Through LFLG and Hello Divorce, we have a significant amount of clients who are self represented — using our resources to navigate the process but checking in with us when they need some guidance along the way. This week as I was overseeing the process of closing case files, I was reminded of some of our most influential clients and the outside the box path they chose to cooperatively ‘unhitch.’
When clients first come to us for legal coaching they almost always are focused on the forms. California divorce is largely form driven and while not ‘brain surgery’ you can quickly get overwhelmed by the sheer volume and specificity they require. We like to take a step back — a 10,000 foot view — and ask clients where do they see themselves (and their children) in a month, a year, ten years from now. What might be the easiest path to get the divorce complete, may cause issues (financial and emotional) down the road. Separating in CA means dissolving a business partnership, a contract between two people that has long lasting impact. If you don’t have Premarital Agreement (‘prenup’), California has one for you. It’s complex and guided by not only statute and case law, but local rules as well.
Divorce is More Than Forms (although there are a lot of them). Ask yourself these questions before diving into the forms and process. Then, craft a strategy that gets you where you need to go.
1. Can I afford to maintain my current lifestyle and pay support?
2. Will this [insert contested issue] matter to me in a year?
3. If I keep the family home, will I be able to meet my monthly bills?
4. Will I be better off in the long run receiving monthly spousal support or should I try to obtain a ‘buy out’ amount?
5. Am I willing to take on more debt so that I can walk away with an appreciable asset(s)?
6. Do I need to consult with a financial advisor before I negotiate a property settlement?
7. Is Bankruptcy a good option?
8. Will we (you and your kids) benefit from a set custodial schedule or should you build in some flexibility?
9. Are their ‘assets’ that may not be worth much now but could become valuable? (a novel, patent, stock in a startup?)
10. Do I need access to funds now or would I be better off with more retirement assets?
11. Are my standards for the divorce outcome impossibly high?
12. Am I sacrificing my own wellbeing (or that of my children) to ‘keep the peace’?
13. Can I really do this on my own or should I consider legal representation for one or more issue(s)?
14. Does my spouse have a life insurance policy? Might I request that it be kept in place to guarantee support if something were to happen to him/her?
15. Are we going to be able to co-parent cooperatively or should we seek outside help to get us off to a good start?
Clearly there are compromises that you will need to make as you embark on the divorce process. But don’t make them for the sake of getting the divorce done. With careful and curious thought – and a great legal coach — you can find the best path for you – for now and years to come.