Bankrate.com suggests the following financial and emotional do’s and don’ts to help achieve a smoother divorce:
- DO consult with a lawyer. It’s a good idea, especially if you have children or assets. Experts say when looking for an attorney, you should ask people you trust for recommendations, and don’t cut corners when it comes to good, solid legal help. If you intend to hire a lawyer, start putting aside money for your legal costs, so you can pay the upfront retainer fee often required. The lawyer’s hourly rate is billed against the retainer. "To try to navigate without a lawyer would be like trying to do your own open heart surgery," says John Finnerty, a certified matrimonial attorney and chairman of Finnerty & Sherwood in Fair Lawn, N.J.
- DO make copies. Photocopy every important, relevant document from the last three years of your marriage. This includes tax returns, mortgage payments, bank statements, pay stubs, stock certificates and bonds – to supply your lawyer or mediator.
- DO steer clear of damaging credit problems. Cancel joint credit cards. Experts say if your credit card accounts are in both you and your spouse’s names, and they remain open, you are still responsible for any charges made by your spouse. If charges go unpaid, they can end up on your credit report. Get credit cards and accounts in your own name to build your own credit.
- DO make sure you’re covered. Medical insurance coverage can end in divorce. If you are on your husband’s insurance plan, you should be able to continue coverage for up to 36 months under the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act (COBRA). Under this plan you pay the premiums, which may be expensive.
- DO take a home and asset inventory. This will better clarify what exactly needs to be divided. Susan Goldstein, family law attorney and co-author with Valerie Colb of "The Smart Divorce: A Practical Guide to the 200 Things You Must Know," advises you to write down everything you know about your assets and debts, and record the persons who can be witnesses. It’s good for people to compile lists. You can’t bring your lawyer too much information, Goldstein says. Also consider taking pictures or videos of your home and contents and making copies of family photographs you want to keep. "Family photographs are often a major point of contention," she says.
- DO think about tax consequences. For instance, if a stock is valued at $3,000, it may only be worth $2,600 in cash after capital gains taxes are paid. Thus, it would not be the same as receiving $3,000 cash in a divorce settlement. "If couples are trying to provide each with similar amounts of spendable money, they must consider the costs of converting certain assets into cash before deciding how to divide items," cautions Margorie Engel, author, president and CEO of Stepfamily Association of America.
- DO choose your assets carefully. When staking a claim in assets, remember that choosing the wrong assets may end up costing you money, instead of making you money. If you want to keep the house, for instance, first educate yourself about the fair market value of your home, says Goldstein. Remember that you’ll have to make the mortgage payments and pay taxes, interest, insurance, utilities and maintenance extras. Selling it won’t be a picnic, either: The brokerage costs and taxes from the sale will be solely your responsibility.
- DO line up your own emotional support. Choose friends you can trust, because you never know who may end up turning on you or even testifying against you later. Consulting with a counselor can keep you thinking clearly in order to focus on your divorce plan. If you anticipate a child custody fight, you may want to take your child to a therapist before it starts. Randy Rolfe, author of "The Seven Secrets of Successful Parents," states that when you have counseling, you’ll be less likely to give up and give over things in the divorce.
Experts also recommend that you remain practical — legally and emotionally — when planning your divorce. There some things you should never do:
- Don’t skimp on legal help.
- Don’t just move out of your home. Unless you fear physical harm, talk to your lawyer before you make your move.
- Don’t try to do it all. Some cases do need experts like accountants, appraisers, etc. Thinking you can do these things on your own can be counterproductive.
- Don’t share a lawyer with your spouse. This scenario presents a huge conflict of interest. Most lawyers won’t do it, and it could borderline on malpractice.
- Don’t make revenge the goal of the divorce.
- Don’t compare your divorce to another divorce. Each case has its own set of facts, with its own personality.
- Don’t bad-mouth your spouse to your children. It can backfire on you in ways you don’t expect.
- Don’t just think about your actions, but also consider the impact they can have in a case. For example, don’t write a letter you would mind being read in a courtroom.
A divorce will affect you legally, financially and emotionally. Although deciding to divorce isn’t easy, taking the time to incorporate these do’s and don’ts can make the process — and its financial and emotional consequences — as uncomplicated as possible.