Divorced Dad…

Just have to enjoy the articles by Andy Flink.  Here’s his latest.

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Divorce: Where to Start Logically…

The phone rings.  It is one spouse who wants to mediate a divorce because he heard it is cheap, she heard it was better for the kids, he heard it was faster, she heard it is better than going to court.  A few questions later, it’s pretty clear that the spouse is looking for answers, a way, a path that makes sense…and his or she doesn’t know WHERE to begin!

Assuming the emotional aspects don’t exist (insert riotous laughter here), here some suggestions on productive places “to start” divorce and separation are in the cards:

1.   Take an Inventory of Your Junk.

No matter if you litigate, mediate, or arbitrate your divorce, you’re going to have to get prepared to figure out what you’re going to fight over…or discuss calmly and in a dignified manner.  Start your inventory before you call an attorney, mediator, arbitrator or your mama.

If you were to hold a giant garage sale of your earthly belongings, you would want to make an inventory and price the items.  Guess what?  Divorce can have all the charm of a garage sale, so get started.  Take some form of inventory of your family’s “stuff.”   One way to get at that is to make a list of every room in your home(s) and note its contents generally and then any “special stuff”  in it.  Then estimate the garage sale value (fair market value) of the general contents collectively (not what it would it cost to buy a new bed, lamp, etc.) and then price the special stuff (the artwork, the antique, jewelry, tools, etc.).

Ebay and Craigslist are allies in a very cheap way to get an idea what your junk’s worth without hiring an expect.  Please note, this advice is for normal people – not you people with Picasso’s in your bathrooms.

2.   Inventory Your Financial Junk…the stuff that has monthly statements or payments.

No matter if you litigate, mediate, or arbitrate your divorce, you’re going to have to get prepared to figure out what you’re going to fight over…or discuss calmly and in a dignified manner.  Start your inventory before you call an attorney, mediator, arbitrator or your mama.

You probably will hate to see how much you’re not worth.  Too bad – get started.  Start gathering statements on bank accounts, brokerage accounts, retirement accounts (for pensions – call HR at that old company), insurance policies, loans, etc.  Sound painful?  It is.

There’s more.  Gather your tax returns, your credit card statements, your mortgage(s), and all other information related to debts (cars, boats, equity lines, etc.).  Who is on the loan, the title, etc.

But wait, there’s more!  Are you self-employed?  Guess what your business is…gather information related to the business, such as its tax returns, business expenses, ESOPs, etc.

If you’re head is just about to explode at the thought of this “self-audit,”  give serious consideration to retaining a Certified Divorce Financial Planner.  God, they’re good.

CDFA’s are the sherpa’s you want to help pull all your financial records together and make sense of it for you.  They run hypotheticals – what if she gets the 401(k) and the house, what if he gets the brokerage accounts and I get the car, etc.   Couples that start – yes, even together – with a CDFA are much more fun to play with, speaking as a mediator, than those who don’t remember what the name of their bank is these days.

Give serious consideration to using a CDFA if you have more than one empty bank account between you and your spouse.  Check out http://divorcemoneymatters.com/ for some great information.  Most CDFAs will have software that helps organize your marital assets and they charge an hourly rate.  So CDFA’s charge a flat rate – which makes things more predictable during a time when the finances are already uncertain.  Select wisely, but give consideration to selecting a CDFA at a minimum.

3.  Window Shop the Costs of Your “New Life”

No matter if you litigate, mediate, or arbitrate your divorce, you’re going to have to get prepared to figure out what you’re going to fight over…or discuss calmly and in a dignified manner.  Start your shopping before you call an attorney, mediator, arbitrator or your mama.

You and your spouse ARE NOT going to be living in the same place.  Whether you leave, s/he leaves, or you both leave, you better have some idea of what it is going to cost to maintain two households.  Why?  Because issues of spousal support can arise AND you should both (yes both) understand what it is going to take to live separately (so that you don’t both end up in bankruptcy, you both don’t jeopardize the kids’ futures or your ability to retire before you’re 80, you both don’t end up with the misperception that you got screwed in the divorce – despite the fact that you both are living under a bridge).

Start shopping.  What would it take to buy or rent a home nearby or far away?  What are all the bills associated with it (water, trash, electric, gas, etc.)?

Start shopping.  What will the costs of health insurance (for you, your kids, and your spouse) look like?

Start shopping.   What will life insurance policies on you and your spouse cost?  (If your situation will involve alimony or child support, you BEST GET SHOPPING ON THIS ONE).

And, next shopping item?  What can YOU do to generate more dollars for YOU in a post-divorce world?  Aside from a sugar-mama or sugar-daddy or alimony, you should start thinking about how you can earn more money if you needed to do so.  Oh, yes I am TAWKINTOYOU!  Get over it.  Get moving.  Get a second job, if necessary.  (Of course, this applies to those of us who can’t liquidate the artwork in the bathroom and live off of it for ten years.).

4.   The Kids.

No matter if you litigate, mediate, or arbitrate your divorce, you’re going to have to get prepared to figure out what you’re going to fight over…or discuss calmly and in a dignified manner.  Start assessing the kids’ needs before you call an attorney, mediator, arbitrator or your mama.

Look, except for really extreme situations (think drugs, abuse, neglect) it’s probably going to be “Joint Custody.”  Get over it.   Start with the proposition that “your kids need me and the other parent.”   Start saying that as a mantra so that you don’t fall into some of the really common (and stupid) pitfalls of co-parenting.

Start working on new habits of not trashing the other parent in front of the kids (and telling extended family to do the same).

Recognize that if s/he doesn’t pay child support or “help out with money,” withholding time with the kids is REALLY BAD (anyway, if the kids are with the non-payer, s/he is going to have to feed, diaper, clean, etc. them while they’re together – helloooo)!!

Practice not REACTING when children tell you that they miss the other parent, like the other parent “better” or “less,”  blame you/him for the split, they come home with brand new toys and what seems to have been a vacation with the other parent, etc.   Sounds impossible, right?  Do it anyway.  Channel your inner poker player – you are gambling with items that are priceless.

As for child support, in Georgia, there is a “formula” that is largely going to set the range.   Court-ordered child support is the minimum that must be done – not the maximum.  Probably, it’s not going to pay for everything you want or everything your kids deserve.  Probably, it’s not going to turn the other parent from a sloth to a fiscally responsible adult.  Get over it and get planning for life as if no child support is forthcoming (see Life Insurance and Second Job items, above).

 

With all this work to do, you simply will need to get started on “eating the elephant.”  It all starts with one bite and then progress one bite at a time.   It is impossible to do everything at the same time, so start the journey with just one step.

Tips for Managing Your Divorce Lawyer(‘s Bill)

Andy Flink is a fine mediator, arbitrator and one of the good guys.  His recent post sheds light on how divorce clients can manage their relationship with their attorney and manage their legal bills, too.

On that note of managing the legal bill, I add this item to Andy’s list.  Ask questions about what the hourly rate of all the individuals who might work  on your case (are there charges for the paralegal’s time?  is the associate cheaper?).  Ask whether emails and voice mail messages incur charges (bet they do!).  And, give a little thought to whether paying your attorney to play phone tag with opposing counsel about a trinket really makes sense.  If the trinket costs $100 and the attorney costs $300 per hour…times two…

There are ways to manage the attorney’s bills, but it starts with asking hard questions.  Ask the hard questions.