Before you divorce, take the time to consider your current psychological and financial situations while weighing your options, before deciding on a course of action.
First, I'm assuming you are either near to retirement, or already retired, since you came to my website... but this page might give you some ideas even if you aren't.
Before Considering Divorce
If you are thinking about divorce, maybe even in the back of your mind, yet unspoken to your spouse, think about:
Sometimes we are just sad or angry about something and the spouse gets the brunt of our emotions. A qualified counselor may be able to help you and your spouse identify the problems and work toward a mutually-satisfactory solution.
For this approach to work, both partners must be committed to working through their problems with the goal of saving the relationship.
Before Planning Your Divorce
If you are sure you are filing for divorce, and are not the bill payer of the household, you might want to think about getting copies of bank statements, retirement accounts, 401k and IRA's, etc before file.
WHY? Just to assure that every bit of your finances is included in the divorce settlement, period. This is critical, especially for dependent wives whose husbands handled all the finances.
Some spouses have been known to empty out a joint bank account, leaving their dependent wives/ husbands at the mercy of the courts or worse. This may be illegal, depending on your state or jurisdiction... but it still happens.
Do not give up your pension rights in the divorce. Some spouses demand that you trade your interest in his or her pension for their interest in the home. Be sure you know the exact value (in writing) of both before agreeing to such a trade!
Before you divorce, you’ll need to know how much it will realistically cost to keep your household running, if you plan to ask for maintenance or other assistance. If you’re working outside the home or otherwise bring in income, this will be considered by the courts.
You may need to consider selling your property and moving to a less-expensive area, depending what the courts decide to allocate.
There are both pros and cons to this approach. An attorney will charge for every phone call, letter sent, and any other work done on your behalf. In many areas, attorneys may charge over $400 an hour.
Usually, a sum of money, called a ‘retainer’ needs to be paid up front to cover initial filing and other expenses, with additional charges billed to you when that amount is used up.
A divorce or marital mediator’s services, which are much less expensive than most attorneys, can guide you through the process.
If you are very lucky and you have a no contest divorce, you can save so much in Attorney fees.
Do It Yourself Divorce
Be careful trying to do this yourself. Are you sure that your spouse has no hidden accounts? What about any other assets or property brought into the marriage from a previous marriage? If you have shared assets, as with a community property state, or abuse or another serious issue is involved, those legal expenses may be well worth it to keep what’s yours and to get a fair settlement that won’t leave either of you impoverished.
While there are “Do It Yourself” forms on the internet, this route can be a legal minefield.
If you’re financially independent, have no minor children and few assets and have kept your finances separate instead of in joint accounts, it may work.
Remember though, that your assets, such as your house and other property, custody of any minor children still at home, and other assets are at stake. Do you want to risk these to save a few dollars?
Hire An Attorney
Be sure you hire a divorce attorney. Just like doctors, attorneys specialize and although they can act under many different types of law, it's really best to hire someone who knows divorce (and the referees, judges and court workers too)!
If you don’t know of an attorney, your local bar association should be able to make qualified referrals. Friends from church or other social groups may be able to recommend someone.
It’s extremely important that you fully understand your rights and obligations for your particular situation. Don’t base an assumption on the experience of a friend or relative.
You will need to provide your attorney with as many legal and financial documents as possible. The less work your attorney needs to do to get this information, the more you will save.
This is part of a process known as ‘discovery’ – your spouse’s attorney will be in contact with yours, sharing financial and other relevant information. This will help the court or judge determine whether and how much assistance you might be able to ask for as maintenance. (What they now call ‘maintenance’, or ‘spousal support’, is the modern term for what used to be called ‘alimony.’)