If you’re reading this, you’re likely either considering a divorce or are well on your way into the process. January is one of the busiest months for divorce, as many separating couples who have kids will wait until after the holidays to file. If you’re a part of this group, or think your marriage might be over, there are some important things to consider before you wade into the murky waters of divorce.
How amicable of a divorce are you and your partner capable of?
My divorce is nearly finalized, and my former spouse and I used a mediator to complete the process. Penelope Hefner, Principal and Family Law Attorney of Sodoma Law Union in North Carolina, refers to this process as a “collaborative agreement.” This is when both parties “approach the case openly and honestly and with the expectation of resolving all issues outside of court.” She says even if your former partner doesn’t want to go this route, you can employ parenting apps or seek your own counseling to help keep your emotions in check.
The mediation process saved my former spouse and I a lot, both financially and emotionally. That doesn’t mean our divorce was a rosy, joyful experience. It was still incredibly hard — devastating, even. There may even have been some moments that felt harder than a contested divorce where the lawyers handle the dirtier negotiation, because we had to face each other as we debated every single detail of the dissolution of our marriage. Still, we wanted to keep our separation out of the hands of attorneys, and our money in our bank accounts. Agreeing on this point and being willing to compromise to make it happen was key to making mediation work.
Prepare yourself for a major emotional roller coaster.
Even though I was the initiator of my separation, I have been stunned again and again by the waves of guilt and grief and overall surrealness this process has hurled my way. I have experienced moments of intense pride and relief too; I’ve been almost euphoric at my newfound sense of independence and at the authenticity of my new life. But the lows are as intense as the highs, and there’s no way around them other than through them. The stress is intense, and it will age you and tire you in every imaginable way. So do whatever you can to squeeze in self-care. Build yourself a network of friends who “get it.” See a therapist if you can afford it. Join a support group. Divorce is hard — don’t go through it alone.
If you’re a financially dependent spouse, you need to start making plans to become financially independent.
When it comes to divorcing parents, “dependent spouse” generally refers to the spouse who stayed home to take care of the kids. Anyone who’s done this job knows it is worth literal cash money. If you hadn’t been at home to care for the kids and house, your family would have incurred childcare expenses and probably other expenses like dining out more or having to hire help around the house. A stay-at-home parent’s job is valuable.
Now, before you divorce, you need to start thinking about becoming financially independent. As the stay-at-home parent, you will very likely get child support and may even get spousal support (alimony), but becoming financially independent isn’t about whether or not your ex-partner “should” pay or what you “should” be given. It’s about how quickly circumstances can change.
Hefner told Scary Mommy that even if one spouse “stayed home with the kids and has no income, the court may not accept that for long.” The court may calculate a minimum income to into the calculation (like minimum wage) even for a spouse who is not working.
But even if you receive child support from your former partner, if their income is ever decreased for any reason, so is yours. Alimony doesn’t last forever either. The best thing you can do for your own financial future is to act as though your child support check will not come next month.
Hefner recommends that financially dependent spouses work with a financial advisor to figure out their budget. (If you can’t afford this, look into an app that can walk you through how to budget.) Dust off your resume or look into furthering your education. One trend expected for 2020 is that people will use social media to find careers or start a “side hustle.” I’m part of this group — I have an anchor gig and about five “side hustles” that fill out my income.
Consider your health.
As in, health insurance. “In many states,” Hefner told Scary Mommy, “the payment of health insurance factors into the child support calculation. It is also a consideration in a dependent spouse’s needs with regard to alimony.” In other words, if you have to buy insurance from the marketplace due to it not being provided by your employer, your former spouse may owe a little more in child support and/or alimony. Explore these options in advance and compare plans and costs so you know what to expect.
If you and your ex have kids, remember you will always be partners.
The kids are first, the kids are first, the kids are first. Control your temper. Don’t talk shit about your ex. Obviously there are extenuating circumstances where a former spouse is abusive and the only way to protect kids from abuse is to acknowledge it out loud in an age-appropriate way. But if your ex is just a run-of-the-mill ass or your differences are personality-based, your kids don’t need to be privy to this. They love their other parent. Badmouthing this person they love so much makes you look bad, not the other parent.
Whether you like it or not, you are still partners with your ex, for the rest of your lives. The roles and definition of “partner” may have dramatically shifted, but you still have to work together. Divorce is hard enough on kids — don’t make it harder for them by allowing them to witness petty behavior or unnecessary conflict. That is not their burden to bear.
What time-sharing schedule will work best for your kids?
Hefner says that when it comes to time-sharing, we should put our kids’ needs first, before our own. We should be asking ourselves the following questions: Do they need frequent contact with both parents? Do they want to “stay put” for longer? Are there safety concerns with the other parent?
Every family is different and kids have different needs, so there isn’t a set time-sharing schedule that will work for every family. Hefner says the most common arrangements she sees are “week on/week off where each parent gets the kids for one week at a time on an alternating basis, and a 2-2-3 schedule where one parent has two days, the other parent has two days and then the parents alternate weekends.”
New tax rules will affect divorces.
The alimony tax credit was removed a year ago — meaning, payers of spousal support can no longer claim that payment as a tax deduction. “Dependency exemptions also changed in the recent past,” Hefner told Scary Mommy, “and now there seems to be less financial advantage in claiming children, and therefore, less fighting between parents.” Less fighting is always better for everyone, especially the kids. We’ll take that.
Bottom line here: divorce is a major, life-changing event — one of the most stressful situations a person can experience. Preparing yourself emotionally, financially, and logistically can save you at least a little stress as you begin this process, hopefully leaving everyone a little better off in the long run.