Divorce: Formulating Your Exit Strategy
Deciding to divorce is only the first step. Next, especially if you expect your partner to put up a fight, it’s critical to develop your exit strategy.
Ensure Your Basic Needs Are Met
Before you leave, you need to make sure that you can survive on your own.
If you are earning an income that goes into a shared account, consider funneling some of that ahead of time into a new account in your name only. Depending on your state laws, this money is still considered marital property, but this strategy makes it more difficult for your spouse to cut off your access to funds. This may also be a time to consider ways that you can increase your income so that you will have more financial flexibility.
If you don’t have your own income, it’s critical to figure out how you will live, both in the short term and in the long run. Be careful about assuming that your partner will voluntarily pay your living expenses; divorce has a way of bringing out the worst in people. Sometimes, judges will require a working spouse to pay for the other’s basic expenses during the divorce proceedings, but that is not a given.
You may have to accept a living situation that is less-than-ideal for a time. If you’re in an abusive relationship, contact shelters in your area. Even if they are not a fit, they will have access to other resources within your city. Alternately, consider staying with friends or family until you can get back on your feet. Or, perhaps in your case, living under the same roof while the legal process is sorted is a viable option. Regardless of your intentions, it would be beneficial to have at least one back-up plan. You don’t need someone’s change of mind to leave you with nowhere to go.
Once you file for divorce, it’s as though marital assets are placed on hold. There are benefits to this, such as a working spouse is required to maintain health insurance for the nonworking partner. However, there are also downsides because there are limits on what assets can be sold and how the proceeds are divided. Be careful to learn the laws in your jurisdiction before you assume that you can make certain financial decisions.
Make Copies of Important Documents
When it comes to paperwork, divorce is even worse than buying a house. So the more information you have access to, the better. Start by making copies of any important documents in the home – tax returns, insurance paperwork, mortgage documents, etc. Place these in a safe location so that you can access them later.
Furthermore, don’t assume that you’ll still have easy access to any online accounts. Again, divorce often brings out the worst in people and passwords may be changed without your consent. Log in to any important joint accounts and take screen shots of the vital information. Make sure that you have account numbers and other information you may need to regain access.
Select and Consult an Attorney
The best way to locate an attorney that fits your needs is by word of mouth. Of course, this does mean that you have to reveal your intentions to at least one other person. If that is not possible, try searching online forums that break down lawyers by geographic area and look for personal reviews.
Be realistic in what you want from your attorney. They do not have the power to bring about closure or emotional healing. No matter the settlement and custody arrangements, you are likely to emerge with a sense that the agreement is unfair. And also understand that a judge can override anything your attorney promises. So don’t be swayed by big talk.
Finally, make sure you select an attorney that fits your needs. If you may use mediation, are they experienced in that endeavor? Are you able to afford their fee structure? Do they have experience in your particular situation? Are they someone that you feel comfortable with?
It’s also worth spending a little time educating yourself about the divorce process in your district. It’s an emotional and confusing undertaking and having some knowledge about what to expect goes a long way to making it just a little bit easier.
Reinforce Your Support Systems
Divorce is not a time to be stoic and attempt to do it alone. Consider opening up to a select group of friends or family if it feels comfortable to you. If you need to wait until the divorce is public knowledge, decide ahead of time who you think you can lean on during the rough periods.
Consider bringing in some professionals, in the form of a counselor, coach or even someone who will provide you with ancillary support (for example, I scheduled regular massages during my divorce to help with the ravages of stress on the body).
While you’re shoring up your reinforcements, also pay attention to those that bring negative energy into your life. This just might be the time to cut them loose, or at least keep them at arm’s length for a time.
Decide How to Deliver the News
This just might be the hardest part, especially if the choice is unilateral and you believe that the decision will not be well-received.
This flowchart can help guide you in ending your marriage. .Obviously, not all possibilities are included, but it can serve as a framework for your own particular situation.
Create Boundaries and Structure in Your Schedule
Divorce leaves a cavernous void in your life. Without prior planning, it can be tempting to fill it in unhealthy ways. Additionally, we tend to experience better mental health when we have some boundaries around us. The end of a marriage erases some of those lines and so it’s important to replace them with some sort of structure to keep from feeling completely unmoored.
Take advantage of this time to fill your schedule with healthy endeavors. Here are some ideas for you to consider.
Know that no matter how much you plan, you will not be able to foresee all that divorce will entail. Regardless, some intention ahead of time can help alleviate some anxiety and can offset some of the challenges that you may face. And as you move through the next several months, keep reminding yourself that this will get easier. One day at a time.