5 Things Your Divorce Lawyer Isn't Telling You
Did you know that January is the month when most couples file for divorce?
If you find yourself heading down this path, or thinking about the possibility of ending your marriage, I want to share five details of divorce that I wished someone would have shared with me. They are the things your lawyer might not tell you, but could have a huge impact on your financial future.
Image: banjo d via Flickr
1. Your Life Will Change
First and foremost, your life will change. If anyone tells you differently or glosses over this fact, that person is being negligent. If you think about it, you and your former spouse will be financially supporting two households rather than one. All the day-to-day expenses like mortgage, gas, electric bill, even trash collection will double. Then, there are the expenses you may not be thinking about that will be affected, like health insurance and church dues. There are also minor expenses like kids haircuts that can add up to a hefty chunk over the course of a year. Make an itemized list of everything you spend money on so you can see where your money is going. Then you will know how you want to factor in all these costs when settling your finances through your divorce proceedings.
2. Lawyers speak "Lawyer Speak"
Your lawyer can be the best in town, but if you don’t understand what he or she is saying to you, you might agree to something you shouldn’t. I learned the hard way, the consequences of being reticent to ask questions and afraid I might look stupid, because I didn’t understand their jargon. Thus, I agreed to terms in my divorce that had detrimental consequences to my financial future. Do you know what “stipulate” means? I do now, but didn’t then. My advice, don’t be afraid to ask your attorney to explain anything and everything. The money you spend on the time it takes to ask questions could save you big in the long run.
3. Watch Their Charges
Divorce is a business. Lawyers are not benevolent guardians watching over you and your financial future. Lawyers are service providers and they are in business to make money. Oftentimes, lawyers charge by the hour and the work they include within that time might include the time it took to answer your email, phone call or making copies at the copier. One lawyer charged me for the time it took him to bill me for his charges! When you engage a lawyer, make sure he or she discloses everything their hourly charges include.
4. Question Their Advice
As much time as you might spend in your lawyers office, on the phone or emailing, your lawyer still cannot totally understand the nuances of your life. Only you know what is important to you and how you hope your future will unfold. They may advise you to proceed in one manner or another, and while it might be best for them to settle your case or even a logical conclusion to an issue, it may not address the deeper emotional or mental comfort you are looking for. Further, their resolutions ultimately might not be the best financial advice for your overall situation. Ask them to provide you with alternative scenarios and how each might play out in the long run. You might also want to get a second opinion from an expert in the field you are discussing. If it’s in regard to buying your family home, get input from a real estate professional, or if you need answers on the tax consequences of your choices, bring a tax preparation specialist or CPA into the process. Issues that might affect your children’s health and well-being might require a family therapist.
5. Nobody "Wins"
Lawyers often speak in terms of winning or losing the case or the court battle. The truth is, in divorce, nobody wins. It is a mentally, physically and fiscally draining process. If divorce is the route you’ve chosen to take this New Year then prepare yourself. The best way to try and ease through the process is to mitigate your emotional attachment to your former spouse, former life, and especially any of your material things. This isn't to suggest that you walk away with no financial stake in what you built as a couple; that is not prudent. But if you can relinquish your attachment to physical goods like artwork (take the cash equivalent and buy yourself a new piece of art), dishes (did you really like that pattern anyway), or vacuum cleaners (yes, I’ve heard of people arguing over stuff like this), you will be better off. The truth is once you are out and creating your new life, all of the old stuff will only be reminders of what was and you’ll probably end up getting rid of them anyway.