Dispelling Some Myths of Divorce: The Reality of What You Will and Won’t Get

If you have never gone through the divorce process, you have little real idea of what to expect.  You’ll read articles on the Internet, talk to friends and family and get a lot of info from those you know who are already divorced.  However, articles, friends, family and the experiences of others probably will not hold true in your case.  Divorce is different for everyone because circumstances are different.  That’s one reason not to place too much credence on what other people tell you.

As a financial analyst for divorce settlements, I always tend to the dollars and not to the emotional or legal.  My job is to furnish correct and complete financial data and make sure my clients have no bad surprises.  I have found that people navigate new situations pretty well as long as they know what to expect.  So instead of numbers and calculations, I am going to give you the benefit of years of experience and address the reality of the divorce process.

First, what you will get.

Help: You didn’t think you had to go through divorce alone, did you?  There are many capable professionals out there that can help.  Attorneys, Divorce Financial Specialists, CPAs, Mediators, and Therapists are almost always part of a divorce team.   No one professional can do it all and, the benefits of the different educations and practice experiences are that you are much less likely to have bad surprises and  feelings of being overwhelmed.

  1. Uncertainty: I almost put this first but, didn’t want to scare you off.  Going through divorce means moving from certainty to uncertainty.  People going through the process don’t attain certainty until they reach a settlement agreement or receive a judge’s ruling.  Unfortunately, getting to this point takes time.  I suggest you get to know your financial situation and, if possible, cooperate with your spouse as these actions can relieve much of the uncertainty and emotional stress.
  2. An Ending:  It doesn’t matter if you initiate the divorce, refuse to negotiate, or even leave the country.  Unless you reconcile with your spouse, divorce is imminent.  You can’t stop your spouse from divorcing you.  This is made possible by No-Fault divorce laws.  If you are in the opposite circumstance and have been trying to reach a settlement or litigate just to get it over with, I hope you gain some comfort in the knowledge that the divorce process does end.  Unfortunately, not as quickly as most would like.
  3. A New Beginning:  Just as divorce has an ending, the people going through it start anew.  The best way to get the new beginning you want is to be educated, prepared and helpful as possible to any professional working with you.  Above all, be proactive and make a plan for your new beginning and work towards defined goals.

Now, what you won’t get in divorce is easy to list.

Everything:  Some people really think they’ll get it all: the house, 401-ks, alimony and none of the debt.  Some people listen to the opinions of friends or family.  Others feel they have been wronged by their spouse and really deserve it.   However they arrive at their opinion, it’s wrong.  Nobody ever gets it all.  You live in either an Equitable Distribution or Community Property state and each state has laws that dictate how the assets are divided.  My advice is to pay for an attorney’s time and receive guidance about the reality of a probable asset and debt division, either by settlement or litigation.

  1. A Pound of Flesh:  Shylock wanted the heart of Antonio in Merchant of Venice because Antonio had treated him with a lack of respect or regard.  Shylock didn’t get it.  You may want to extract justice or revenge from your spouse but, like Shylock, you won’t get it either.  The divorce process is in place to dissolve a marriage and not salve wounds.  Stop thinking from emotions and start thinking from logic.  Good counseling can help you work through your turmoil so you can make smart legal and financial decisions.
  2. Your Day In Court: The chances are very slim that you will ever “state your case” in front of a judge.  That is because only a very small fraction of divorce cases are litigated.  Almost all cases are settled between the spouses, mediated, or settled with the help of attorneys.  Even if your attorney schedules a court date, you’ll probably settle.  You need to know this as it will save you emotional turmoil and a lot of money.  Having a case litigated is only the last resort, not the norm.

I hope that this information will help you think more clearly and be better prepared to go through the divorce process with no bad surprises.