Divorce is the greatest destroyer of wealth. The average divorce costs $15-20K and that does not include moving out and starting over. Many divorces cost multiples of that. Mine did.
Ever try buying plates, silverware, cleaning products, a bed, sheets, furniture, and every single other thing a home needs -- all at once? Seriously, visually think of everything in your home and think about buying it again.
The cost is astronomical and don't forget rent with 2 months down. How about the payments you might have to start making immediately after the divorce? These might include your mortgage, taxes, child support, alimony, childcare, health insurance, after school activities, camp, etc.
This is why so many people live like poor college students after they divorce. You won't believe how you are so much worse off financially than at any other time in your life.
If you must exit the marriage:
The first thing you must do is gather information. Get all account numbers and passwords to anything you both have, either jointly or individually. You'll be glad you have this information now before you no longer have access or it suddenly disappears.
Make copies of all your important documents. You're going to need this when you see your lawyer. It's going to be the basis of your negotiations. As well, photograph the contents of your home.
You would be surprised how many people simply have no idea about their finances and forget the value of the things in their homes.
Next, get a matrimonial lawyer that practices in your state. Do not use a friend that is a lawyer in real estate, for example. Your friend won't save you money and could do more damage than good.
You need a legal expert to undo a legal contract (your marriage) and to negotiate a legally binding divorce agreement that will rule your life for years.
This is serious stuff.
You would never go to a foot surgeon to get a heart transplant simply because they are both doctors. So get an attorney that specializes in matrimonial law in your state.
Some people believe they should hire an attorney who specializes in attacking character and to leverage the kids.
I could not disagree more. NEVER involve your kids. I have a friend going through a divorce whose spouse is using their child as leverage. The child is traumatized, anxious, cries all the time, and will be scarred for life.
If you must, I allow you to hate each other with venom, but agree on one thing, never involve the kids and never speak poorly of each other to your children! You simply must follow this rule.
Attacking character leads to the other side attacking you and both of you defending against the latest attack.
The winner and loser? Your divorce lawyers win and your bank account loses.
Every penny given to your lawyer is a penny less for you and, if you have them, your children.
You are in the legal negotiation of your life. Make no mistake that what you eventually sign off on will legally rule your life for years. Don't be caught having divorce regrets.
Immediately consult with your lawyer about how monies should be handled. What should you do with your joint and personal bank accounts? Where should your paycheck go to?
Understand that each divorce case has it's own set of unique circumstances, which is why you hired a lawyer to guide you.
Your lawyer does not know everything. As I just said, each case is different. Only you know what is important to you and what you and your soon to be ex are capable of. Nobody cares as much about you as you do.
You and your lawyer are a team. They will help you with the legal portion but it truly is up to you to manage your outcome. If you want to get out without going into debt, it's up to you to have realistic expectations about the outcome. Nobody wins it all. It's about compromise and managing loss.
Want to save money?
Get out as quick as you possibly can. This is a negotiation. Assets must be divided. The clock is ticking and each hour spent can add up quickly as billable hours. Decide now what is an absolute deal breaker for you and what doesn't matter too much.
No one gets everything they want during divorce. You're going to find this out pretty soon but my advice is to stay calm and to be smart. Don't get caught up in anger or revenge. You'll spend more in legal fees fighting over a dining table than it's worth.
Talk to as many divorced people as you can. You'll be surprised how forth coming they will be.
I've met strangers on trains that chewed my ear off for half an hour about how they got screwed. It's all worth it because what you learn from their experiences is gold. It's money in your pocket.
Listen. Learn. Incorporate the good ideas into your divorce.
Ask what mistakes they made during their divorce. Ask about the smart things they included in their divorce agreements. Ask if they could go back in time, what would they change about their divorce agreements. What were their biggest regrets during their negotiations?
Knowing what they know now, how could they have minimized the legal costs they were faced with?
Treat your divorce like a business negotiation. Both sides have to feel as if they have won.
Control your emotions, take only what you must have, get out as quick as you can and ALWAYS consider how what you are about to sign will affect you in 5, 10 or 15 years.
Don't sign on the dotted line just to get out. I said it before and I'll say it again. This legal document you sign will affect your life for years.
Be smart and surround yourself with the best legal team you can afford.
Al writes more on the things you've got to know about divorce on Divorce Candor