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By Tonya Graser Smith, Board Certified Specialist in Family Law, Founder
| May 19, 2020
When it comes to separating and getting divorced, when people are ready, they’re ready.
Even amid — or perhaps especially amid — the coronavirus pandemic and the requisite stay-at-home orders, I’m hearing from clients who are ready to move on. And we’re all hearing reports of skyrocketing divorces in China following months of lockdown there due to the public health crisis.
No matter when you think your marriage is on shaky ground, if you are contemplating divorce, it pays to take some actions as early as possible. These five steps can save you time, headache and, in many cases, attorney fees.
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My husband and I recently refinanced our house and had to round up all of our financial documents — tax returns, bank statements, pay stubs and more. It’s a time-consuming process that reminded me that this pile of records is exactly what you need to pull together when you start down the road to divorce.
By doing this now, you will save time later. And if your divorce lawyer has to send you fewer reminders of what you need to gather, you’ll also save money.
You wouldn’t hire a financial adviser without talking to a few first. Likewise, take time to interview a few divorce lawyers. You want to make sure you like your lawyer and feel heard, because you will be spending a lot of time together.
You also want to make sure you understand how the attorney’s fees work and how you will work together. For example, if you’re hiring a seasoned lawyer, you will, of course, pay more than you would for a more junior lawyer. Ask questions like:
And beware of any attorney who promises to get you a lot of money from your spouse. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, so steer clear.
If you ask me, a “dream” divorce is one in which a client comes to me with years’ worth of household expenses documented in an app or software like Mint.com or QuickBooks — or, heck, even Excel. Clients who have done so will save a ton in attorney fees, because that’s math I don’t have to tally myself.
Now, if you haven’t done that, you could start. Of course, if you and your spouse aren’t getting along, chances are you won’t all of a sudden be on the same page about tracking your expenses. And it might raise red flags and lead to a discussion you aren’t ready to have. So, even if it’s only you doing it, start tracking as much of your shared and individual expenses as possible and log in some historic recurring expenses. You will be better off, because something is better than nothing.
Write down everything you know about you and your spouse’s income — when and how much you each get paid and how much is base salary versus bonuses and deferred compensation. Take into account interest and property investment income and income from any business ventures or rental property.
You might even include things like hotel points or airline miles if you’re a stay-at-home spouse who’s been holding down the fort while your soon-to-be ex has been traveling every week for work.
Having this information at the ready will help your divorce attorney start preparing your case right away.
A postnuptial agreement is just like a prenuptial agreement — only it’s made after you’re married. It defines how you and your spouse will handle financial and other matters should you end up divorcing. Who will get the house, and how will one of you buy the other out of the family home? Or will you sell the house? How will investments be split? What about any assets received during the marriage? What about a joint business?
Sometimes postnups are helpful when something has happened in the marriage — say infidelity — and the couple are trying to work through it. The couple might decide to get a postnup so that they take some comfort knowing that if it doesn’t work out they will have a road map for their divorce.
This is a way to save time, stress and money in divorce, but it also gives you space to repair your relationship. Because maybe it’s not over till it’s over.
Written by Tonya Graser Smith, a Board Certified Specialist in Family Law, licensed North Carolina attorney and founder of GraserSmith, PLLC, in Charlotte, N.C. She focuses her practice on divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, equitable distribution, prenuptial agreements and other family law matters.