Whether you’re just thinking about getting divorced, somewhere right in the thick of it, or working through post-divorce issues, this simple guidefull of great tips, lists and how-to’swill help you emotionally and practically. 37 Things I Wish I’d Known Before My Divorce is the result of countless hours of training, personal and professional experience, research, and collaboration. Carry it with you while you navigate this sometimes painful and exasperating, sometimes hopeful and energizing, life transition.
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37 Things I Wish I'd Known Before My Divorce
Learn How to Save Time, Money, Your Kids, and Yourself
By Nicole Baras Feuer, Francine Baras, Lynn Prowitt, Teresa Wojcicka
Balboa PressCopyright © 2014 Nicole Baras Feuer Francine Baras
All rights reserved.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
The tips in this section will help you feel confident that you've covered all your bases and gathered all the resources you need to make this sometimes very difficult decision. If you've already made your decision (or the decision was made for you), this information will set you up to feel more in control of the process and get you prepared for what's ahead.
1. Have you tried everything?
Maybe you have done all you can. Maybe you've been hoping your spouse would change—and come to the difficult realization that it's not going to happen. The old truism applies. A person has to want to change, you can't make them. You can only change yourself.
Just make sure you'll never look back and say, "maybe we should have worked harder to save the marriage." To clearly assess whether or not your marriage is salvageable usually requires expert advice: marriage and family therapy, individual therapy, marital mediation (less "touchy feely" than therapy), or even a divorce coach or advisor. Don't call it quits until you can answer, "yes, I feel like we have tried everything we can."
2. Take the driver's seat.
The fact that you are holding this book in your hands bodes well for your future. By driving, we mean taking control of the process and feeling empowered rather than helpless. Talk to people, listen to others' stories, and seek advice from experts (see #11). Learn about your state's divorce laws. Being well informed is your ticket to feeling competent and confident, which will help you make the best decisions for yourself and your family. As long as you're driving, you get to choose what direction you take at all the crossroads.
3. Don't hang on for the wrong reasons.
Wrong reason #1: "It's scary; I don't want to give up my: house/money/lifestyle/in-laws/[fill in the blank]." It can take people five to ten years to progress from their first thought of getting a divorce to making the decision. But staying too long may allow anger and resentment to reach an unhealthy breaking point. Once there, it is much more difficult to have a good, low-conflict divorce and post-divorce relationship.
Wrong reason #2: "I want to stay for my kids, at least until they're out of the house." Keeping your kids in a dysfunctional household may not be better than having them weather a divorce. Even if your marriage is not rife with loud fighting but is instead rippled with quiet, chronic tension and anger, a miserable marriage is not good for kids. Keep in mind too that you may be so used to it that you don't notice the atmosphere you live in, but your kids most certainly do.
Ask yourself these questions:
Is there regularly tension between you and your spouse?
Do you and your spouse argue daily or almost daily?
Do you sometimes feel rage toward your spouse?
When was the last time your children saw you and your spouse hold hands, kiss, or put your arms around each other?
Do you choose to do things together rather than separately, even when the kids aren't involved?
Do you and your spouse ever laugh together?
Try to get out before you act out.
4. If you've got even a smidgen of doubt, consider a trial separation.
Controlled separation—This approach is like a grown-up time-out for your marriage. It involves hiring a therapist to help you draw up a separation agreement that includes things like a time limit (e.g., three to six months); guidelines for contact (e.g., two phone calls per week); counseling sessions; rules regarding money, kids, visits; etc. The goal is to see if time apart while still working on the relationship can save the marriage. If it doesn't, the work that's been done can put you in a better starting place for the divorce process.
Legal separation—Not all states recognize legal separation. In those states that do, a legal separation can provide the structure and safety of a court-ordered contract (regarding finances, custody, etc.) without the finality of divorce.
Informal separation—Just as it sounds, this type of separation involves no formal agreement and no other parties besides you and your spouse. You'd be wise to get some guidelines and structure down in writing, but it's up to you. You should also check your state's laws regarding separation and when or if marital rights and obligations can change if you live apart. (See Sample Move- Out Agreement, appendix D.) Also, in some states you must live physically apart for a certain amount of time before you will be granted a divorce.
5. Get support while you're deciding; don't agonize over the decision alone.
This may be the hardest and biggest decision you ever make. Even if you're typically a private person, reach out and get help and input from others. Don't get stuck in negative, cyclical thinking or become a hermit. Have honest talks with friends and family, but also seek out a neutral professional (such as a divorce advisor) and perhaps a support group to help you navigate the twists and turns and come to the best decisions.
6. Organize your finances and get extra ink for your copier.
Whether or not you end up getting a divorce, being organized will reduce your stress and will likely decrease the number of billable hours you're charged by the professionals you may need to hire.
Make a list of your assets and liabilities, everything you own that has a value or is a debt or obligation. The more info the better, but the most important thing is to have a complete list. (See appendix C.)
Identify all sources of income you and your spouse have. (See Net Income Sheet, appendix B.)
Make a budget. This will be a tremendous help when you have to prepare the standard financial statement or "affidavit," which is used for all financial reckoning in a divorce. (See Budget Form, appendix A.)
Record all account numbers, PINs, important phone numbers, etc.
Make copies of all your important documents—insurance policies, health benefit information, car registrations, membership cards, recent tax returns, investment account statements, titles/deeds, contracts, passports, wills, power of attorney, social security cards, etc.
Make a divorce file box. We recommend that you take the time to create a file system for all the paperwork relevant to your divorce.
Clean up as much of your marital debt as you can. Be aware: no matter what a divorce decree says, credit card companies can come after you if your name is on the account.
Check your personal credit score using online services, or go to your local bank and ask how.
If you don't have any credit cards in your name, get one or two and make at least the minimum payments on time to build up your personal credit history.
If possible, make sure you always have some cash in your own name somewhere. Experts recommend having enough for three months of expenses put aside (including your house payment and other daily expenses).
Know your whole financial picture, inside and out, now and what it would be post-divorce. If this process is overwhelming for you, seek out a certified divorce financial planner (CDFP) for help. This person can tell you what you need to do before you decide to divorce and how you can "afford" to get divorced. Start with the Association of Divorce Financial Planners at www.divorceandfinance.org.
De-clutter your desk, office, and countertops. Start with these guidelines: Don't touch any piece of paper more than once; do something with it. Pick it up and toss it, file it, or act on it. With so much available online these days, you should end up with lean file folders and full recycling bins.
Start making a plan before you do anything.
A clear and thoroughly considered plan is crucial to making a good decision. It will help you corral all the pros and cons and can help eliminate those "ugh, I didn't think of that" moments. Divorce affects every aspect of your life. American business magnate T. Boone Pickens said, "A fool with a plan can outsmart a genius with no plan." Your plan should answer these questions:
What money will you use to pay an attorney's retainer and/ or any other professionals you need to hire for the divorce process? (See #11.)
Will one of you need to get a job or return to work?
Research your state's guidelines for determining child support. What can you expect in your situation? (Child support is based on spouses' incomes and other factors, and unlike alimony you can modify child support post-divorce.)
Who will stay in the house and who will move out? Or could you live together until you can afford to move apart? Is "bird-nesting" an option? (See #17.)
Where does the spouse who leaves go?
Is there enough income to support another house or apartment?
Does the family pet stay, leave, or go back and forth with the kids?
What will the parenting schedule be? Would you have sole or joint physical custody? Sole or joint legal custody? (Look up your own state's child custody laws so you understand your options.)
Who keeps which car? Computer? Other valuable, shared equipment or tools?
Who will pay the household bills? Consider everything: groceries, utilities, lawn care, emergency repairs or replacements (structural, heating/plumbing systems, appliances), etc.
How will you share expenses? Will you send each other an itemized list at the end of each month? Will you exchange copies of receipts? Will you have a joint account for kids' expenses?CHAPTER 8
8. If there's violence in your home, don't suffer in silence.
One out of every four women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime, according to National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. It is one of the most chronically underreported crimes.
If you have experienced domestic violence, make a safety plan. Visit www.thehotline.org and look for "safety planning." Or call the twenty-four-hour hotline number: 1-800-799-SAFE. Also, the government's Office on Women's Health website lists domestic violence resources by state. Go to www.womenshealth.gov and look for "Violence Against Women."
Note: Most domestic violence websites have "quick escape" buttons at the top of their web pages, so you can leave the page instantly if needed.
"Breaking free of abuse is not simply a matter of walking out the door. Leaving is a process ... On average, it takes seven attempts before an abused woman leaves her partner ... The victim/survivor is the expert and the best judge of what she can and cannot do safely. So while a woman is deciding what the best course of action is, she needs to create a safety plan, which is a plan for staying as well as leaving."—From Domestic Violence Roundtable, an education and awareness group based in Massachusetts (www. domesticviolenceroundtable.org).
9. Look in the mirror and say, "I'd rather live alone in a teepee than spend another month with this person."
If you can say this with absolute conviction, you've probably made your decision.CHAPTER 2
Okay, You're Getting a Divorce
This section is full of information and inspiration to get you through the sticky part—after the decision is made. It's time to end your marriage in the smartest, smoothest, most graceful way possible. These tips will help.
10. Choose the divorce process that will work best for you.
Yes, you have options, and choosing the right one can make a huge difference in your finances and your emotional health. Whatever route you take, you'll fare better if you can work cooperatively with your spouse. Arguing costs money; in every type of divorce, the more you can resolve "outside the room," the less the divorce will cost. A high-conflict divorce takes a toll on more than your wallet; it can be very rough on kids. Whichever process you end up using, make it your goal to have a low-conflict divorce for the sake of your children. Here are the types of divorce and how they work:
1. Mediation (a cooperative divorce process)—You and your spouse hire an impartial mediator who works with both of you to resolve all your divorce issues, complete the required paperwork, and create an agreement that will form the basis for an uncontested divorce (one that doesn't require a judge to make any decisions for you). Mediation allows for more creative solutions than does a traditional, attorney-centered divorce. A good mediator (who may or may not be an attorney, see #11) helps spouses work together to create an agreement both can live with. Your mediator will likely teach communication and problem-solving skills along the way that will be useful in your future dealings with each other. For this process to be effective, you and your spouse must be committed to working together to create an agreement without relying on the court system. Mediators have to remain neutral, so you should hire your own attorney to advise you as you go and to review the final divorce agreement in the context of your interests and rights. This attorney must be mediator-friendly, which means they support the process of mediation. Mediation may still end up being your least expensive option because only one professional handles the process from start to finish.
2. Collaborative (a cooperative divorce process)—Both parties hire their own lawyers, specially trained in collaborative family law. The process may also involve a financial expert (such as a CDFP, see #11) and a collaboratively trained mental health provider and/or other professionals. This team then helps the couple negotiate based on what they need, rather than just on their legal rights, and works toward emotional healing too. All parties involved pledge in writing to resolve the issues without the involvement of the court. If the team doesn't succeed in reaching an agreement or one of the spouses wants to end the process and go to court, the team has to be disbanded and new lawyers must be hired.
3. Litigation (an adversarial divorce process)—You and your spouse retain (hire) your own lawyers to represent you throughout the divorce process. One spouse has to be the plaintiff and one the defendant. (This is a formality left over from the days when a couple couldn't get a divorce without showing cause or fault, and one spouse had to "sue" the other one for divorce.) You meet with your lawyers separately and they prepare your case, communicate with each other and the court, and prepare all the paperwork to take your case through to settlement or trial. Even though only 1 percent of divorce cases actually go to trial, litigation attorneys must prepare your case as if it could. Because litigation is set up to be an adversarial process, this can make it lengthy, costly and emotionally difficult for all involved, particularly children.
4. Do-it-yourself—You fill out and file all the necessary court documents yourself. This option is best in cases where the spouses are in complete agreement about property division, custody and financial support, and when assets and debt information is simple and straightforward. You may still hire a mediator, accountant, document preparation service, or other experts to help in areas where there is disagreement or complicated material involved.
5. Arbitration—The divorcing couple and their respective attorneys choose and agree on an arbitrator, usually a retired family court judge or a very senior divorce attorney. The arbitrator is presented with the specific issues that are in dispute. After a hearing, the arbitrator renders a decision, called an "award," on the disputed issues. In most cases, this decision is binding. Divorce arbitration can be used in place of a court trial in a traditional, adversarial divorce. Or, it may be used in a collaborative or mediated divorce when an impasse has occurred.
11. Recruit your team of professionals.
If you thought all you needed was a lawyer or mediator, we want to change your mind. For one thing, the more specific and varied expertise you bring onboard, the more smoothly your divorce ship will sail. Second, relying on other experts rather than having an attorney handle everything can often save you money. Get referrals from trusted, professional sources, not only from friends and acquaintances. (See #15.)
Depending on your individual situation, your divorce team might include any or all of the following:
Certified divorce financial analyst or planner (CDFA or CDFP)—A financial expert who can explain child support, and maintenance and property division as it applies to your situation. They can advocate for your needs with your attorney and create strategies for your settlement. In addition, they can help you plan for financial independence and security.
Divorce advisor/coach—A divorce expert who may be a lawyer or have other professional training in areas such as finance or mental health. The person may have specific training and certification. These divorce professionals will likely charge hourly and can guide you through the phases of your divorce—helping with everything from organizing paperwork and managing stress to reentering the workforce.
Excerpted from 37 Things I Wish I'd Known Before My Divorce by Nicole Baras Feuer, Francine Baras, Lynn Prowitt, Teresa Wojcicka. Copyright © 2014 Nicole Baras Feuer Francine Baras. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsNotes on Using This Book, ix,
Part 1: Should I Stay or Should I Go?, 1,
#1. Have you tried everything?, 3,
#2. Take the driver's seat, 4,
#3. Don't hang on for the wrong reasons, 5,
#4. If you've got even a smidgen of doubt, consider a trial separation, 7,
#5. Get support while you're deciding; don't agonize over the decision alone, 8,
#6. Organize your finances and get extra ink for your copier, 9,
#7. Start making a plan before you do anything, 11,
#8. If there's violence in your home, don't suffer in silence, 13,
#9. Look in the mirror and say, "I'd rather live alone in a teepee than spend another month with this person.", 14,
Part 2: Okay, You're Getting a, Divorce,
#10. Choose the divorce process that will work best for you, 17,
#11. Recruit your team of professionals, 20,
#12. Keep calm (and carry on), 23,
#13. Tell the kids, together (but not until you read this!), 25,
#14. Understand your child's developmental stage and reactions to divorce, 28,
#15. Be smart about finding a lawyer or mediator, 31,
#16. If you have to keep living together, create rules for doing so until you can move apart, 33,
#17. Don't move out in a huff., 35,
#18. Make a new nest, 37,
#19. Be a detail freak with your parenting plan, 38,
#20. Stay away from the crazy divorce people (and don't become one), 41,
#21. Love your children more than you hate your ex, 42,
#22. Take the high road, always, 43,
Part 3: After the Divorce Dust Settles, 45,
#23. Practice forgiveness: it's never too late to bury the hatchet, 47,
#24. You're free of being wed in matrimony; don't be bound forever in acrimony, 49,
#25. Nobody said this was going to be easy, 51,
#26. Follow the golden rules of co-parenting (and share them with your ex), 53,
#27. If you can't co-parent, parallel parent, 56,
#28. Abide by these communication dos and don'ts, 58,
#29. Don't coddle; empower your children, 60,
#30. Make your kids' transitions consistent and stress-free, 62,
#31. Watch your kids for emotional and behavioral red flags, 63,
#32. Don't burn bridges; the kids need them, 64,
#33. Don't start dating before you're ready, 65,
#34. Don't introduce your kids too soon to a new significant other, 66,
#35. Prep for the holidays when you'll be alone, 67,
#36. Going back to work can be a positive change, 69,
#37. You will get through this, 70,
A. Budget Form, 73,
B. Net Income Sheet, 83,
C. Assets and Liabilities List, 85,
D. Sample Move-Out Agreement, 87,
E. Children's Bill of Rights, 89,
F. Children's Transition-Day Checklist, 91,
G. Holidays and Vacations Scheduling Chart, 93,
H. Affidavit of Parental Consent for Travel, 95,