Would you ever attempt to start a business without a plan? Without knowing who your customers would be or how much you would charge? While these questions may seem silly, especially to people who have started or are operating a business, any business person will tell you that making a detailed action plan is vital.
Recently I met Stan, an accountant who owned a large, successful practice. Stan told me that he had recently reached a settlement with his ex-wife and paid over $250,000 to his attorney. Yes, that is one quarter of a million dollars spent on attorney’s fees. It was obvious that Stan knew how to run a business but, unfortunately, he didn’t know how to manage his divorce.
So, how do you avoid Stan’s outcome and run your divorce like a business?
First, become educated about the process in your state. You can’t know where you are going until you know where you are now. If you are newly separated or are thinking about divorce, education is essential. There are books, seminars and Internet sites that you can access. The more you know about the divorce process the better you can plan. It may be helpful to listen to friends who have gone through a divorce but, remember that your situation may be very different so don’t expect the same outcome.
Second, define your situation now. I always recommend making a copy of every financial document you can find such as; credit cards, savings and checking accounts, retirement account, and mortgage statements as well as tax returns for the past five years, including the W-2 statements. You will need these documents to establish the assets and debts that exist at separation and also at your marriage. After you have copied these documents put them in a safe place outside your home. You can open a safe deposit box at your bank or have a friend or family member keep them for you. You will want to access these documents to make a list of your assets and debts. Also, you will need to know how much money you will need to pay your expenses now. I have a very detailed expense form that I send to potential clients. Knowing your expenses now will help you project future expenses.
Third, start researching divorce related professionals who can help you. The list of professionals usually includes attorneys, CPAs, financial planners who are experienced and certified in divorce financial planning, mediators, therapists and transition life coaches. You can research attorneys in your area on www.martindale.com and financial planners on www.institutedfa.com. It is very important that you choose professionals who have been practicing for at least five years and who limit their practices to divorce and family law. You don’t want a tax attorney advising you on divorce strategy, although I once worked with a client whose attorney specialized in animal rights cases. Her divorce did not turn out so well. Therefore, find specialists and you will find a wealth of knowledge and experience.
Fourth, plan a strategy. Accomplishing this step is so important since most divorce disasters are the ones that weren’t well managed. Walking into an attorney’s office and telling him/her to “get a divorce for you” will result in you paying large attorney’s fees and experiencing much emotional stress. Any professional you work with and, especially an attorney, wants a well informed, organized client. Make sure you fit that description. Tell your divorce professionals how you envision the process, get feedback, and then let your attorney guide you toward your goals. You will need expertise but, you will also need to do your homework. Make a written plan with goals and action steps that is created by you and your attorney. Ensure you give your attorney what information he/she needs and stay in contact.
Stay focused on what you need to accomplish. By running your divorce like a business you won’t make a profit but, you can make the process much more efficient and less expensive.