Things haven’t been going well for a while. You’re not happy. For the first time (or maybe for the millionth time!) you’re contemplating divorce. The problem is: you’re scared.
You’ve heard the horror stories. You know how hard divorce can be. What’s worse is you know it can get ugly … fast! If it’s possible, you’d like to save yourself and your kids some pain. But you’re not exactly sure how to do that.
While divorce is never easy, the more prepared you are for divorce before you start the process, the better your chances are that your divorce will go well. Plus, even, if it doesn’t go well, at least you will be a tiny bit more ready to deal with the drama.
What to Ask Yourself
If You’re Contemplating Divorce
- Is your marriage over? This may seem like a ridiculous question. You may be thinking, “Of course my marriage is over! I wouldn’t be contemplating divorce if my marriage wasn’t over!” But if you start divorce proceedings without being fully committed to getting a divorce, your divorce process is going to be monumentally more difficult. You will waffle back and forth emotionally. You’ll find yourself not wanting to make important decisions. Settling anything will be harder because you will constantly be wondering whether you’re doing the right thing. So, until you know your marriage is done, do yourself a favor. Don’t start to get divorced.
- Are you satisfied that you have done as much as you can to make your marriage work? Notice that this question is NOT: “What have you done to make your marriage work?” What you have or haven’t done isn’t important. What matters is that you’re satisfied that you’ve done whatever you need to do to be comfortable with your decision to divorce. Why? Because if you believe you wimped out on your marriage, you’re likely to bury yourself in guilt. Getting divorced is rough enough. You don’t need the extra guilt.
- Do you know what your finances are? The best time to figure out your finances is before you start your divorce. Once your divorce is in motion, gathering financial information often becomes harder. Documents “go missing.” Money disappears. What’s more, if you don’t know the state of your finances now, predicting your financial situation after your divorce is going to be next to impossible.
- Do you know what you want in your divorce? If you want to put yourself in the best position to get what’s really important to you in your divorce, you have to know what you want. Of course, you may not get everything you want. No one ever does. But if you take the time to identify the one or two things that are really important to you, you will be way more likely to actually get those things once your divorce is over.
- Do you understand your options? It sounds cliché, but knowledge really is power. You don’t have to be a divorce expert, but you do need to know what the divorce laws in your state allow and require. Taking the time to educate yourself and to talk to a local attorney is key. You need to understand the different ways you can get a divorce – like by using mediation, litigation or Collaborative Divorce. You need to know what your support obligations are going to look like. The more you know about divorce before you start it, the better off you’re going to be once you’re in the thick of things.
- What kind of a divorce do you want? Predicting how your divorce is going to go before you actually start it is pretty much impossible. Even still, you know yourself. You know your spouse. More than anyone else, you will have at least a general idea of whether your divorce is likely to be amicable, or will probably look more like The War of the Roses. If you know that your divorce is probably going to be a bloodbath, you can take steps now to prepare yourself emotionally, financially and psychologically for what lies ahead.
- Do you have enough money to survive during your divorce? Once you start a divorce, your financial life can shift immediately. If you are relying on your spouse for support, you would be wise to have a nest egg put away so that you will be able to hire an attorney and pay your bills for a couple of months in case your spouse cuts you off. Even if you are the spouse who has more money, you will be amazed at how quickly you burn through it during divorce. Having something put away will at least give you a little bit of financial security while you and your spouse figure out how you’re going to divide things up and move on.
- Do you have a realistic way to support yourself after your divorce? If you want a divorce, but you are unemployed, in debt, and living paycheck to paycheck on your spouse’s income, getting divorced is going to be a financial disaster. You may think your spouse is going to have to support you, but, if there’s just not enough money to go around, what are you going to do? You will be much better off if you get a job, or go back to school so you can get a better job, first. Once you’re in a more solid financial position, getting divorced will be much less financially devastating.
- If you have a house, what would you like to do with it? You don’t have to decide whether you want to keep your house right now. (Actually, it’s not just your decision!) But it wouldn’t hurt to start thinking about your options. Be realistic. Consider the possibility that you might sell the house. If you were to sell your house, when would be the best time to sell it? What work would you have to do on the house to get it ready to sell? What do you think your house is worth? How do you know? Knowing the answer to all of these questions will better prepare you to negotiate about your house with your spouse.
- What will it take for you and your spouse co-parent your children together? Figuring out how you and your ex are going to parent your children after your divorce is one of the most important things you need to think about. Courts these days tend to favor co-parenting after divorce. But, if you can’t talk to your spouse, co-parenting is going to be hard. That’s one of the main reasons why fighting to death in court is such a bad idea. It ruins your relationship with your ex. It makes co-parenting after divorce a nightmare. So think first about what you want for your kids. Then keep that in mind when you’re working through your divorce.
- What kind of a parenting schedule will work for your family? One of the hardest things about divorce is that it forces you to share time with your kids. But, sharing time doesn’t just mean that you have to decide how much time the kids spend with you, and how much time they spend with your ex. It also means you have to decide when they are with each of you. There is a multitude of different parenting schedules that you can use. For example, there’s a 2-2-3 schedule, a 4-4-3-3 schedule, a 2-2-5-5 schedule, and more. All of these schedules will give you a 50/50 time split with your kids. But which one will work best for you depends on your family’s needs.
- Are you as emotionally, financially and psychologically prepared for your divorce as you can be? No one is ever 100% ready to get divorced. But the more prepared you are, the better your divorce is likely to go. Being prepared means learning about the divorce process and understanding your options. It also means going to therapy or doing whatever you need to do NOW to get your own emotions under control. Finally, it means understanding your finances and having a plan for the future.
If you’re contemplating divorce, answering these 12 questions is a good place for you to start. If you want to learn more, check out karencovy.com.
Karen Covy is a divorce attorney, advisor, mediator, and coach. She is the author of When Happily Ever After Ends: How to Survive Your Divorce Emotionally, Financially and Legally. To read more divorce advice from Karen, you can check out her website at https://karencovy.com.