1. Where is each spouse in the divorce decision-making process?
Frequently one spouse is more convinced than the other that divorce is the best option. The biggest thing to keep in mind is just because you think the marriage is over and has no hope of recovery, that doesn’t mean your spouse agrees. The reverse is also true – just because you believe your marriage can be fixed, that doesn’t mean your spouse agrees. Listening to each other without placing blame or criticism can help clarify where each of you stand.
2. Do you want to avoid divorce and is it reasonably possible?
It is possible for some couples who are considering divorce to decide to stay together. “Possible” means it may happen – not necessarily that it will happen or that it’s likely to happen, but it’s possible. “Some couples” means not everybody, and maybe not the majority of couples, but a certain number. “Considering divorce” describes a broad spectrum of mindsets, from individuals who are just beginning to think that divorce may be a good option to those who have thought about it for years and have their minds firmly set. “Decide” is probably the key word here. Both spouses must actively choose to seek professional help and commit to improving their relationship.
3. Assuming you are going to divorce, what process do you want to use to make decisions?
Figure out this answer first! In divorce, you must decide how to divide your assets and liabilities, how each spouse will meet their financial needs and how you will handle parenting arrangements for your children. You can make those choices for yourselves or you can have a court make the decisions for you. Before you start thinking about the outcome of these decisions, investigate your options and decide how you want these decisions made.
4. How much do you know about your financial picture?
Educate yourself about your assets, debts, incomes and expenses. In many relationships, one spouse has the role of financial manager – at least to some extent. If you are the spouse who handles the finances, you may have a pretty good idea of your financial picture. If you do not deal with the finances on a regular basis, you need to do some homework. Make a list of your assets and liabilities. Gather statements for bank accounts, retirement accounts and investment accounts, mortgages, credit cards and other loans. Make copies of tax returns and all the documents that go with them. Your attorney should be able to help you understand all of these documents and what they mean in your specific situation. The more you educate yourself, the better position you will be in to make decisions.
5. When and how will you tell your children that you are divorcing?
Probably the toughest conversation you will have. Children see and hear a lot more than many parents give them credit for. They also misunderstand a lot of what they see and hear. Hopefully you and your spouse can jointly explain your decision to divorce to your children – without pointing fingers, calling names, making disparaging remarks, etc.! Your children do not need to know about your marital relationship. They need to know that their parents have decided to end their marriage and that they are both committed to making sure their children are OK. Then they can continue being kids.
If you live or work in the central Pennsylvania area, including Mechanicsburg, Carlisle, Harrisburg, Hershey and surrounding communities and would like to discuss divorce or any other family law or estate planning or administration issue, please contact me.