The fear of an “unfair” settlement is the biggest worry for many people facing divorce. It can be so great it actually leads people to make poor choices. To avoid this trap, follow these 9 steps:
1.Educate Yourself – In the end, you have to be the one to protect yourself and you need to understand the process to do so. Start with online resources and focus on the rules for your state. You don’t need to be an expert, you just need to know enough to talk to one.
2. Hire an Attorney – Even if “you agree on everything”, you still need an attorney. Simple errors can cost you far more and most people vastly overestimate the cost.
3. Divorce Finance Specialist – An equal division of property today may seem “fair”, but it can leave one spouse in a very unfair position in just a few years. A specialist can show you what each proposed settlement will look in the future to ensure an equitable outcome. They can also help you separate your financial lives without destroying your credit.
4. Work it Out – Hands down the best advice is to try to work out a general agreement with your spouse and then work with attorneys to formalize the settlement. If that fails, try mediation. You will both usually wind up worse off going to court.
5. Value Assets Properly – Cash, equity in real estate, retirement plans, and stocks should all be valued differently because they are very different. You can’t pay your mortgage with a stock certificate. Also, taxes can make a huge difference on their true value.
6. Find Hidden Assets – While some people try to hide assets from their spouse, “hidden” more often refers to forgotten assets or those not correctly identified as marital property.
7. Budget – Your current and future living expenses after divorce play a huge part in any settlement. However, most people don’t know this and don’t spend much time on it.
8. Long-Term Focus – Worry about where the settlement leaves you in ten to twenty years and not what it may look like in the next one to three years.
9. Implement Your Plan – I can’t tell you how many times I see people spend a lot of time and money creating a great settlement and then not actually do any of the items in it.
Fear of an unfair settlement will usually lead you to a poor outcome. Instead, overcome this fear by educating yourself and following these steps to protect yourself through the divorce process.