One of the most daunting aspects to initiating the divorce process is trying to come up with a plan for what your life will look after the divorce. As a divorce attorney, the most common questions men ask me are: How often can I see my kids? Will I lose my business? How much maintenance (alimony) will I have to pay and for how long? What about my kids’ college tuition? Can I afford to retire someday, or will I lose everything?
Those are good questions and are best asked before you actually file for divorce in Washington State. You need a strategy, and here’s why: one of the biggest mistakes I see men make is that they stay in their marriages long past the time that they first realized it was time to get out. Then, once they decide to leave, they have a sense of urgency that doesn’t usually serve them well.
So, let’s begin with the idea that you should plan to take several months to come up with an exit strategy.
Most men who leave a marriage feel pretty guilty. They know they are making a decision that may come as a surprise to their wife and they feel badly about that. But they are done and they want out. Now. And if they approach divorce with that mentality, things usually go from bad to worse in a hurry.
How Then Does One Plan For A Divorce?
Since there are two components to a divorce; parenting and financial, you will need a two-pronged strategy.
If you have kids, they are obviously your top priority. If your kids are still in school, the first order of business is to assure that you are actively involved in their lives in such a way that your involvement can be documented.
In many cases, when the father initiates the divorce process, the mother reacts by holding the children closer and closer. She goes to a lawyer who advises her that more often than not, the courts these days are ordering parenting plans where parents share equal, or near-equal, child custody. And that freaks mothers out. Mothers often are upset to the point that they react by attacking the father’s parenting skills. So, if you can anticipate child custody issues before you announce your intention to seek a divorce, you can situate yourself more favorably in the eyes of the court. Beware that you can save a lot of time and money in legal fees if you meet with your lawyer before you file for divorce, and take that opportunity to come up with the right strategy to protect your right to your children.
On the financial front, one of the most important things to consider before you leave the family home is how you’ll prove any separate property interests you may have among your assets. It’s best to understand your rights in this regard long before you move out of the family home, where you likely keep all of your old financial records.
You undoubtedly have some of the following documents stored in your laptop, family PC, old file cabinet or even in a box in the garage. You will be way ahead of the game if you’ve located and saved this stuff!
If you owned a house or other property before marriage and used the proceeds of the sale of that property to purchase your current home, you may be able to make a successful separate property claim on the money used for the purchase. To do so, you will need the records of the sale of the first home and the closing documents on the current home.
If you owned your business before marriage, you may be able to prevail on a separate property claim on all or a part of the business. A lawyer can brainstorm with you and help you figure out what evidence you may have saved that will help you prove your claim.
And regarding your retirement account: I have good news and bad. The bad news is that your retirement is before the court for division in the divorce. The good news is that whatever was in your account before marriage can usually be carved out as a separate property interest. Again, you’ll need documentation of this as evidence to prove your interest. Bear in mind that most financial institutions only keep records going back seven years, so if you are one of those people who keeps old financial records in a box somewhere – now’s the time your reluctance to recycle may just pay off.
So, get some legal advice and go through your paperwork before you leave the family home. You know the old saying – don’t leave home without it? That adage is great advice when you’re setting yourself up for success in a Washington State divorce.
As far as spousal maintenance is concerned, this is a huge issue for the man who is the primary breadwinner in his family. Although you may end up paying maintenance to your wife, there is some good news on this front.
Most courts these days expect women to take necessary steps to support themselves post-divorce. So, your maintenance package will likely last only long enough for your ex to gain some kind of training to allow her to become self-sufficient. The takeaway here is that it’s in your best interest to help your soon-to-be-ex find a way to re-enter the workforce or increase her hours at work before you leave the marriage. This is not the time to discourage your wife from taking classes or starting a small business. Whatever you can do to put her on the path to a self-supporting financial life will serve you both well in the long run.
As you can see, pre-divorce planning is crucial because it sets you up for a divorce that will be as painless as possible. As in business or in life in general, it’s all about strategy.