When I talk to women, whether in my office, at a Second Saturday Seminar, at Girl’s Night Out, they usually tell me that the thing they’re worried the most about is their finances. How will they make it work—both during the separation, and after the divorce? They’re filled with so many questions and so much anxiety. Though there’s no doubt that, financially, divorce is often pretty tricky (because, after all, this isn’t like a personal injury case where you stand to gain financially; you have the money that you had during marriage and you now have to divide it two ways, to maintain two separate households), a lot of the things that worry them the most are just those things that are unknown.
When I was in a car accident, I felt the same way. What happens to my old car now? How do you know if it’s totaled? What about my injuries and medical expenses? What about treatment choices? How long will it all take? How do I know who to trust? What kind of settlement is reasonable? Should I hire an attorney? Can I fight for more?
The uncertainties, especially when it comes to something as serious as a divorce, are probably the single most intimidating parts of the entire process. While it’s totally understandable, it’s a good idea to begin to gather information as soon as possible. Not only will learning more about the divorce process help you sleep better at night, but it’ll also help you begin to plan your first steps.
There’s no sense wasting time worrying when you could begin gathering information, and there’s no sense guessing what the right thing to do is when you can find out and be sure. Right? Of course, that’s common sense, but I also find, strangely enough, that women are so worried about what the answers to their questions might be that they avoid asking them for as long as possible. It’s a lot like being sick but avoiding going to the doctor because you’re paralyzed with fear by the thought of a diagnosis. It’s not very rational, but it’s the way a lot of people feel.
Don’t let that be you. The choices you make at the beginning of your divorce are undoubtedly the most important. The best choice you can make, at the beginning, is to get the facts. Today, we’re going to talk about what you can do to prepare financially for divorce, so that you can begin to prepare your to do list and figure out what your first steps should be.
1. Get the facts.
Okay, so I’ve already touched on this, but I haven’t told you how. No one expects you to go to law school, or wade through complicated statutory and case law, just so that you can understand how the divorce process works in your particular state. So, how else do people do it? How do you get recent, Virginia specific, up to date information (from a credible source) about divorce?
A general internet search for law-related information is a little bit like taking your medical questions to WebMD. Soon enough, you’ll be convinced you have cancer—when you really just have a cold.
Don’t spin your wheels (or make your worry worse) by trying to find information where it really doesn’t exist. Get the right information now. But…where?
For nearly 25 years, my law firm, Hofheimer Family Law, has been teaching seminars about the divorce process. We affectionately refer to them as “Second Saturday,” because that’s when we first started teaching them—on the Second Saturday of each month. What it’s really about, though, is “What Every Virginia Woman Needs to Know About Divorce.” (We also have a book by that same title, but I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.)
These days, we offer the seminars on the Second Saturday of every month in Virginia Beach and Newport News, and also on the Third Tuesday of every month (in the evenings, after work) in Virginia Beach. Each seminar is taught by one of our licensed, experienced divorce attorneys (on a rotating basis). We encourage questions (provided, of course, that they’re general and not personal—because it’s not a confidential forum and we want to protect your case), and will give you on-the-spot answers. The seminar is done in a “frequently asked questions” format, so that you’ll get the answers to the questions that you’re probably already asking yourself, like:
Do I need an attorney?
Will he get custody?
Will I have to get a job?
Can I make him pay for my divorce?
How much does divorce cost?
And, of course, lots more. (That’s just a quick list designed to give you an idea.)
The cost to attend the seminar is $40 if you pre-register, which you can do on our website at www.Hoflaw.com by clicking here. Otherwise, it’s $50 if you show up at the door. We keep the price low on purpose, because we want to make sure that the seminar is accessible and affordable for every interested Virginia woman. (Still can’t afford to attend? We also take requests for a fee waiver from licensed local therapists, counselors, victim advocates, and others based on financial need.)
It’s a great place to start. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll get up-to-date, Virginia-specific information straight from the mouth of a licensed, experienced Virginia divorce attorney, without paying for an initial consultation (though that may be your next step anyway; still, you should make sure).
If you can’t make it to the seminar, want a little extra information, or just prefer to do some reading on your own, we’ve got a book for you. Our divorce book, “What Every Virginia Woman Needs to Know About Divorce,” is available for free on our website. You can request your copy by clicking here. When you request it, you’ll get an immediate email with the electronic version of the book, so that you can begin reading it right away. In it, you’ll learn about:
The 20 things you need to know to live separate under the same roof
The 13 factors that affect whether you’ll qualify to receive spousal support
How property is classified and divided in Virginia divorce
The ten critically important factors that affect how a judge will decide your custody case
How to determine your exact share of his retirement accounts
The financial records you MUST be aware of
The stages of divorce
If you live in our immediate area, you’ll also getting an email offering you a free hard copy version to be mailed to the address you provide, if you’d like it. (Don’t worry, though; we can mail to whatever address you provide, and we always send everything in plain, white envelopes.) It’s a great place to start.
2. Set some goals for yourself.
Before you can begin to make any of the types of decisions you’re going to have to make over the coming weeks and months, it’s important to do some soul searching. Setting some goals can help you as you figure out where to start, too.
It’s always surprising to me how many people don’t have any clear idea at all of what they hope to accomplish. Sure, they have a vague idea—they want to be “okay,” and be able to pay their bills. Keep their kids in the same school. Move out. Whatever. They have an idea, but they haven’t narrowed it down, and it causes them to lose focus when we start to really talk about how things will be divided.
In case you didn’t already know, I’m going to tell you something important: you won’t get everything. You can’t. He’ll get some, too. So you have to think a little bit about which half you want to be yours. Think, too, about what he might like, and how, if you give him something important, he might be convinced to let you take something that is, to you, a little more important.
If your goal is to stay in the house, know that up front. If you want to move out right away, know that, too. Begin to make a plan so that you’re not surprised later.
3. Plan early, if possible.
As much as it’s possible, you should start planning ahead as soon as you begin to suspect you might be headed towards a divorce or separation. As you’re probably already aware, divorce is pretty expensive. Not just in terms of legal fees (but, if you’re considering hiring an attorney, you probably do want to start thinking about how you’ll pay for an attorney), but also in terms of moving, and re-purchasing some of the household items. You won’t get them all (and you may just want/need to replace some of them), so the things like curtains, towels, linens, and kitchen utensils will probably be pretty high on your list to replace.
You’ll need some money on hand. If you don’t work or have an independent source of money coming in, planning ahead is even more important. You’ll definitely want some money on hand; depending on what you’re planning, you may want first and last month’s rent, and several months worth of spending money on hand, just in case. More if you want to hire an attorney.
So, how do you save up some money? Try setting aside a little at a time, over a period of time before you and your husband formally separate (after you separate, you can probably count on his paycheck being direct deposited somewhere else fairly quickly). When you go to Target or the grocery store, get a little extra cash back. It’s probably safest to keep it somewhere in cash, rather than opening your own bank account. A little extra cash on hand can go a long way towards making those first few weeks and months of your separation run a little more smoothly.
4. Get copies of documents, if you can.
As you probably already know, the divorce process will divide all the assets and liabilities in your marriage. But how can things be divided—or a preliminary plan be made—without information regarding your assets and liabilities? Lawyers aren’t omniscient, and we don’t know what’s there to be divided unless you tell us.
In many cases, it’s easier to have access to this type of information before you separate. So, if you have access to important documents now, make copies and keep them in a safe place. You’ll need everything you can get your hands on—bank account statements, tax returns, retirement account information, mortgage statements, credit card bills, life insurance policies, and more. Whatever you can find that relates to your financial picture, get copies of it. It’s easier now than it will be later.
Can we get the documents later? Sure we can, in a process called discovery. But it’s time consuming and costs money, so it’s definitely better for you to have it up front.
Preparing ahead of time can go a long way towards helping you adjust to the difficulties of separation and divorce. It’s not always possible, but, when it is, the more you can do up front, the better. For more information about how to prepare financially for divorce, or to set up a consultation with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.