TIP 1: Don’t go to court, use an alternative divorce process
In a traditional divorce, each party retains an attorney and the attorneys negotiate the divorce either privately or, if necessary, in front of a judge. This process can be expensive, time-consuming and emotionally draining. Alternative divorce options such as mediation, collaborative divorce, and cooperative divorce are designed to allow you to make the decisions in your case instead of the court, saving you time, money and stress. Click here to learn more about these alternatives.
TIP 2: Do your part
The more you do yourself, the less you’ll have to pay an attorney to do. Prior to your first consultation, ask what information you should bring to help the attorney understand your situation. Some attorneys provide a written list of documents that clients need to bring, such as recent pay stubs, income tax returns, copies of deeds, and Kelly Blue Book estimates on vehicles. Most attorneys charge by the hour, so the better prepared you are, the more affordable your meeting will be.
It is also a good idea to write down your questions and concerns in advance. This way you can cover everything you need to talk about without having to schedule numerous meetings or repeatedly call back with questions.
If you happen to have an existing case with the court, bring copies of any documents that have been filed. If you have misplaced these documents, you can go to the court to obtain a copy from your file. Providing this information at your consultation will go a long way toward an effective and efficient consultation.
After your initial consultation, you will need to create an inventory of your property and debts. This doesn’t mean listing every teaspoon, but it does mean listing all large assets and placing an overall value on your assets. You will need to provide paperwork for property that you will be listing, such as statements for investment accounts and current figures for credit card balances. Providing this information in a complete and prompt manner will help move your case forward.
TIP 3: Work together, conflict is more expensive
The average divorce in America costs $43,000. And this figure doesn’t include couples with very high incomes, their divorces cost more or the cost of returning to court later to modify child support payments or settle other disputes.
Fortunately, you can control the costs by working together. Even though divorce is painful and you may not feel inclined to cooperate, it’s usually in your best interests. You will save a large amount of money, money that you need to start a new life, if you and your spouse can work together.
TIP 4: Determine your priorities and set realistic goals
It’s always helpful to begin the divorce process with a realistic end in sight. Before you meet with an attorney, take time to list your priorities and goals. A family law attorney can then help you understand state law and community property rules, and answer your questions. For instance, will you have to sell your home? Can your spouse move out of state with your children? How do you divide retirement accounts or Social Security benefits?
TIP 5: Don’t withhold information from your spouse
In order to achieve a complete and fair agreement, it is essential that you both fully disclose all of the assets and debts of the marriage. Hiding assets is against the law and will hurt you in the long run.
In one famous case, a woman named Denise Rossi won $1.3 million in the California State Lottery in 1996. She concealed the winnings from her husband of 25 years and filed for a divorce 11 days later. Two years after the divorce was finalized, her ex-husband discovered that she had won the lottery. He took her to court and the judge gave all of the $1.3 million dollar lottery winnings to the husband. Even if you haven’t won the lottery, concealing assets is not worth the risk.
TIP 6: Communicate respectfully
The best legacy divorcing parents can leave their children is to be civil with each other and communicate respectfully with each other during their divorce and beyond. Typically, communicating respectfully helps facilitate the divorce process. This may seem like a pipe dream, but it is possible. Most people do not want to fight and do not want to spend money unnecessarily that they now need to support two households and their children. By making the choice early to work together, you will set the standard for co-parenting in the best interest of your children and spare them from added tension and grief.
It’s common for divorcing couples to feel anger and pain at the beginning of the divorce process, but it’s important to understand that California is a “no-fault” divorce state. That means that whatever your spouse did during your marriage has no bearing on the outcome of your case, except under certain circumstances where child custody and visitation are at issue.
Because raising children together during and after a divorce can be difficult, Family Law Center has a new co-parent education program available to all their clients. It is a convenient online program that clients can use in the privacy of their own homes’ at no charge.
TIP 7: Transition from marriage partners to parent partners
Making the change from a husband-wife relationship to a co-parent relationship requires focusing on the present and on your childÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s needs. Start by letting go of past resentments, regrets and blame. Look for solutions!
Once you change your mindset, this may help to open doors in reaching agreement on the issues in your case. To aid this transition:
- Keep agreements and promises you make to help rebuild trust with your former spouse.
- Keep money issues and parent-child relationship issues separate so that children are not burdened with support or other financial issues.
- Do not say degrading things about each other in front of the children.
- Don’t be overly critical or try to control the other parent.
- Respect the other parent’s privacy.
- Set up periodic meetings to discuss the children and the children’s progress only.
Continued love and concern from both parents will help a child’s self-esteem. It is important for the parent who does not have physical custody to maintain consistent and routine contact with the children. A more harmonious co-parent relationship will go a long way towards minimizing and healing the pain experienced by children during a divorce.
TIP 8: Don’t pay lawyers to divide your pots and pans
If attorneys have to help you work out who will get the furniture and the wedding china, they may charge more than it would cost to replace everything. Here are some ideas on how to divide your personal property:
- Meet Halfway Method: Divide financial assets (bank accounts, stocks and bonds, etc.) equally between each party.
- Balanced Method: One party takes an entire lot of furniture while the other party takes the car.
- Easy As Pie Method: One party prepares two lists that divide the assets equally and then the other party gets to choose which list he or she wants. It is important to try to keep sets together (furniture, tables and chairs, bedroom sets, etc.). This approach can be very helpful for short-term marriages where wedding gifts need to be divided.
- Divide And Conquer Method: One party places a monetary value on each community item and the other chooses which one they will take at the stated value up to one-half the total value.
- Alternating Method: Both parties take turns choosing one community item at a time.
- Equalizing Payment Method: One party agrees to receive less property (furniture, dishes, etc.) in exchange for a payment from the other party.
- Take It Or Leave It Method: One party places a value on an asset and the other party can either let the first party have the asset, or take it themselves as part of their share.
- Appraise It Method: The parties choose an appraiser to value certain items. The parties then alternate selecting these items until they have acquired their share.
- Closeout Sale Method: If there are items that cannot be agreed upon, sell the items and divide the proceeds to achieve an equal distribution.
- The Envelope Please Method: Each party enters a bid for particular items. Each bid is opened at the same time and the highest bidder gets the items. The item’s dollar value is then added to the winning bidder’s total.
TIP 9: USE NEUTRAL EXPERTS
When expert information or advice is needed in an adversarial divorce, each attorney hires an expert to issue an opinion, and, if necessary, testify in court. In the end, the couple pays for two expert opinions.
When an expert is needed in mediation or some other alternative divorce process, the mediator or attorney may give the divorcing couple a few names. The couple then interviews the experts and agrees on one they will mutually employ to give an opinion.
Different experts may be necessary depending on the subject area being discussed. For example, it is not unusual for an expert opinion to be necessary to appraise the marital and premarital portions of a retirement plan. Most people need to have their home appraised to determine the fair market value, asking their expert to give an honest, neutral value, neither high nor low. Sometimes an expert can give a range of value and clients can negotiate a fair value that they can both agree to.
The financial benefits of utilizing neutral experts, instead of battling these issues out in court, are obvious and can be substantial.
TIP 10: UTILIZE THE SERVICES OF A THERAPIST OR A DIVORCE COACH
Divorce can be extremely painful, especially when it is beyond your control. Counseling can help divorcing individuals heal wounds and recognize the opportunities that lie ahead. Spending time with a therapist working through the emotional aspects of the divorce can also help when it comes time to deal with the legal issues of the divorce, making the process more efficient and cost effective. Counseling can also be a very effective tool in working towards an amicable parenting plan for the benefit of the children.