By Diane L. Danois, J.D., Guest Contributor
What do marathons and divorce have in common? They both go for miles and miles, and have have a long road to the finish line. Most who have been through a divorce will tell you that it is a marathon, not a sprint. In order to get to the finish line without collapsing, it is helpful to have a coach guide you from beginning to end. For many runners, the support of an individual personal trainer or a club organization is critical to help them through the ups and downs of training. So too, for men and women in the divorce arena, where the support of a personal trainer helps to maintain mental well-being and to the well-being of your case. It's common sense that a sensible marathon training schedule is important for building your body safely to reach its peak performance. The same rings true for preparing your mental body safely for the emotional rigors that so often accompany the divorce process. The results of a slow and steady training schedule will be evident during the process, when a knowledgeable, reasonable and rationale client makes thoughtful, strategic, informative decisions rather than reactionary decisions.
YOU NEED A PLAN TO PREPARE FOR YOUR WARM-UP.
Many runners start at an early age. They run in schools, camps, clubs or just for fun! They learn the importance of planning for their runs (warm-ups, hydration, proper nutrition), and leverage the experiences shared by co-runners to enhance and improve their performances. In contrast, most first-time divorcees are beginners. They're going through their divorce for the very first time, without a manual, often with unsolicited advice from well-meaning family and friends, and facing a complicated, costly, and confusing legal system.
According to Steph L. Wagner, Financial Analyst & Divorce Strategist, "Taking steps to prepare for the financial complexities of divorce often have a profound impact on your emotional well-being, as well as improve your economic outcome when you do finally cross that finish line." Wagner, a long-time financial advisor, advocate, and avid cyclist, encourages her clients to incorporate the following into their pre-divorce warm-up routine:
Once you or your spouse files for divorce, one of initial tasks required of both parties is the preparation of a financial affidavit. This is a comprehensive snapshot of your current financial landscape, and includes all of your assets, debts, income and expenses. Accessing this information can be challenging under even the best of circumstances, and may be next to impossible after your house is emotionally divided. Be proactive and compile this information, as well as its supporting documents, while it is all under one roof.
Protect Your Assets
Many are unaware of the available steps, which can be taken in order to effectively protect assets before a divorce is underway. Even before consulting with a family law attorney, it is wise to meet with your estate planning attorney. After all, It is a bit unsettling to think that your estranged spouse has the ability to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf. You don't have to wait to disinherit your ex either! In many instances, it is perfectly legal to revoke a Trust (remember to follow the guidelines in your Trust for revocation and consult a professional first) or revise an existing Will in order to protect and/or redirect your assets in the event something happens to you before the divorce is final.
Stash Some Cash
The process of divorce can add tremendous stress on your budget, as well as on your bank account. Build up as much of a cash cushion by saving as much as possible to lessen the anxiety caused by unexpected expenses. Remember, the income that once supported a single household, will now need to cover the expenses of two separate households.
Caution: Distinguish savings from stealing/hiding. In today's electronic world, it won't be difficult to undercover any wrongdoings.
Obtain Your Own Credit Card
It is not uncommon for one spouse to be the sole name on most -- or even all --community debt, which will make it challenging for the other spouse to obtain credit once they become newly single. It's important to establish an independent credit history, and opening a new credit card account can do just that. It is also wise to have a credit report run on both your spouse and yourself. This not only provides you with a better understanding of where you currently stand, but also makes preparing your financial affidavit easier.
YOU NEED TO CROSS-TRAIN WITH THE RIGHT PROFESSIONALS.
In addition to getting your financial house in order, it is also important to surround yourself with members of a team, who will support you through the race. Like your body when preparing for your first race, the particular facts and circumstances surrounding your divorce are unique to you. While the basic steps of the divorce process are the same, each situation has its own nuances that make it different. Therefore, your friend's divorce might go very differently from your own. It's important to identify the right attorney, divorce coach, therapist and financial planner to build the divorce team that's right for you and your case. Especially for high net-worth clientele, divorce is rarely accomplished with just one attorney. A team of multi-disciplinary professionals, such as lawyers, mediators, therapists, financial advisors, certified accountants, guardian ad litems, appraisors, and other paraprofessionals are assembled to support and advocate for their client.
YOU NEED A COOL-DOWN PROGRAM.
Many legal disputes arise even after the divorce is finalized. Arguments over time-sharing (custody) with the children, arguments over spousal support (alimony), and arguments over child support are all ripe areas for the uphill battles to form post-divorce. Rather than assuming that everything will be downhill once the final papers are signed, plan for the twists and bends in the road by formulating the plan beforehand.
Couples just starting to go through the divorce process, or those who are long-standing veterans, can learn a lot from marathoners. Approach divorce as you would any other training program by (1) creating a reasonable plan you can achieve; (2) surrounding yourself with knowledgeable professionals; and (3) remembering that the race isn't necessarily over at the finish line. Having a plan in place to take you from the starting line through the cool-down phase of divorce will benefit you, your spouse and your family as you transition to the new single you.
For more information about Diane's work, please visit www.dianedanois.com.
Diane Danois is a Divorce Coach and Mediator, with a special interest in resolving post-divorce conflicts such as those involving children and alimony. Stepmom to three children, Diane uses her daily experiences to fuel her blogging habits.
Danois' credentials include attorney, certified family law mediator, and qualified parenting coordinator. She publishes regularly on topics relating to divorce, mediation and litigation, and also provides commentary on issues relating to step parenting and co-parenting.
She earned her undergraduate degree from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and her Juris Doctorate degree from Temple University School of Law in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A Board Member for the Miami/Fort Lauderdale Affiliate of Komen for the Cure, Diane has been a long-time advocate for breast cancer survivors. She is also a nationally-recognized speaker on volunteerism and advocacy.