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Making Divorce As Painless As Possible


Divorce is rarely simple but with a little thought you can prevent it from becoming hideously complicated.


If you believe that a bad marriage will somehow make a good divorce, you're dreaming.

Worse, you're unprepared for what's ahead: The most wretched period of your life.

"It's easy to hide assets, especially if the divorce turns nasty, so be prepared," says Christina Rowe, author of Seven Secrets to a Successful Divorce. "Know your financial situation. It's easy to let one spouse or the other handle the finances during the marriage, but if you're getting a divorce, you're headed for serious trouble if you don't know what your assets are."

If you don't want your own marriage to reach this point, it's important to find out how to balance your financial habits with your spouse's. Read Spenders Vs. Savers: Balancing Love and Money to find out how.

It's easy to torture your ex in court – all it takes is a dash of imagination, an unhealthy dose of viciousness and buckets of bucks. Remember: Your attorney has a vested interest in litigating all things petty and stupid and will be more than happy to help you make a fool of yourself while running up the bill.

Divorce isn't, or shouldn't be about reprisal that quickly morphs into a form of insanity. Set your emotions aside because divorce is a simple division of assets. The law and the numbers are straightforward. The issues become complicated only when emotion overwhelms reason.

Most people want just one thing in a divorce: out of a dead relationship. But don't let your eagerness to move on obscure the need to nail down the basics. Personal finance is fertile ground for shenanigans in the hands of a vindictive ex. Here are some basic steps to limit the mischief:

  • Locate, organize and copy all financial records. Make one copy for yourself and a second for your attorney. Save the originals.

  • Close all joint bank and brokerage accounts. If that's not possible, freeze access to the accounts.

  • Close all joint credit accounts. Open new accounts in your own name.

  • Maintain a written record of all expenses run up during the separation. This also includes joint expenses such as bills paid and home improvements or auto maintenance.

  • Establish your net worth. Keep a record of all income during the separation. Save pay stubs, bank and brokerage statements.

  • The forced sale of stock or other investments is likely to have tax implications. Consult your financial planner as needed.

  • Before the settlement conference, make a list of what you seek right down to household goods.

  • If there's something you know your soon-to-be ex wants in the property settlement, don't give it away in a hopeless effort to establish goodwill. Use it as a bargaining chip and trade it for something you want.

  • Settle out of court. This will cut legal costs and ease your jangled nerves.

Divorce is governed by state law and the details may vary slightly from state to state. However, there can be wide differences in the interpretation of the law among judges in the courthouse, so ask around about the attitude and temperament of various judges toward men and women, alimony or joint custody.

But keep in mind that most divorce attorneys regularly appear in court and will be reluctant to disqualify a judge because they'll be back with another case tomorrow. However, if you have good reason to believe that a judge can't be impartial, insist that your attorney file the needed paperwork to get your case transferred to another judge.

You've got to nail this down because mere feelings aren't enough to disqualify a judge from your case.

No attorney can be certain how a judge will rule. A competent attorney will tell you what's happened in similar cases and will discuss likely outcomes. If your attorney guarantees an outcome, it's time to get a new lawyer.

Keep discussions with your attorney short and to the point. Remember that your lawyer is an advocate – not your friend and confidant. Most attorneys don't want to hear the gory details. If you need to talk, see a friend, a member of the clergy or even a psychiatrist, if you can afford it.

Most men want to maintain regular contact with their children and a few want to be the custodial parent. If the kids will live with their mother, she'll need money to raise them and may need money to cover household expenses until she resumes her career.

Two people who were once close should be able to figure this out. Of course, divorce is rarely that simple but with a little thought you can prevent it from becoming hideously complicated.

Think back to when you met and recall why you flipped for your future ex. You once listened and one of the reasons the marriage failed is probably that you stopped listening and talked past each other. It's difficult to listen during a divorce, especially if one party is angry or feels betrayed. But there's great incentive to listen carefully and resolve the divorce quickly: your kids and your wallet.

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