Doesn’t making a mistake just frustrate you to no end? Think about a couple of times in your life where you made a critical mistake that was entirely avoidable. Don’t you wish you could turn back the clock and just make it so you avoided whatever pothole life threw at you? I think we all can recall a time or two (dozen) that this has happened to us. While we cannot turn back the clock on our mistakes, we can work to avoid making new ones.
That is exactly what today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is going to be about. I would like to share with you some of the do’s and don’ts of divorcing in Texas that I have picked up on in my years of representing clients. I don’t know you and I don’t know your circumstances but I do know that everyone who gets divorced goes through the same general processes and has the same expectations as far as wanting to get divorced as quickly as possible for the least amount of time and money spent. With that said, let’s go through some questions I think you need to be asking yourself regarding divorce.
Ask yourself what you are willing to go to bat for as far as property is concerned
By the end of a divorce case people are tired, cranky and usually just want to get the case over with. This is when even the hardest headed of spouses loosens up and will be more apt to let something go in lieu of drawing the divorce out any further. This is also when property is negotiated- namely, how community property will be divided in the case. Assuming that you and your spouse can agree on what is community property and what is separate property (and this is a pretty big assumption I am making), you next need to decide on what you absolutely need to keep and what you are willing to part with.
I have seen spouses willing to give up on very expensive items if it means getting to retain all of their retirement savings or other assets. I have also seen spouses fight over video game controllers and silverware. Only you know which category of persons you and your spouse fall into. There is nothing wrong with being in either camp. All I am saying is that you need to have some self awareness to determine which camp you fall into. If you are overly willing to give up on items that you should fight for then you may want to force yourself to have a little more of a backbone. Or, if you are the type of person to put up a stink over items that frankly aren’t worth the effort then you ought to keep this in mind.
Only you know what is valuable to you. Your spouse may have an idea of what you are willing to go to bat for in the divorce and what you are willing to let slide, but only you know what is most important to you. Things come and go during our lives but not all things are created equal. My advice would be to sit down with your attorney at the beginning of your case and determine what property in the community estate belongs in which of those categories. That way when it comes time to negotiate at the end of your divorce the importance of these items does not catch you by surprise.
What about the marital home? How are you going to handle that?
On the other end of the spectrum from video game controllers and silverware is the family home. As probably your most valuable asset and piece of property, your family home not only has huge financial implications for your divorce but also has emotional/relational value as well. You lived in that house with your spouse for an extended period of time. You may have been fortunate enough to raise children in that home. You made memories, good and bad, within the walls of that home. It’s safe to say that you have some attachment to your home.
Now comes the tough part. In order to negotiate well in matters regarding your home, you need to be able to put the emotion that you have tied up in the house on the backburner and focus on the transaction almost as if it were a business deal. Does the house represent a good investment for you? Does the house offer anything to your or children of significant intangible value? If so, can you justify retaining that asset solely for intangible/emotional value? These are some good questions to ask yourself.
I think the first thing you need to concede to your spouse is if he or she is going to have primary conservatorship over the kids then he or she will likely be awarded the house in the divorce it your case goes to trial. The major caveat here is if he or she cannot afford the house then you may be able to take on sole ownership in the event that you have the financial wherewithal to do so. If this is true and you want to keep the house then you have a good shot at doing that.
However, if you and your spouse have already talked about selling the house or you are not keen on keeping it regardless of whether or not you win primary conservatorship then putting the house up for sale is not a bad thing. You are not a heartless person if you put the family home up for sale as a result of a divorce. I could argue that you are doing what is best for your family by doing so. Selling a house means that you can take your equity in the home and pay debt with it, put some money down on a new house or use the equity to beef up a child’s college fund. Whatever you choose to do with it, do not come to that decision without taking all of your options into consideration.
Be aware of debt when it comes to dividing assets/liabilities
Everyone thinks about their kids when a divorce starts- and rightfully so. Likewise, everyone thinks about property division when a divorce starts- and rightfully so. However, fewer people think about debt when a divorce starts. I think this can be a huge blind spot for folks and want to make sure that we go through some issues associated with debt and how they could relate to your divorce.
For starters, consider that debt is something that can seriously set you behind your peers when it comes to financial goals. You may earn a great income and have great potential when it comes to growing your net worth and your wealth. However, if you have debt associated with that net worth it really limits what you can do when it comes to growing your wealth for yourself, your children and your grandchildren. Freeing yourself of debt allows you to approach your job differently. Freeing yourself from debt allows you to approach investing and the future differently.
All things being equal, if I am going through a divorce and have the option to either accept significant property with significant debt attached or to pass and have my spouse take it in the divorce, I am choosing option B. I would prefer to be able to start fresh after a divorce rather than to choose options that tie me down to assets whose values may not live up to what they are appraised to be and could saddle me with debt that becomes a problem to pay off.
I think the main problem we have when it comes to debt is that most of us consider only the upside to transactions that involve debt. We look at a deal and think that if everything works out that the investment could be a good one. The problem with that line of thinking is that everything almost never works out exactly like we plan. There are always glitches, illnesses, accidents, repairs, etc. that are needed- either for ourselves or our property. When you are most vulnerable in the years immediately following a divorce I would pass on the risk filled opportunities that divorce may present. Choose the lower risk, higher upside of a no-debt life.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Texas divorce
Ok, now that I have made it through the big questions that I wanted to speak to you about today, now we can finally get into the do’s and don’ts of divorce in Texas. These are to be treated as tips that are flexible for most every divorce. If you have a question about how a tip pertains to you and your situation I would recommend that you make an appointment to see one the licensed family law attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan.
Budget your money and do not overextend yourself financially during and after a divorce
A budget, it has been said, tells your money where to go instead of wondering where it went. Many clients that I have spoken to about starting a budget bristle at the suggestion. It is too constrictive, some will say. Others will complain that it takes too much effort to do. I’m not a math person! Is the common form that this complaint takes on. Basically, I get the sense that folks just don’t want to be told what to do or how to spend their money. This is true even it is ourselves who create these budgets that we are to use.
I cannot emphasize how important budgeting is. If you create a budget for yourself, within a few months or trial and error I believe that you will start to get into a rhythm as far as budgeting is concerned. It will start to feel like you’ve gotten a raise due to additional money being found within that budget. Don’t leave your finances to chance. Start budgeting during your divorce so you can start to practice living on one income only.
You can use your budget to figure out how you are going to make it through your divorce in one piece when it comes to family finances. Wondering how far you can stretch your salary? A budget will tell you. Curious to see if you will need to ask for temporary spousal support during the divorce? A budget will tell you. In fact, I will make the argument that to go through a divorce without a budget is one of the biggest mistakes that you can make. Don’t put yourself in a position where you are guessing when it comes to paying bills and setting yourself up for post-divorce life. Get on a budget now.
Start to collect financial documents now rather than waiting until your case is underway
If you have not already done so, I recommend collecting bank statements, retirement account updates, student loan bills, and other financial documents that will be needed during your divorce. Makes copies of them and drop them off at your attorney’s office. You can send an electronic version of the copies as well.
These copies will come in handy during the divorce. Whether it comes to negotiating a property settlement or answering discovery questions, it never hurts to have these documents on stand-by until they are needed. You may be in a situation where your spouse is asking you to pay her temporary spousal support. If your argument is that you can’t afford to do so, these financial documents will show a judge whether or not the math of your case agrees with you or not.
Questions about planning for a divorce? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material that we shared today or on any other subject in family law please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week where we can answer your questions and address your concerns directly.