Yes, it does happen. People who file for divorce sometimes end up not going through with it. One spouse filing might serve as a necessary wake-up call to encourage a couple to acknowledge and/or work through issues. On the other hand, do you want to be that guy (or gal) who filed? Before taking steps that are complicated to step back from, here are five thoughts/questions to ponder:
1) Are you sure you want a divorce?
It’s akin to hitting ‘send’ on the email to your co-worker that felt noble and justified when you wrote it, only to realize the next day when receiving an all caps missive in response that perhaps it would have done better to sit on that trigger finger. Write it, sure, but step back, cool down, sleep on it and read it in the light of day. You may realize it was a fabulous journal entry; i.e. nothing you need to share. Just because you are emotional about fill in the blank doesn’t mean that you must decide to act with your emotions.
Yes, it is painful to sit with dark, bleak, confusing feelings, but communicating before thinking through possible permutations is playing hot potato with an emotional bomb. No one wins. Other options, given time and counsel, might make their way to the surface if you’re willing to be uncomfortable.
2) Timing is everything.
Even once you’ve decided for certain. Particularly when kids are involved. Look dispassionately at their life circumstances in the upcoming year. Realistically, a divorce will take at least six months to a year from start to finish. Often longer.
So: has your new high schooler just landed their first speaking role? Is this the first year of kindergarten at a new school? Absent emergencies where filing quickly is necessary to protect you and/or your children from physical or emotional harm, you have some control over when you file. So, you know, after the bar mitzvah. After the holidays. If feasible. Because it matters.
Bottom line: kids are never going to be excited about their parents splitting. But their parents being sensitive to the timing of when they divorce can go a long way in everyone accepting their new normal more quickly.
3) Gather before you blather.
Now that you know for sure, you may feel compelled to run screaming home to deliver the news to the soon to be ex as soon as possible. Perhaps you want to shout it from the PA system at bowling night. Slow down. You have some housekeeping to do and it is tedious. Information gathering. Assets and liabilities. Taxes, mortgage payments, bank statements, just for starters.
But rest assured, it will be cheaper, easier, and better for all involved if you know exactly how much credit card debt you have, for example. To know what your credit report says and how much you pay for your car and insurance.
Lawyers need hard numbers to project your post-divorce life and brainstorm realistic terms for negotiation.
Once your spouse knows you are filing, assume they will waste no time jumping into their own data-collecting. If one spouse knows much more about the financial estate than the other spouse, this disparity can give rise to issues such as hiding, transferring, or moving assets without the other spouse’s knowledge during a divorce.
The more knowledge about the financial estate you have before filing, the more protected you are from these potentially coy financial maneuvers.
Additionally, the more information you can obtain before filing for divorce, the better. Once filed, this information typically becomes more difficult and more expensive to obtain. Even if both spouses are clueless about financial particulars and/or completely above board but with no real knowledge, it is infinitely more expensive for the divorce attorney to dig through back tax returns and receipts to put the financial puzzle together for you.
This is your due diligence, clear and simple, so do it. Even if it is the opposite of fun.
4) Check your credit.
Are there two names on the mortgage or one? Do you have joint checking and savings or do you have separate accounts? How many credit cards are in your name? What do you owe on your house? Do yourself a favor and run a credit report under your name: what debt is in your name will show up there. It may surprise you. You can go to annualcreditreport.com and request a credit report free once each year. Check also your income and property taxes. And what about a 401K? IRA? The IRS is an unstoppable force: make sure you are aware of any outstanding tax liability with the IRS so that can be addressed in the divorce process.
5) Financial Future.
Be honest with yourself. If you have been the not so “in the know” spouse regarding finances, don’t beat yourself up about it: but do recognize and be honest about the fact that this can make you more vulnerable in the divorce process. Then take steps to change it.
Get to know your finances. It is up to you to project honestly into your financial future. You will be going from one home to two, with insurance, utilities, and all the other hidden costs that the scenario might entail. Has one of you been at home with the kids and will now likely return to work? Will you need to work less with added kid responsibility? You must do a budget, taking real expenses into account.
To know what your goals are you must know what you own and owe. Many financial planners will prepare a budget with you; build that relationship moving forward into your new life so you can largely take it on yourself. The reality of divorce is that your financial lifestyle is probably going to change. The trick is to accept that as quickly as workable so moving forward is possible.