Decided to Divorce? Now What?

Did you get through the holidays only to realize that your marriage really is, really, over? Maybe you thought the good cheer of the holidays would bring you together again. Or maybe you stuck it out through the holidays just to keep the peace and now here you are, still unhappy and ready to move forward. If this is you, you’re not alone.

There are two times a year – January and August - when divorce filings peak and pretty much for the same reasons. August has to do with summer vacation, much like Christmas vacation. The reality of the relationship comes back down to Earth after the heavenly break from the routines of school and work.

So now what? Ideally, it will be an amicable process in which you and your spouse make plans and decisions that are fair, generous and put the children first. Easier said than done because, well, no divorce is easy. Whether it looks like it will be an amicable or contentious or somewhere in between divorce, there are two actions divorcing parents should take to prepare.

1.       FINANCES. Now is the time to get crystal clear on what you have in assets, debts, income and expenses. During the divorce process, you will need to divide the assets and debts that were acquired during the marriage. That means, for example, what you earned toward your 401(k) before the marriage is considered pre-marital and thus not divided versus what you saved during the marriage and is divided. In Georgia, these things are divided “equitably,” which may be 50%-50% or some other percentage depending on other factors.

Now is also a good time to take a look at what you earn and what your regular, monthly expenses are. It is more expensive to live in two households than one so you each will be spending proportionately more when you live separately. If you haven’t separated yet, it would be wise to figure out how much rent or mortgage you can afford before you sign a new lease. Additionally, this will help in figuring out what part of town you might live in and therefore how far apart you’ll be from you ex-spouse, which matters when exchanging children for parenting time.

2.       CHILDREN. What sort of schedule will be best for the children if their parents are living in two different houses? Here are some of the factors to consider:

a.       Child’s Age. Children who aren’t enrolled in Pre-K or Kindergarten don’t have to go by the week versus weekend or school schedule restrictions. Parents can be flexible during this stage and base the parenting time on work schedules instead. Is the child a baby who is still nursing? In this case, shorter visits away from the mother may be the only option until the child weans. If the children are teenagers then their voice matters as well as their social and extra-curricular schedules. A set schedule may not make sense for an older child like it does for a six-year old.

b.      Work Schedules. If you and your spouse both work during the week and are off on weekends then you may want to alternate weekends so you each get fun time. But if your schedules are opposite then you might be able to pick days that you’re each off to include fun time as well as serious time when homework and the like need to be taken care of.

c.       Distance. If you and your ex-spouse live near each other you can have a lot more flexibility in when and how to exchange the kids. Who drops off and picks up may not be as big a deal when you’re around the corner from each other but if you live on opposite sides of town then travel can be a significant factor. Taking the children back to the weekday parent would probably be better on Sunday night than during rush hour on a week night.

Financial realities will often be the deciding factor for several other matters such as child support, debt division and what to do with the house. As a starting point, I provide my clients budget forms, sample parenting plans, a list of what all they might need to be thinking about plus other guides to support them. Divorce is an overwhelming process and knowing where to start can help break the paralysis of “Now what?” so you can start moving forward to a happier life.