The second half of our "Top 20 Tips" about the divorce process deals with more of what we consider to be some of the basics you need to know based on informational requests from readers and visitors to the Flying Solo Website. To receive the full text of these and other basic tips about the divorce process, be sure to visit http://www.flyingsolo.com, click on "Divorce and Separation" and then click on "Frequently Asked Questions."
TIP #11: If you have never had credit and wish to establish it, go to a bank and take out a small loan (get a relative to endorse your note, if necessary), put the proceeds in a savings account, and repay the loan with interest. Then use this credit source to open other accounts.
TIP #12: If there is a joint obligation or account, as far as the creditor is concerned, each of you is fully responsible -- regardless of what the court order says. This means that if your spouse is obligated to pay a joint debt--or a debt that you have incurred-- and doesn't do so, the creditor can sue you for payment. When you and your spouse divide up the debts, you may want to consider: 1) Getting security from the spouse who is obligated to pay the debt; 2) Purchasing a small life/disability insurance policy to secure the obligation; 3) Getting the obligated spouse to refinance the account so that it's not in your name or so that your car or other property is not security for the debt.
TIP #13: When it comes to lawyers, you will probably be asked to pay a retainer and to sign a contract before a lawyer will handle your case. This is normal; however, you should discuss and understand these issues before you enter into this relationship. In your first meeting with your lawyer, you should discuss cost. Understand how the lawyer's fees are computed, the best estimate of the range of fees, and the probable expenses to handle your case. Have a clear, written understanding about how the fees are payable and when. This will save later misunderstandings. Never sign an agreement without the advice of a lawyer. Never allow one lawyer to prepare an agreement for you and your spouse. You always need your own lawyer.
TIP #14: Always understand the tax consequences of what you are going to pay or receive before you ink the deal. It's too late to plan after the agreement or court order is signed. So make sure your lawyer or CPA explains the tax consequences of all payments to your satisfaction. Child support is not taxable to the receiving spouse and is not deductible to the paying spouse. But there are questions about dependency exemptions and medical expenses that may affect your tax situation. Get informed before you sign an agreement or go to court so there are no misunderstandings later.
TIP #15: If the dependent spouse or a child is disabled, then there must be planning for not only education, but also for health care issues and the length of the support obligations. Find out which public benefits may be available, and then structure your settlement around these benefits. And be sure that the settlement avoids reimbursement.
TIP #16: To try to avoid future actions based on changes of economic conditions, you may wish to consider planning for cost of living increases. For example, can your payments be tied to the Consumer Price Index from the U.S. Department of Labor or other statistical data which can be used to automatically increase (or decrease) payments? Such a provision may save later court appearances.
TIP #17: Consider including a clause providing for mediation of potential future disputes about money or custody as a prerequisite to litigation. Or, if allowed in your state, think about arbitrating future issues.
TIP #18: Although divorce is fraught with emotions and economics which affect husband, wife, and children when a marital partnership is dissolved, don't let important decisions be influenced more by emotions than economic common sense. Panic and emotions have no place in the decision-making process. Understand your options, channel your energies, and then make informed decisions.
TIP #19: Keep your goals in perspective. Your lawyer can't do it all for you. And if you lose control of your case, you lose control of your life and place yourself at the mercy of an unmerciful judicial system. Try to keep the channels of communication open with your spouse. Don't escalate an already excitable situation by bringing in family or friends. Try to negotiate as many of the issues as you can after you are informed.
TIP #20: The cost of divorce can be staggering. Litigated divorces may take years and cost thousands of dollars. The more your have, the more you can lose. Sometimes you get so upset that you don't care what it costs ...until it's all over. That's why fighting for principle -- or fighting just to fight -- is a bad business decision. It tends to begin a long-term war with adverse economic and emotional consequences...But that does not mean that you should give up important rights just to try to get the case over. Separate your emotions from the practical issues you must face. Get a clear picture of your future needs. Get organized and focus on the important issues. Buy a notebook. Then put all of your questions and concerns in writing before you meet with your lawyer. Give your lawyer a clear understanding of your needs and goals so that an effective strategy can be planned and your lawyer can concentrate on what's important.
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.
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