I am convinced that the second most common New Year’s resolution – after going to the gym – has got to be getting divorced. Starting January 2, the phones in our office were ringing off the hook, as they do every year.
Does every call lead to a divorce case? Of course not. Most consultations are one-time meetings designed to familiarize clients with the laws of their state—and to answer the most pressing question when you want to end your marriage:
Can you afford to get divorced?
Meaning: can you afford to divide up your property and still have a reasonable place to live? Can you afford to have the income your family currently lives on divided between two households?
Equally important: Can you afford emotionally to go through a divorce? Can you afford emotionally NOT to be divorced (even if the financial picture is not pretty)?
Heather is a 42-year-old social worker with three kids, a house, a mortgage, and a small retirement account. She’s financially and emotionally ready to get divorced. If you’re like Heather, your next step is to gather information about three things—assets, debts, and income.
And remember: Title doesn’t matter. You and your lawyer need to know about all of it–what’s titled in your name, his name, and both your names. Include assets like real estate, bank and brokerage accounts, retirement plans, personal property (cars, valuable jewelry)—and debts, i.e. the balances owed on credit cards, mortgages, car, and student loans.
For income, find your most recent tax returns and current pay stubs or other documentation of income. Don’t know where to find all this information? That’s OK. Eventually both spouses will be required to share all their financial data.
Even if your list is incomplete, it will give you and your lawyer the overview you need to plan ahead and to figure out what you should negotiate for in a settlement. Your new financial landscape will begin to emerge.