uncommon for one spouse to “run the books”, so to speak, but that leaves the other spouse at a disadvantage if the marriage takes a turn for the worse.

Make it a point to learn as much as you can about the household budget. Make sure you know how much money comes in and from what sources, what bills and debts the household has, and where all the assets are. It’s also helpful to know which accounts are single-owner and which are joint.

The task is daunting, but it really is vital to have a complete and accurate financial record for the court. For more assistance in preparing your financial documentation, use this handy checklist from the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts.

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t make any major financial decisions without consulting your attorney first. Whether it’s a change in beneficiary on a life insurance policy or withdrawing major funds from a joint account, any change can come back to bite you in court. While you may be tempted to take a major action, it’s far better to talk to an attorney about any financial moves you may be thinking of making.

Preparing For A Divorce Emotionally

We understand — divorce really takes an emotional toll on people, even under the best of circumstances. It’s easy to be frustrated and overwhelmed. That’s why it’s so important to take care of yourself emotionally throughout the divorce process.

One thing you can easily focus on is the kids. The children always come first and any divorce decision is more easily navigated if the best interests of the children are always the first thing considered. Take care of the children the best you can, be a good listener when they have concerns, and don’t be that parent that is always talking trash about your ex in front of the children.

In this blog, we’ve stressed the importance of getting organized. It’s not just to make life easier for your attorney and the court. Getting organized will give you a greater sense of control in a situation where many times you will feel like you have none. It’s the difference between letting change happen to you and you taking a little bit of control over the change.

Everyone going through a divorce needs a support team — not just a team of professionals to help you make decisions, but a support team of friends and family that can be there for you when times get tough. You’ll need a night out to take your mind off of things every now and then, as well as a shoulder to cry on (or drink a beer with) when you just need to vent. A good support team is worth its weight in gold.

What About A Legal Separation?

That’s not going to happen. In Georgia, there is no such thing as legal separation.

In Georgia, legally you are either married or divorced, period. If you choose to live separately but stay married, and there are a number of reasons why a couple might decide to do that, you have to ask for a “separate maintenance” agreement.

In a separate maintenance agreement, you will still need to come to an understanding with your spouse concerning property and asset allocations, as well as custody and visitation agreements with the children. You can also live together again whenever you decide to reconcile. But, you won’t be divorced — you will still be legally married, just living apart from one another.

Yes, you still need an attorney. Just because it’s not an official divorce doesn’t mean you don’t have to do just as much paperwork and you still need a judge to sign off on the separate maintenance agreement. Hiring an attorney is your best chance of being able to navigate the process with ease.

So, if you see a divorce in your future, by all means, take a minute to drown your sorrows, cry with a friend, burn it off with a multi-day workout, or just sit for a while and stare into space. It’s OK. We get you.

Then, shake it off and let’s get to work. There are things to do:

  • Hire an attorney. Do some homework. Ask around. Make sure you are a good fit and that you feel like they will fight hard for you. Listen to their advice.
  • Find a financial advisor who can help with money issues now and post-divorce.
  • Find a therapist who can help you take care of yourself emotionally.
  • Listen to your kids. Validate how they are feeling. Don’t bash your ex in front of them.
  • Get organized. Collect financial records and put them in an order your attorney can easily understand.
  • Think about a post-divorce budget and let your team know what it is so they can help make it happen. Be realistic.
  • Manage expectations. Don’t fall into thinking you’re going to get everything you want. You can fight a great fight and still have to compromise on some things.
  • Take care of yourself. Make time for family and friends.
  • Stay involved with your children. Make sure the court knows you are an integral part of your child’s life.
  • Any questions? Ask your attorney before you take any action. Don’t assume it will be OK.

Family Matters Law Group Can Help

If you live in Henry, Clayton, or Fayette counties, or in the Atlanta metro area, Family Matters Law Group is an experienced family law practice that has successfully fought for our clients for many years. We specialize in hostile divorce cases and we promise to fight hard for your family, your children, and your assets.

To set up an initial consultation, simply call our office or use our online contact form. We want to meet and hear your story. We choose our clients carefully to make sure that they are a good fit for our practice. We are eager to meet with you and will be upfront about the strength of your case and what we think we can do to help. If a divorce is in your future, please contact us today.