Article By: Amanda Rieman
You’ve just gotten through the blur of the holidays. The seasonal decorations have come down, the gifts have been put away, and the baking has stopped. You’ve just got one more thing to ‘check off’ your list – having a discussion with your spouse about moving forward with the “D” word; divorce.
While you may dread the thought of it, January is a typical time when many people choose to begin the separation and divorce proceeding. Why? You’ve been putting it off, and just like weight loss, it helps to have an official ‘start’ date. While there’s no right, or wrong, time to file for divorce, many family law attorneys see a spike in their case load upon the beginning of a new year.
What’s been holding you back? Have you been so overwhelmed that you just don’t know where to begin? I’m here to tell you that divorce doesn’t have to be messy or complicated. If you’re concerned about your family, especially children, there are many ways to avoid the chaos and stress of a lengthy and costly divorce proceeding.
First, make a list of all your property. This includes houses, retirement accounts, bank accounts, vehicles and personal property. When thinking about your house, decide if you’re going to stay put or sell. If you want to stay put, talk to a lender about refinancing so you can buy your spouse out. If you’re going to sell the house, make sure you and your spouse agree on the listing agent, timeframe, and how you’ll divide the proceeds.
Retirement accounts are typically considered marital property if they were contributed to during the marriage. So, you’re entitled to half of your spouse’s retirement from the date of marriage, through the date of separation. If you don’t have a retirement, or wish to waive your interest in it, you have every right to do so.
If you have any joint bank accounts, get them untangled now. Divide the proceeds and close it. While it may seems daunting, it’s much easier to handle now while you’re in the trenches of divorce than to have something hanging over your head later down the road.
When it comes to vehicles and personal property, don’t fret. Those tend to be small potatoes in the scheme of things. Make sure if you have a car loan, you can make payments. Or perhaps have a discussion with your spouse about paying off the lien from the proceeds of the house sale.
Pets are considered personal property. If you have an animal, and plan on renting, double check with your landlord that you can bring your furry friend. I often put a first right of refusal in settlement offers; if you can’t take your pet, your spouse has the opportunity to adopt them prior to placing them with a shelter or third party.
Do you have debts? Make sure you ensure through a waiver that your spouse won’t open a credit card in your name during the separation period. And if they do, they’re solely responsible for any liability incurred. Was their debt acquired during the marriage? Maybe it needs to be divided, or perhaps one party assumes the entire loan.
When it comes to taxes, always consult with an accountant but think about who will claim the children as dependents for tax return purposes? Will you file jointly or separately?
Will you need spousal support, or alimony? Normally, alimony is one bite at the apple so it is imperative you think about your expenses because it’s use it or lose it.
How about health insurance? If you don’t have it, how much will it cost? Once divorced, you can’t insure a ex-spouse. If that’s the case, perhaps your ex needs to pay your co-pays or deductibles.
Think about how you will divide all these issues between you and your spouse. Courts call this ‘equitable distribution.’
Second, now that all the ‘stuff’ is out of the way, think about what is in the best interests of the children. If they’re in school, make sure their schedule isn’t disrupted. If it’s in the best interests of the children to see both parents, arrange a temporary schedule. If it works, great, and if it doesn’t, pivot. Judges don’t like to see parents isolate another parent.
Third, save up for a good divorce attorney. Have a consultation and make sure you like them. Just because it’s the first firm you call doesn’t mean it has to be who you work with. Have your attorney draft an agreement that memorializes all the heavy lifting you did when you untangled your stuff in step 1. Once you have an agreement, that attorney can initiate your divorce proceeding and keep costs minimal since there is nothing left for a third party to decide.
Lastly, call a counselor. Divorce is a big change. Change is good, but change can be hard. Make sure you’re coping with healthy mechanisms, and you have an outlet (who’s trained!).
You did it, and you can do it. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. The best is yet to come!
MEET AMANDA REIMAN
Amanda Rieman is a longtime family law attorney. She received her business degree from Virginia Tech and obtained her juris doctorate from the University of Dayton School of Law in Ohio. She served as a Supreme Court certified mediator for general district court and continues to be a guest judge at William and Mary Law School’s yearly Negotiation Tournament. Amanda is also listed as a “Who’s Who in America” representing Women in Law.