GET INFORMED! If you and your spouse are on good terms, have an honest discussion about each other’s finances as early in the divorce process as possible. This will help to streamline and potentially shorten the process. If you were kept in the dark about money, let your lawyer know. He or she has tools to ensure that your spouse divulges all assets and debts. In the meantime, scour your memory for divulged details and stay on the lookout for financial clues like account statements that arrive in the mail.
GET ORGANIZED! When the divorce process officially begins, you will need to itemize all of your family’s assets, debts, income, and expenses. Keep track of your pay-stubs and other income information. Monitor your spending to get an idea of your expenses and start to envision how they will change post-divorce. Your attorney may also ask you for years of bank statements, tax returns, and other financial documents. If you are self-employed or have a lot of assets, the demand for documents will be even higher. Lessen your stress by organizing your financial documents as early as possible.
GET YOUR PRIORITIES IN ORDER! For some people, keeping the house is the ultimate concern. For others, it is keeping retirement accounts, investments, or a closely held business intact. Some parents may require a specific amount of alimony in order to continue to reside in their child’s school district, whereas for others, alimony is negotiable. Whatever they may be, determine your financial priorities and discuss them with your attorney as early as possible.
GET INVOLVED! Be an active participant in your case. It is your lawyer’s job to make sure you know your rights. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but avoid falling into the trap of applying the experiences of others to your own. Remember that every situation is unique. The more informed you are about your individual rights, the easier it will be for you to make decisions throughout the process.
GET HELP! Aside from your attorney, there are other professionals, such as accountants and financial planners, who are specially trained in divorce and can help you craft a divorce settlement and plan for the future. There are even mortgage brokers who specialize in helping the newly divorced or divorcing to secure financing for a home. A good attorney will encourage you to meet with financial professionals, don’t hesitate to do so.
GET BUSY! Officially starting the divorce process can bring relief because of all of the difficult emotional work it took to get to that point, but it is really just the beginning. Don’t make the mistake of resting on your laurels once the Complaint for Divorce is filed. Check in with your lawyer frequently and ask what you can do to move your case along. When your lawyer contacts you, be sure to respond quickly and answer all questions completely.
GET DISCONNECTED! There is no denying that divorce is emotional. However, emotions have no place in financial decisions. Remember that at its core, the financial disentanglement that accompanies divorce is a business transaction. Try to think of the emotional and financial aspects of divorce as two totally separate spheres and develop support networks for both. Disconnecting from your emotions may be the most difficult thing you do in your divorce, but it will be worth it in the end.
GET A GREAT ATTORNEY! A great lawyer is attentive, knowledgeable, accessible, and experienced. That attorney will be up front with you about the costs and will always keep you informed. The lawyer will manage your expectations and answer all of your questions. Great attorneys work in many environments, from small to large firms, but it is important to find an attorney who devotes his or her practice exclusively to New Jersey divorce and other family law matters. Remember that a great lawyer will never try to lure you with promises of a favorable outcome or a price that seems to be good to be true.