Most people in divorce proceedings focus on short term needs and desires. This is a mistake that creates many problems long after the divorce is final. It is important to think of your long term goals, looking at your situation holistically. Thorough planning will make moving on easier and reduce future sources of stress.
Division of your marital property
One important milestone for most people is the purchase of a home, and it is also one of the most hotly contested issues in divorce.
- Is there equity in the home?
- Are you both on the mortgage?
- Can you afford the payments? Can your former spouse?
- Are you eligible for refinancing? If not, you may be unable to purchase a second home.
Before you move out of the marital home, discuss your situation with an attorney. Leaving sets the trajectory of the divorce proceedings and can negatively influence child custody. Unless there is a threat of physical violence, stay in the home.
Considerations regarding child custody and visitation
Depending on the age of your children, you may only be thinking of things like: who pays for daycare? But you will run into many conflicts down the road if you only focus on the present. Think about the following:
- Graduation: do you want a say in the photographer choice, party location and financial allocation of costs?
- School choice: what is your preference for public vs private school? Think about who pays and handling disagreements.
- Extracurricular activities: who pays? What about drop off and pick up if one disagrees with participation?
- Vacations: will vacation occur at the same time every year?
- Holidays: will you rotate entire holidays or split the day between households? Particularly after remarriage, you want to plan for conflict resolution.
- Travel out of the country: consent of both parents is needed to obtain a passport for a child, and permissions shown at customs.
- Religion: is it important that your children attend religious education? If so, include language in the divorce decree allowing you to take them.
- Piercings: can one parent consent to a minor child getting a tattoo or a piercing? What about wearing makeup or dyeing hair?
- Moving to a different state or region: without this language in your decree, be prepared for another visit to court to get relocation approval.
- School breaks: who gets the kids for spring or summer breaks?
Consider these milestones and the life you want for you and the kids after divorce. Putting these considerations on paper helps reduce future disagreement. Clear responsibilities and expectations allow the custody agreement to function without constant negotiation with your ex.
Retirement and life insurance considerations
Retirement is a common concern in long term marriages, or if one spouse stayed home to support the family while the other worked. Avoid being quick to dismiss or agree to a retirement settlement. Change beneficiaries on your insurance policies. If you have children, make sure the other parent maintains a life insurance policy of a certain amount listing you as beneficiary in the event of unexpected death. The same goes for disability insurance.
If you have been married for 10 years or longer, spouses are entitled to a portion of the other's social security at retirement. If either party plans to cash out retirement funds early, remember there are substantial tax consequences.
Agreeing to divorce settlements
Some people avoid conflict, and as a result want the divorce over as soon as possible. In situations where one spouse surprises the other, it is easy to be blinded by shock and sign off on an agreement in haste. Avoid falling into this trap. The conflicts will not end if you sign your legal rights away. Remember, if it takes a trial to give you and your children the future you deserve, any present discomfort will be worth it.