"Can I Afford To Get Divorced?", to some who have never faced divorce, this appears to be a ridiculous question. The first time I was asked to answer this question for a client, I remember thinking that money is a primary cause of divorce—not a consideration.
I have found that for most women the fear of financial security for themselves and their children is so great, intensified by the recent economic downturn, they will often ask this question prior to proceeding with divorce. Asking the question is the easy part; however, without the proper resources and guidance, it can be a very difficult question to answer. The following steps should be completed in order to determine if you can afford to get divorced.
STEP ONE: Consult with a fee-based-financial planner who specializes in divorce planning.
There are different advisors that you will have on your team when you go through a divorce and one of them should be a Certified Financial Planner™. Your attorney provides you with legal advice regarding your case and what your rights are, explain how the courts might rule regarding case law. Your attorney is who you will consult with regarding all aspects of your divorce.
STEP TWO: Verify all debts by obtaining a credit report (from all three credit bureaus) on yourself and your spouse (must obtain their permission)
With all three credit bureaus to highlight your FICO® score: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. A FICO® score is based on your credit information that credit buraus keep on record.
STEP THREE: Identify all assets of the marriage by locating current bank, retirement, and brokerage statements and wage reports.
It is important to be financially organized prior to filling divorce. This is basic financial organization, and this is where the Financial Happiness Dashboard and you will always know where you stand by aggregating everything in one place and utilize the “vault” feature to store documents and keep them in order.
STEP FOUR: Locate all mortgage and real property tax documentation. Contact local real estate agent for a free home comparable report to determine current market value of real property. (vault)
If you own a home, it is important to have all your mortgage and real estate property tax documentation. This information shows how much has been paid into the home, the amount of equity and the payoff amount. The gathered information will help you decide if you will be keeping the home after the divorce.
STEP FIVE: Compare pre-divorce income to post-divorce income (show pre-budget before divorce)
During this step, you will be comparing 2 budgets. The first budget is based on the here and now or pre-divorce. Make notations by items that are currently covered by your spouse’s work, such as if health benefits are acquired through their employment. What bills does their salary currently cover and extra expenses including life insurance, child care and or afterschool care if you have young children, and utilities such as electric, gas, phone, food and internet.
STEP SIX: Determine and track household budget pre-divorce (household budget before divorce)
It is important to look at your pre-divorce expenses, income, assets and budget.
STEP SEVEN: Discuss short and long-term goals for post-divorce
When you are in the divorce process there is a lot of unknowns. Your financial planner will look at multiple scenarios and show you what to expect with your budget if “what ifs” were to occur, such as a medical emergency or a debilitating illness; which has a constant drain on your budget, and other types of financial hardships.
STEP EIGHT: Pay down as much debt as possible
If you have current debt, pay it down as much as possible. This will make the settlement process easier. This will only help your financial situation post-divorce. If you can not pay down any debt, work with your financial advisor to allocate for these payments in your estimated post-divorce budget.
STEP NINE: Seek employment and or investigate new career opportunities
During your divorce proceedings, you do not have a lot of control. But, if you move yourself into a proactive space, you will gain more control with your financial situation.
STEP TEN: Calculate child support and alimony payments if applicable
There are different rules in every state. Depending on the state you are divorcing in, you need to seek legal advice from your attorney. There are different computer software programs that attorneys use that allow them to enter income numbers in, who will be claiming the children on their tax records and specific parameters to get close to an estimated support numbers. This will give you some range of where the numbers should be for either child or spouse support. But, there is no guarantee that estimated amount will be allocated to you.
STEP ELEVEN: Investigate the likelihood you will be able to purchase or lease a home post-divorce
In some divorce situations, there may be an existing family home. Your attorney will advise you on the laws about the home and there are many variations that go into the dynamics of how this will be handled in the divorce.
STEP TWELVE: Observe a few family law hearings at local county courthouse
Courtrooms can be very intimidating for people. If you want a deeper understanding the judicial system and family law, it is highly recommended to observe a few family law hearings, which are open to the public unless otherwise stated.
STEP THIRTEEN: Explore mediation options to avoid the high cost of family litigation
There are several other ways you can go through the divorce process without going through Litigation. There is Mediation, Collaborative Law, and processing the paperwork individually, without an attorney.
STEP FOURTEEN: Consult with attorney to discuss divorce laws within your state of residence
A lot of times when someone is going through a divorce, they talk with family members, friends and people who have been through, but you cannot make assumptions based on their experiences. Every state has similar divorce laws. Similar, yet some laws are very different. For example, divorce filing fees are different depending on the state you reside in when you file for divorce. Also, child custody laws; if children are involved are different in certain states. Be proactive and do some research in the state you are divorcing in, and you will be more prepared when you speak with your attorney.
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