The stages of divorce

Divorce is one of the top five most difficult life experiences, up there with the death of a loved one.  In a sense, it IS a death – the death of a marriage.  Because it is like a death, most divorcing individuals go through some form of the stages of grief as outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her well-known book, On Death and Dying.  Someone going through divorce should be familiar with these stages to be able to recognize them and get through them.  You don’t want to make a critical decision in your divorce when you’re going through anger or bargaining or depression – best to let it pass and don’t make rash or hurried decisions.

An article I read recently talks about the Stages of Divorce: Break-Up, Breakdown,. Breakthrough, and Breakover.  This article is an interesting take on the stages of divorce that I thought you might enjoy.

What were the stages of YOUR divorce?

Things you don’t know about California divorce (and need to know!)

There are so many aspects of California divorce that go beyond the law and process. Here are a few of the key things you probably don’t know about divorce:

  1. It’s going to take a LOT longer and cost a LOT more than you ever imagined.  No, longer than that….and even longer than that.  Whatever you’ve imagined, add at least 50% more time and money.  And this isn’t just attorney fees money, it’s lost wages money (those pesky court appearances), increased debt money, and new expenses money (new blender, new apartment).
  2. Attorneys – even your attorney – can seem like s/he isn’t on your side.  Sometimes this is good, as when you’re hearing the reality of divorce and your attorney is not just telling you what you want to hear (so you’ll be disappointed later), but sometimes it’s bad, as when your attorney is mean or nasty to you.
  3. Your attorney may not be telling you ways to save money on your divorce.  This can vary from attorney to attorney, and it can range from benign oversight to outright malpractice.  You have to decide what’s going to work for you, but don’t fail to either get a second opinion or learn at least some law and procedure so you know what questions to ask.  The more you fight, the more the lawyers get.
  4. The system is not fair.  It’s not designed to make you feel better or vindicated or right.  It’s flawed, and the people involved are flawed, as people are.  “Making the judge see your side” is not going to get you your way.  What will get you your way is having the facts on your side.
  5. Your children will act out, misbehave, develop illnesses they never had, and otherwise have a really hard time with the divorce.  Instead of blaming your ex-spouse, work with him/her to help your children.  You will save them in the short AND long run.
  6. Your lawyer is not going to be offended if you fire him/her and get another lawyer.  Most lawyers welcome the reduction in caseload and “starting over” with a new lawyer is not hard at all.
  7. Much like #4 above, the legal system is not going to help you at all with the emotional aspects of the divorce.  Get a therapist, as soon as you can.  Get over it, in your own way and your own time, and not with lawyers, courts and hearings. Don’t discount the emotions of divorce. They can be the toughest thing to overcome.
  8. The more you learn/know, the better off you’ll be, regardless of how complicated or contentious your case is, the amount of lawyers’ fees (if any), and how long the process takes.

Don’t overlook these important estate planning concerns in divorce

When you get a divorce in California (and everywhere else!), there are important estate planning considerations to take into account.  In fact, these are so critical that you could end up leaving your estate to your ex spouse (ouch!), having your ex make important medical decisions for you, or – if you act hastily and without the proper information – you could get into trouble with the court system.

During Divorce:  First, when you file for divorce in California, regardless of whether it’s Alameda County, Contra Costa County, or any other county, once the other party is served, both of you become restrained from doing certain things.  One of these restraining order involves your will or trust, and prohibits you from making any changes to your will or trust once you’ve filed for divorce and served the other party.  One of the others prohibits either of you from changing or cancelling any insurance, such as life, health, auto/property, etc., or changing the beneficiaries on any insurance or other account where a beneficiary is named.  Do not make the mistake of cancelling your ex’s health insurance or changing your will after you have filed for divorce!

You may make these changes with permission from the other party or with a court order, and you may want to seek this.  Particularly if you have separate property, the last thing you want is for your ex to get it all if something happens to you. You may also want to get permission to change the beneficiary of your life insurance into a trust for your children, but you need permission for both of these actions.

One of the changes that you should make as soon as you can, and there is no court prohibition on this, is your powers of attorney.  For both health and finances, you want to make sure you designate someone other than your ex who will make decisions for you and manage your affairs should you become incapacitated.  If you’re lying in a hospital bed unconscious, do you really want your ex deciding whether to get surgery or wait to see if the medication improves your condition?

After Divorce:  Once your divorce is final, you want to make sure you change your will or trust, your powers of attorney (if you’ve not done so already), the beneficiaries on your life insurance, retirement and other accounts, and make sure you have enough life insurance for your children and long-term care insurance to care for yourself as you get older.

Need more help?  Click here for our FREE Divorce e-Course.

Secrets of child and spousal support (alimony) in California divorce

One of the hot button issues in divorce is child and spousal support. It’s a hot button because it involves money, and money is a leading cause of divorce. Many couples are already tense about money, and when you add in the support issue, things can blow up. The problem is one of simple math:

With a married couple, you generally have one household surviving on the income of two parties. You take that household and divide it in two when the couple separates, and you have the same amount of money (not enough) now supporting two households instead of one. Ouch.

Regardless of who moves out and who is the spouse paying for child and/or spousal support, it hurts both parties. The one paying can see in his or her paycheck that the amount being brought home is, in some cases, actually smaller than the amount being paid for support. The one being paid just looks at the money coming in and the bills to be paid, and can’t quite see how to resolve the disparity.

Arguments, often heated ones, ensue. The key is to recognize that not only is this going to happen, but to catch it early and address it. It isn’t going to be easy for either of the spouses, and they had better be prepared. Both spouses, in most cases, are working hard to maintain their lives while they go through the difficult time, and a small amount of understanding goes a long way.

Need more help?  Click here for our FREE Divorce e-Course.

Legal Separation versus Divorce: pros and cons of each

The term “legal separation” or “separation” mean two things in family/divorce law, and they can be confusing.

First, your “date of separation” applies to everyone getting divorced. After your date of separation, which is the date you made the decision to separate and live forever apart, AND you physically separated, you are ‘separated’ from your spouse, and – here’s the important part – everything you acquire, including earnings, property and debt, is your separate property and not subject to equal division with your spouse.  Don’t overthink this date. Generally it’s the day you made the final decision to divorce.

Second, there is a box on the Petition for you to mark “Legal Separation” or “Dissolution” (divorce). Almost everyone marks Dissolution” here because they want a divorce.  A Legal Separation is the same as a divorce in that you will still determine child custody, visitation and support, property division, and spousal support, but at the end of the process, you and your spouse will be legally married. This means that you may not marry someone else.  When you get a dissolution, you are not married at the end of the process.

Legal Separations are rare, but they happen.  There are a couple reasons why someone may check the “Legal Separation” box on the Petition.

The first is due to residency. To file for divorce in California, you have to be a resident of California for the six months immediately prior to the filing, as well as a resident of the county you are filing in for the three months immediately prior to the filing. There are no such requirements for a Legal Separation, so some will file that way to get the process started, then amend the Petition for divorce once the residency requirements have been met.

The second is for religious reasons, when spouses do not wish to ‘divorce.’ It must be noted, however, that one spouse cannot force the other to remain married. This is not permitted under California law. If one spouse, therefore, files for Legal Separation, and the other responds by filing for dissolution of marriage, then the court will amend the Petition to dissolution. A Legal Separation is only available if both parties agree to it.

The final most common reason for filing for Legal Separation is for health care reasons, most frequently by older couples. I had a case where the parties had been married for more than 40 years, and the wife was covered under the husband’s health insurance. She would not be able to obtain health insurance on her own except at exorbitant cost. Because both parties were elderly, they determined that they would not wish to marry again, and decided to go with the Legal Separation to protect the wife’s health insurance.

Need more help?  Click here for our FREE Divorce e-Course.

Getting a divorce? How to decide if you need a lawyer

Making the decision to get a divorce can be very difficult, but once the decision has been made, deciding whether you can do it on your own or if you need an attorney can be nearly as difficult.  How do you find someone? How do you know if they’re any good? What is it going to cost? These are all important concerns that can make the process of hiring an attorney – or even just interviewing one – difficult. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Determine if you can do it on your own. You and your ex getting along?  That’s a good first step.  Do some research and see if it looks like something you can figure out by yourself, or if it seems so complicated that you need help.
  2. Ask friends and family members if they know someone they can recommend.  If you get a recommendation, ask them why they are recommending that person – someone’s fabulous attorney could be your nightmare.
  3. Interview more than one attorney.  Attorneys vary widely in their approach, mannerisms, attitude, skill and professionalism.  Find someone who you think you can work with successfully.
  4. Consider alternative options, such as mediation or unbundled services like a Family Law Coach. This can both bring down the cost and the hostility of the divorce.
  5. When you meet with an attorney, ask them questions about how they approach their cases, whether they have had cases like yours before, and what they will do to help you keep costs down.  Set the expectations up front so you both are clear.  Ask about how often and in what way you will communicate, too, so neither of you ends up frustrated later.

Need more help?  Click here for our FREE Divorce e-Course.

Dispelling the fairy tale: How kids benefit from parents who don’t “stay together for the kids”

This morning I posted an article from the Huffington Post about celebrities that made the decision to divorce when they knew they were pregnant.  I am of the opinion that children can sense and feel tension and hostility in the family, even if it’s a cool hostility.  And I am not alone: at the family law update classes I attend, research backs me up.  Children from intact happy households fare the best, but those in intact unhappy households fare worse than those in homes with divorced parents.  But I still often hear from clients and friends that they want to stay together until the children are in college, or at least until they are “old enough to handle it.”

But what is this teaching out children?  We are teaching them to put others before our own happiness, and indeed, that our own happiness does not matter.  In addition, we are over-emphasizing the importance of marriage and the “fairy tale” of a lasting relationship.  As was so eloquently put by another author on the Huffington Post, we teach our children, by staying together past our relationship’s due date, that being married and unhappy is more valuable than being alone and happy.

Is that really the message we want to send?