Question: I have read your column for years more out of fascination than need, not believing that people could get themselves into such messes. But since my husband left me and our two young sons six months ago, I have been forced to rely on a legal system that I do not understand. I am petrified that I will be left out in the cold. There is so much to consider. My lawyer tells me to leave it to him, but that doesnít seem to be working out for me, especially since he seems to have no time to spend with me. Is there any advice you can give me?
Answer: No one is foolish enough to begin building a home without a plan or a contractor -- a person in charge who will coordinate the many important, yet interrelated jobs such as plumbing, electrical, roofing, mechanical, painting, and landscaping.
Similarly, divorce involves more than simply terminating a relationship. Divorce means wholesale life changes for husbands, wives, and children. Like building a home, if you get divorced without a plan to guide you into your new life and without a multidisciplinary team of professionals, you may find that itís harder to make your divorce work than it was to make your marriage work.
Many who go through the process find that while divorce eliminates one set of problems, it causes lots of new ones. Why? Because assets will be divided. Because the amount of money previously available to maintain an in tact household will now have to keep up two. Because each spouse will have more responsibilities and will be making decisions alone.
So focus not only on the perceived upside of removing yourself from a relationship that did not work, but also on the downsides --- like the breach of a relationship with continued contact because of the children, possible relocation, a changed standard of living, and placing important issues in the hands of the judicial system which, if not handled correctly, can be much like rolling the dice in Atlantic City.
You must be proactive in this very important process and work with your lawyer and the other professionals necessary to bring your case to closure. We have spoken with some of the better matrimonial lawyers in the country who agree that what you see here today and in the following two weeks, is a good roadmap to help you get to the finish line:
First, Become Informed and Develop Your Plan
FORMULATE BOTH YOUR SHORT TERM AND LONG-RANGE GOALS. If you donít organize and plan now, important details will slip through the cracks.
SEPARATE YOUR EMOTIONS FROM THE ECONOMICS AND PRACTICAL ISSUES. Emotional issues should have no place in your decision-making process, and you must understand your options before you make decisions.
GET A BASIC UNDERSTANDING OF HOW THE COURT SYSTEM OPERATES. You must know what to expect and when. Since most decisions made by a divorce court are based on the facts in a particular case, there can be no guarantees.
UNDERSTAND HOW THE FACTS OF YOUR CASE STACK UP. You need to know the range of possible results, the strong and weak points of your case, the best and worst result you can anticipate, the probable length of time complete your case, and the probable cost. Your lawyer is trained to help clarify these areas.
BE PREPARED TO DEAL WITH THE ECONOMICS OF YOUR SITUATION. In addition to the emotional trauma, you must be prepared to deal with economic matters. So discuss the following issues with your lawyer:
Make A Budget
Sound easy? Itís not. Whether you are paying or receiving, you will have fewer assets, less income, and more expenses. With you lawyer, you must try to predict today your financial future. This is not easy task. You should be realistic and candid and be prepared to back up your estimates with facts and hard evidence, so make sure to get copies of all of your bills.
Will You Be Changing Homes?
Since the family home may be one of the largest assets, you may have to sell it and move. Are their alternatives? What about refinancing a second mortgage, a home-equity loan, asking parents or relatives to help you buy out your spouse? Include consideration of the cost of moving in your settlement or presentation to the Court. Whatís the best way to deal with school changes for children? Think in net figures since the selling price of the home will be reduced by the mortgage payoff, closing costs, lawyersí fees, taxes, and possible other debts. The costs of disputes over furniture and personal property may be more expensive than buying new furniture. Become aware of all tax consequences before you complete any sale. The last thing you want is to find yourself borrowing money to pay taxes you didnít expect. If you are planning to buy another home, you need to shop for mortgages. Find out what price home you need to buy to defer potential tax consequences.
Next Week: Donít Forget Auto and Property Insurance. Health Insurance Coverage Is Essential. Learn About The Basics of Alimony and Support. Plan for Your Childrenís Education. Security for Support Is Essential. Be Aware of Credit and Payment of Debt Issues. Pensions, IRAís, and Social Security
Jan Collins is an award-winning writer and editor. Jan Warner is a matrimonial, elder, and tax attorney. Both are based in Columbia, South Carolina. Flying Solo is seen in newspapers throughout the United States.
Please send your questions by e-mail to email@example.com or by mail to P.O.Box 11704, Columbia, SC 29211.