People often make the mistake of seeing divorce as an unpleasant process that they should get through as quickly, and cheaply as possible. However, divorce can be an opportunity to improve your life now and to pave the way for a better future. If you view divorce as all bad, then you are missing the crucial step of using your divorce to invest in and protect your future.
Simply put, investing means using the resources you have today in a way that you hope will yield a better return in the future. An investment can be as straightforward as buying stocks, or as complex as devoting your time and money to raising your children. What you put into an investment affects how much you will get back. For example, if you research a company before buying stock, then you may get a better return. And the more stocks you buy, the more money you will make once the price of the stock goes up. However, if you invest in the wrong stock, you could lose money. Similarly with children, the more time you spend with your children, the closer your bond may be. However, poor parenting decisions can impact how your children behave in school now, and what they will do in the future.
Divorce can be an investment, too. Divorce requires an upfront commitment of time, money and emotional energy. Done right, a divorce can be the beginning of a new chapter in your life that is better than the last. Done wrong, divorce can have lasting detrimental impacts on you and your family.
Important issues are decided during a divorce, like how much parenting time you get with your children, how much child support or alimony you will have to pay or receive, how debt will be paid off and how retirement assets are divided. These decisions can affect the rest of your life. Custody orders can impact your relationship with your children, and spousal support orders affect your monthly cash flow. How retirement and debts are divided affect not only your ability to retire, but also what kind of lifestyle you can have in your retirement. Your day in court is your one chance to convince a judge how he or she should rule. And once your divorce case is concluded, you cannot come back later and ask the judge to make a different ruling.
The two most common mistakes I see people make is either not investing enough in the process of the divorce, or investing all their resources in trying to assign blame to the other side.
The first mistake of not investing enough is common among people who view divorce as an unpleasant process that they just want to be over. These people do not spend the time they should understanding the issues, preparing for trial or working with their attorneys. When they get to court, these people and their attorneys are unprepared, their issues are not fully presented to the court and they do not get the results they need.
The second mistake I commonly see is when people only focus on how their spouse is to blame for the marriage falling apart. If you only put on evidence in court about your husband’s alcoholism or your wife’s adultery, but do not put on any evidence about your financial contributions to the marriage or what custody arrangement is best for your children, you're not protecting your future the way that you should. This is not to say that issues such as adultery and substance abuse are not important (because they are), but you have to invest your time and energy in all issues that will arise in court.
Here are four better ways to invest in divorce:
1. Find an attorney with whom you feel comfortable.
Do research, get recommendations and judge for yourself how you feel about an attorney after meeting him or her. The best attorney for you may not be the first one you meet or the first one with an available appointment or the cheapest one. Make sure the fit is right before you start.
2. Gather all the documentation your attorney requests.
This may involve going to banks to get old statements, digging through records in your attic, and contacting schools and medical practices for documentation. You may even have to take time off of work to retrieve and organize these documents.
3. Make sure you take the time to really understand the finances at stake.
Consider hiring a certified financial planner to educate you about your assets, taxes, and financial future. Share all financial documents with your attorney and recognize that your attorney will need to bill for his or her time to become familiar with the financial issues.
4. If your attorney believes that a vocational expert, an accountant, or a child therapist would make your case stronger, then spend the money on that expert so that you can have the strongest case as possible.
Again, you generally only get one day in court to convince a judge to side with you.
Divorce is an opportunity to use resources you have today to invest in a better future. This is your chance to prioritize you, your children and your finances. Invest in you. Invest in your future. And invest well.