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Divorce Tip #4: How to Get a Fair Divorce.

How to get a fair divorce is on top of all divorcing persons mind. Forget about getting a FAIR divorce settlement. Aim for an EQUITABLE settlement. Fairness is subjective and all involved have their own interpretation of it.

Think twice before you declare war on your soon-to-be ex. Starting a war is easy but ending one is tough. Your chances of walking away with a great settlement and moving on will come from win/win. There is no middle ground-it’s either win/win or lose/lose for both of you.

Winning this conflict means that you both walk away with a settlement that makes sense, one you’ll never have to revisit. This is especially important if you have children. You are modeling competence and conflict resolution in a crucial and (to them) extremely threatening time of life.

Avoid war, and your children won’t be collateral damage. Drag it out, and you inflict irreparable harm. Win/win also means that you will be able to co-parent much more effectively. So forget revenge, and let go of your dark side. Think of the future.

Figure out what’s worth fighting for and don’t sweat the small stuff

Have a long term perspective. I am not suggesting that you leave stuff “on the table”, but very often divorcing spouses argue about the cars (which lose value by the minute) or the big screen TV, or even the washing machine (I’m not making this one up!), and lose sight of the big picture.

You need to arrive at a balanced financial settlement. That means walking away with some liquid savings, retirement savings, no (or minimal) debt, and enough money to cover your reasonable monthly expenses. Even those modest goals are sometimes unachievable as divorcing couples struggle to divide up marital estates with depleted savings and a ton of debt. Know the facts.

Don’t be greedy – be realistic

You only need to cover your reasonable living expenses. If your friends are telling you that you will be able to maintain the same standard of living as before, that’s not necessarily true. There is only so much money to go around between you and your spouse, and that money will now have to cover expenses for two households. We will dive into more detail on this in the next chapter.

The sooner you embrace the post-divorce reality that you’ll have to rein in spending and build or rebuild your career, the better off  you’ll be. Even if you’re lucky enough to walk away with a spousal support (AKA alimony) commitment, it won’t last forever.

Don’t go after  “fair” – go after “equitable”

Now, let’s talk about fairness because the sooner you get the word “fair” out of your vocabulary, the better. Understand the reality! The court’s definition of fairness will be based on the following information: 

  1. Your life story – REPRESENTED BY ENTIRE SHEET OF PAPER
  2. This is how much of your story your lawyer retains – FOLD THAT SHEET OF PAPER IN HALF
  3. This is how much of your story gets captured in your lawyer’s file – FOLD THAT HALF AGAIN
  4. This is how much of your story gets communicated to the Judge – FOLD IT AGAIN
  5. This is how much of your story Judge uses to make a final decision that will impact the rest of your and your children’ lives.  – NOW THE ORIGINAL PAPER WITH YOUR LIFE STORY IS SO TINY!

You can see that fairness is highly subjective. The bottom line for you is this. So How To Get a Fair Divorce? Your victory lies:

-In arming yourself with sound financial information and building knowledge so that you can stand on your own and become financially independent.

-In coming to the “negotiating” table with a clear understanding of what your financial needs are now, immediately after your divorce and in the long run.

-In having enough information. With your new financial knowledge you will be able to evaluate the pros and cons with a clear head.

That means that you’ll have to DECIDE right here and right now to stop feeling like a victim and climb into the driver’s seat.

ADVICE FOR HOMEMAKERS

Karen and James

Karen was a housewife for 11 years with two kids. She used to take care of the family budget. Then James convinced Karen that he could do a better job at managing their money and took over. Karen’s self esteem went down the toilet; she lost her belief in herself. She was terrified of having to make it on her own. Ironically, James had been utterly incompetent as a financial manager. His only achievement was running up a ton of credit card debt.  When Karen first came to see me, she was a mess. She even contemplated staying with her cheating husband rather than rebuilding her life. I told her that this was an emotional decision she had to make for herself, but I gave her some simple homework: start paying attention to the bills and financial statements. Know what assets you have. Take back the job of handling the family finances. Three months later, Karen was a different person. She had enrolled in college to get her teaching degree. She put her family on a budget and was able to negotiate better terms with a couple of their creditors. While it didn’t help the marriage and they decided to move forward with the divorce, Karen became empowered.

Ladies, the worst advice you can get is to wait to find a job until after the divorce, since you anticipate receiving a fat monthly spousal support check from your spouse.  The support is only temporary, and you’re still his dependent. If he loses his job, if his company goes belly up, the checks will stop. What will you do – sue him? You might get a judgment someday – good luck on collecting it! The best thing you can do for yourself is to build a career.

Maybe you’ve never worked. Start by volunteering for one or two prominent non-profits. They have a tendency to hire from within. As a foundation for your resume, write down everything you do or have done in the community. Get out there and work it. Start networking – use social media (such as Facebook and Linkedin) to let people know that you’re looking for work. If you have absolutely no idea where to begin, hook up with a career specialist to give you direction based on your education, talents and passions.

Use your divorce to be your catalyst for change.

Divorce Mediator, Denisa Tova, CFP, CDFA, helps couples divide finances rationally and prepare practical parenting plans.

How to Get a Fair Divorce – Wikihow article