Get Comfortable. The Smart Parents Divorce Checklist is a long and useful read!
For many of us, there comes a point in the marriage when divorce or legal separation seems a better choose for all concerned then living under the same roof. The daily stress, constant fighting, or gnawing unhappiness has worn you out. An emotionally exhausted client once said to us: “I’m so tired of being tired”. We get that. You probably do too.
If you are convinced that divorce or legal separation will ultimately make your lives better, don’t expect the improvement to start right away. If financial stress is one of the reasons you are divorcing, it may be a while before your financial situation improves. After all, you are creating two separate households with a budget you may have felt wasn’t enough for one. And whatever personality traits in your spouse made you want to divorce them, those traits will probably intensify during the divorce process.
We believe that the Smart Parents Divorce Checklist will help prepare you for what’s coming. Getting through this Divorce Checklist may seem overwhelming, but not as overwhelming as the divorce or legal separation process without it. Please note from here to the end of this article, when “divorce” appears, the same applies to “legal separation” even if we don’t say it every time.
Divorce Mediation or Divorce Attorneys
Perhaps you’re contemplating whether to hire attorneys or use a mediator. There are reasons to go either way. If you are not sure which route to take, read Divorce Meditation or Divorce Attorneys. Divorce Mediation is almost always the place to start. If Divorce Mediation proves to be unsuccessful, you can still hire Divorce Attorneys. But if you give mediation a chance first and it does work for you both, you can save a lot of time, money, and heartache by going that route. A mediated divorce has the same legal validity as a lawyer-driven one, at a fraction of the cost and time expenditure.
The Divorce (or Legal Separation) Mediator is going to guide you two through some of the toughest and most important decisions you will ever make – at a time when you are probably in the worst emotional shape to make them! A good Mediator guides with an acute awareness that the best choices you make will lead to a fair, equitable division of assets & debts, a viable custody and visitation agreement that is in the best interests of your kids, and a realistic child support and spousal support agreement that will provide for the needs of the recipient for support without breaking the back of the payor. Statistically, payors are more likely to pay support to which they agreed in mediation as opposed to court ordered.
Once the Mediator has helped you agree on child custody, support, and community division of property, he/she will write up the agreements you have made in form of a contract called a Marital Settlement Agreement in Orange County (MSA) or Stipulated Judgment, and file it with the court to finalize your divorce. If you have an MSA, you won’t have to go to court.
You may have a concern with alcohol abuse. Write a provision in your MSA restricting the custodial parent from consuming alcohol beyond a specified amount during their respective parenting time. Or you may have a concern about future significant others in your spouse’s life. Family Matters offers a Judgment MSA clause in which you specify how soon you and your ex-spouse may introduce a new significant other to the children, and whether you want to require a criminal background check on that person before they start having significant contact time with your kids. If bad temper or even violence is a concern, check out links to anger management groups that can help, and we suggest that you include a clause in your Judgment MSA that mandates participation in anger management classes.
Family Matters Mediators are skilled & experienced family counselors trained in Guideline Family Law. A terrific combination of skill sets for divorcing parents. After all, your kids are what matters most, and your kids’ future is best determined by their parents, not lawyers or a judges who know little about you and your family. Child and Spousal Support and Division of Property will be governed by Family Law Guidelines.
Family Matters believes that Parents should understand their rights and the ramifications of their choices. The Divorce Mediator should model and teach parents important relational skills for the benefit of their ongoing co-parenting relationship, notably; Communication, Cooperation & Compromise.
Here are assessment suggestions on how to find the right Mediator.
- Does the Divorce Mediator offer a free consultation?
- Are you both comfortable with the Divorce Mediator’s Style?
- Did the Divorce Mediator ask questions and explore areas of interest that made you feel like they wanted to understand your relationship?
- Is the Divorce Mediator familiar with common causes for divorce, such as drug or alcohol abuse, anger management, and personality disorders such as manic depression or narcissism? And do they know how to guide parties so afflicted through the mediation process?
- Did the Divorce Mediator show a good balance of patience & direction?
- Did the Divorce Mediator explain the process & legal matters in a way that you could understand?
- Does the Divorce Mediator have published material to help you and your spouse make decisions?
- Does the Divorce Mediator have a paralegal service that can prepare & file all of the necessary Judicial Forms for your case and help you complete Court Required Documents?
- Do they have homework worksheets, questionnaires etc. for couples to work through at home which saves mediation time and cost?
- Is the Divorce Mediator comfortable with Attorney involvement? A good Divorce Mediator is at ease if one or both parties have Attorneys review the Marital Settlement Agreement before they sign it, or even have an attorney represent them and attend mediation sessions.
- Does the Divorce Mediator have team members you may need for the divorce process, such as CPA level Financial Advisers, Tax consultants, Notaries, Real Estate Appraisers, Business Appraisers, Therapists and Child Custody Evaluators?
Clients choose Family Matters because, after meeting with our Divorce Mediator, they answer all the above questions with “Yes”.
Now for the really dry stuff!
This is a list of documents you’ll need to have during your divorce. Sometimes people are reluctant to provide these documents, even though both parties have a right to see them. When that happens, documents have to be subpoenaed from other sources. That is time consuming and expensive. So gather what you can before you separate.
Records necessary to determine Child Support & Spousal Support and a Fair Division of Assets & Debts:
- Joint Federal, State & Local income tax returns for at least the last three years. If you file separately, try and get copies of your spouse’s returns.
- Both of your w-2 and 1099 forms.
- If one or both of you are self-employed, try to get copies of the Corporate, LLC, LLP or DBA tax docs as well as the last six monthly Profit & Loss Statements for the company. If there are company partners, get a copy of the partnership agreement.
- At least three months of statements of Checking and Savings accounts, Stocks & Bonds, CD’s, Mutual Funds, IRA’s, 401k’s, Retirement Plans, Deferred Compensation Plans, Profit Sharing Plans Annuities, Health Savings Plans, 529’s, Whole Life Insurance Policies and Money Market Accounts.
- Trust documents including the Trust Description, Executor and list of what is in the trust and statements for those listed assets.
- All real estate records for the home and other property, including the deed, the promissory note, mortgage, statements from the lender showing the balance due, any appraisals of property, and the most recent tax bill.
- Make a list of valuable personal property, automobiles, furnishings, and collections such as art or coins.
- Accrued vacation time, Time Shares & Frequent Flyer Miles.
- Auto Insurance & Health Insurance Policies.
- Any and all other assets not already listed.
- At least three months of credit card statements.
- Copies of Leases, such as Apartment & Auto.
- Vehicle/Boat Title Registration docs, loan docs, invoice from most recent payment.
- Mortgages and home equity
- Student loans, Personal Loans, Promissory Notes.
- All other loans or debts, such as Property Taxes, Delinquent Income Taxes & Payment Agreements, Loans against Assets (Such as having borrowed against a 401k).
- Utility Bills, if delinquent. But also Utility bills for the last month that both parents lived together.
- Cell Phone contracts, Time Share Contracts, Gym Membership Contracts.
- Any and all other contracts & obligations not already listed.
That’s enough about financials. Believe me, we could go on and on… Let’s Turn Our Consideration to the Kids:
The Child Custody Checklist:
Rarely does an issue create more conflict or emotional and financial damage than a dispute over custody. So let’s consider what you can agree on. On matters that you cannot agree on, it will help you to make lists of your reasons for not agreeing on something in advance of your mediation session/s. Please read through this list and record your answers.
- Can you agree that both parents shall have regular and consistent periods of custody with the children?
- Can you get close to a 50/50 percentage custodial split? If not, make a list of reasons why this isn’t possible. Sometimes jobs make it undoable. Sometimes a parent has an emotional, drug or alcohol problem that would interfere with their ability to parent.
- Can you agree that both parents shall alternate holidays equally? If not, make a list of the holidays that you may dispute.
- Can you agree to live within close proximity to each other so that the kids can maintain their sets of friends, remain in their schools, and not have to travel a lot between your two homes?
- Can you agree to share costs for the kids that are beyond the scope of Child Support? If so, make a list of what expenses you agree to share (such as sports activities, tutoring, dance lessons, etc).
- Can you agree to help each other and the kids adjust to the changes in your respective lifestyles and responsibilities? Are their lifestyles or parenting choices of the other parent can you not support?
Now read through it again and edit out answers that might have been written more from anger than reason, or more from fear and a resulting desire for control than an ability to trust that your kids will endure the differences between their parents!
Many of the above points can’t be answered with a firm “YES” but hopefully not with a firm “NO”, either. Most of the time, the answer is Maybe. Maybe is good. Maybe is open to negotiation. Kids do best when parents learn to communicate, cooperate and respect the children’s rights to have an uncomplicated love bond with both parents. For more about respecting that love bond, please go to our article: Respecting Children’s Rights & Boundaries.
Determining Sustainable Child Support & Spousal Support Amounts: To read on this topic go to this page: Child Support & Spousal Support
Here are some guidelines that we at Family Matters suggest:
- Know what you agree on: Sometimes couples have a problem opening their minds to the idea that they agree on anything! But it’s a great relief to dwell on these things. So this is the first list we create…and it’s a good place to start because it is the solid foundation upon which we can build a two home family and a solid Marital Settlement Agreement.
If you come to us for Divorce Mediation, we help you figure out the following issues:
STEPS WE CALL MAKING GRACEFUL TRANSITIONS.
- When and how to tell the children.
- When is the right time to move apart.
- Who should move out, and can the other parent stay in the current residence? It is usually beneficial to the children if not everything changes at once, so one parent should try to maintain their residence for them.
- How to prepare financially to separate – avoid financial commitments and impulse purchases for which now is not the right time.
- How to increase your household income so you can afford two separate residences.
- How to minimize the children’s losses – tighten your belts, not the children’s.
- How long to file taxes jointly and when to file separately.
- How and when to separate accounts and contracts held jointly, such as health insurance, car insurance, cell phone contracts, car lease etc.
Prepare for the possibility of a new significant other in your ex’s life: Many couples going through divorce say to us: “We are totally amicable, we are still friends and we have no issues”. That is wonderful to hear, however, that state of amiability often comes to a screeching halt when one or both parents start dating again. Not so much for jealousy of each other, but of your kids’ relationship with the new girlfriend or boyfriend. Another woman wants to tuck my daughter in and kiss her good night? Another man wants to discipline my son? What if a potential stepdad is a perpetrator? Or the new girlfriend is an evil stepmother who treats my kids like Hansel and Gretel or Cinderella? Be prepared and make agreements for the eventuality that there is a new significant other in your future. We offer a workshop “How to Blend Families” that is focused on protecting your kids’ interests in their new step-families.
Practice Change: Children are emotional sponges. Whatever dominant emotion you feel, they will absorb. The first people to know that your marriage is in trouble are often your kids’ child care providers and/or teachers. Why? Because your kids pick up on your energy and start acting out! So as anxious as you may feel, helping your kids look forward to change is vitally important for their perception of life. Here is a little trick we prescribe: In advance of announcing your divorce or making any life-style changes, change all the normal stuff! Most kids don’t like change or are even afraid of it. Let them see that change is neither good nor bad. It’s just different. Teach your kids to explore new things and let them learn that new doesn’t always mean bad. If you know you’re going to divorce and lots of change is coming, make fundamental changes before the announcement. Take different routes home. The kids ask why and you say, “A change of scenery is always nice”. Go to different markets and buy unknown brands and foods. The kids ask why and you say “Same is Boring”. Stretch them (and yourself), before dynamic changes happen and fear won’t precede it!
Make Graceful Transitions: Have you ever had a migraine headache? The pain is so intense that you can’t possibly be there for anyone else! Your kids want your attention. You just need to be left alone and you want the pain to end as soon as possible. Ending a marriage is equally painful. A good Mediator prescribes the analgesic of time. Don’t try to rush through the divorce process. How do you feed someone an elephant? One bite at a time. Go to a Divorce Mediator early in your decision to divorce. Before you tell the kids. Before finances are wasted or misplaced. Of course, if there is drug, alcohol or physical abuse causing your decision to separate…time is compressed. But in most cases, time is more important than even the most pulsating migraine.
Let your Divorce Mediator help plan the process of moving from a one home family to a two home family. Let a Divorce Mediator help determine when it’s wisest to introduce a new significant other to the kids. Rely on their objectivity. An experienced, Family Matters Mediator can handle this stuff.
If your primary concern is the best interests of the kids, call Family Matters. We’ll calm the family. Then, with our counseling background, our knowledge of Guideline Family Law, and our consulting legal team…we’ll create a fair, resentment free, complete, enforceable divorce for you.
Thanks for taking the time to read the Smart Parents Divorce Checklist! We hope that it will help you moving forward. Of course, if you have any questions … and who wouldn’t … give us a call.