By: Mary Ellen Flynn, Attorney at Law
When you’re contemplating a divorce, or believe that your spouse is contemplating a divorce, it is essential that you do certain things rather than be in denial. It’s always best that you are prepared mentally, emotionally, financially, and yes, even physically before undergoing a divorce.
- Preparing Mentally and Emotionally for a Divorce:
Even if you have never worked with a therapist, it is best that you have a couple of therapy sessions to be sure that you are mentally and emotionally ready to undergo a divorce. Also, it is recommended that you explore all your feelings about divorce so that you learn what it is that you want and what is best for you. You may want to work with your therapist in developing a list of your goals and concerns and then bring that list with you to your first meeting with a divorce attorney. Also, by finding a therapist before undergoing divorce proceedings, you then know you have someone you can confide in and help you work through your emotions as you undergo any stress related to the divorce proceedings. Even if your divorce is collaborative, you will still experience many difficult emotions and feelings.Although your attorney may be helpful in processing your emotions, it is best that you work through your emotions and feelings with a therapist. The therapist is specifically trained in that discipline and will usually be less expensive than an attorney. Also, your health insurance may pay for a portion or all of your therapy sessions. And even though you may have an excellent network of friends and family in whom you confide, you do not want to tell them everything. If your divorce case is being litigated, your friends and family can be subpoenaed to testify in a deposition and/or trial on everything that you have told them. However, unless your mental state is an issue in the case, your therapist cannot be so compelled to testify being that you are entitled to a “mental health privilege” that applies to your conversations and sessions with your therapist. You should be sure to discuss whether the mental health privilege will apply to you and your therapist when you first meet with a divorce lawyer.
- Preparing Mentally and Emotionally for a Divorce:
Whether you work with a therapist or not, it is important that you do the internal work so that you’re mentally and emotionally prepared for a divorce. If the divorce is being forced on you, you will need to work through the stages of grief and anger. If you are the one initiating the divorce, you want to work through feelings of any guilt that you are harboring. You do not want any feelings of guilt to affect and possibly control your decision-making during the divorce process. As I often tell my clients, “Guilt can cost you a lot of money.”
- Preparing Financially for a Divorce:
Now is the time to be organized with all your financial papers including bank account statements, brokerage account statements, tax returns, information about your retirement assets, your credit card statements, car loan documents and documents of other loans and debts, your pay stubs and W2’s, insurance policies, etc.Also, now is the time to assemble all financial documents of you and your spouse. At a minimum, you want to make copies of the most recent statements of every asset and debt. You should especially look for documents relating to retirement assets, bank accounts, insurance policies, and employment benefits.While going through all your financial documents and preparing a list of assets and debts, give careful thought to what assets (including retirement assets) you obtained before you were married or received from individuals other than your spouse. In Maryland, property that you received before your marriage or gifts from third-parties is your own non-marital assets and is not subject to being shared with your spouse (unless you agree to do so). And be sure to not put your spouse’s name on any of your non-marital assets. If you have already transferred any of your non-marital assets into joint names or your spouse’s individual name, be sure to discuss that with the divorce attorney during your consultation. Also, you should bring a list of all your questions and your goals for every meeting with your lawyer, especially to the first meeting. This way, you maximize your time with the lawyer, and you do not forget to ask any of your questions.
So that your first appointment with a lawyer is most productive, you should bring with you a list of all your assets and debts and information about your income and your spouse’s income. The more organized you are, the less work your attorney will need to do in organizing your documents and thereby, your attorney’s fees will be less. If it doesn’t overwhelm you, you should also create a budget for your current expenses and also a budget of your expected expenses when living separately from your spouse. If creating a budget before meeting with a divorce lawyer is overwhelming or prevents you from moving forward, then you can wait until you find a divorce lawyer and then your lawyer will guide you through the process of creating your budget of expenses.
Don’t worry if you don’t understand all the documents that you are assembling. The right divorce lawyer will explain everything to you.
If you have thought of returning to the working world or have been wanting to change your employment or earn more money, then now is the time to explore educational and training opportunities to help you achieve your goals. Your divorce lawyer will be able to recommend a vocational expert with whom you can meet to explore your earning potential and the possibility of a new career.
When I’m representing full-time homemakers, I always encourage them to explore their potential for earning income. If you have been a full-time homemaker during the marriage, there is a strong possibility that you will receive alimony (in addition to child support if you have minor children). However, I always encourage my clients to be as financially independent as possible for the sake of financial security. Also, if you are not disabled, the Court will be expecting you to be earning income to the fullest of your potential when considering what amount of alimony and/or child support to award you. That is why I encourage my clients to position themselves in the best way possible with regard to earning potential.
- Protecting Yourself Financially:
Before announcing your plans to divorce to your spouse or immediately upon learning that your spouse wants a divorce, you may want to close any open lines of credit that are in both your names. Too often, I have seen a person’s spouse running up a line of credit and then foolishly spending that money or hiding it. If you do not have any credit in your individual name, now is the time to obtain the ability to borrow in your own name.If there are joint credit cards, you may want to close those joint credit cards so that your spouse cannot run up high balances on them. However, I caution my clients against paying off those credit cards with their own funds because you may not be able to force your spouse to reimburse you for your payment of those credit cards.Also, you should open a bank account in your own name and start saving money that is in your own bank account. In the event of a divorce, you will need to reveal these funds to your spouse, but at least you will have funds always available at your disposal in the event of your spouse moving joint-funds into their own name or no longer sharing their income with you. After consulting with a divorce lawyer, they may direct you to move some joint-funds into your own name and your name; be sure you only do this after consulting with an attorney.
- Preparing Physically for Your Divorce
You should have an annual exam and a full work-up done by your doctor(s) because if you are suffering from any medical problems, currently or potentially in the future, you will want to know that before negotiating alimony, child support, and the division of your assets and debts. Also, if you are suffering from any disabilities, you will want the expenses relating to your disability to be factored into any settlement or litigation of your divorce.Also, now is the time to get in shape. Divorce, whether it’s collaborative or adversarial, will be stressful, and the best way to combat stress is to be in good physical shape. Find exercise programs that you will enjoy and to which you will commit. And be sure to start healthy habits of exercise, vitamins, sleep, and recreation. It is most important that you take care of yourself in every way possible.
After you meet with a divorce lawyer, you will also be advised on what else you should specifically do to prepare for your separation and/or divorce. To me, the most rewarding aspects of being a divorce lawyer involve educating my clients about their finances and positioning them to be in the best financial position possible. I thoroughly enjoy seeing my clients grow in confidence and financial stability as they enter this next stage of their lives as independent and successful individuals. The divorce process can be tough, but it doesn’t always have to involve ugly litigation. Options of engaging in a Collaborative Divorce or Mediation are very effective means of avoiding expensive and stressful litigation and could allow you and your spouse to be effective co-parents for your children. Whether children are minors or adults, children benefit when their parents can communicate and have respect for one another during and after a divorce.
Is going through a separation and divorce difficult? Yes, it is. But by finding the right lawyer for you, taking the steps discussed here, and taking care of yourself, you will be prepared for the divorce process and ultimately achieve a much better situation for yourself post-divorce.
If you or someone you care about is contemplating divorce and would like to speak with a divorce lawyer, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
About Andalman & Flynn, P.C.
Andalman & Flynn, P.C. serves clients throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia, offering compassionate, quality service and winning representation across a broad range of legal areas. With a concentration on disability benefits law and family law, the firm focuses on cases that impact the rights of everyone, and they are there for clients when responsive legal help is most critical. For more information about Andalman & Flynn, please visit http://www.andalmanflynn.com, or call 301.563.6685.