In yesterday’s blog post we discussed the importance of collecting financial documents early and often in your Texas divorce. I said that as soon as you know that you will be getting a divorce that you should start to organize your life as best as possible. The upside of doing so is that you will avoid delays and costs associated with waiting to do so during the divorce itself. The downside is that it does require some effort to do this. Better your effort than that of your attorney or paralegal, however.
Once you have gotten to the point where you have your financial documents in order, you can then begin to consider what bigger picture goals you have-both within the context of your divorce and post-divorce lives. What do you want to achieve within your divorce? What sort of outcome do you think is fair? What do you think is best for your kids, most importantly? Your post-divorce life is just as important because, even though it may not feel like it at the moment, your post-divorce life will be longer than your divorce-life.
What you envision your life to be after the divorce will inform how you negotiate. Will you be able to work immediately after the divorce if you have not been in the workforce for many years? If not, what sort of spousal maintenance will you require be paid to you until you can get on your feet financially. If you have been working, you need to consider the increased costs associated with child care and living day to day on only one person’s salary. No matter how successful you are it can be a big shift for a double income household to become two single income households. How you plan your life out will certainly impact how you negotiate.
The meat and potatoes of today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan will be spent with me going through some important questions that I recommend you ask yourself both during your divorce and afterwards as well. While no two cases are exactly alike, I think that these questions will apply well to most people who are going through a divorce in Texas. If you have any specific questions that I did not touch on in this blog post I recommend that you contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan to set up a free of charge consultation with one of our licensed family law attorneys.
Questions to ask yourself (and answer) before the end of your divorce
What sort of lifestyle do you want to lead after your divorce?
The follow up question to the above question could be: and is it achievable? You need to be realistic with yourself as to how you are going to live after your divorce. If you lead a life right now that is paid for by your spouse’s income then you are unlikely to be able to live the same sort of life after the divorce. Yes, you will likely need to find a job. Yes, you can survive on your own. No, your spouse will not have to pay you support that will allow you to return to the lifestyle to which you have become accustomed.
A lot of people have the falsely held belief that after their divorce, if he or she has been married to their spouse long enough and are not working, the ex-spouse must pay spousal maintenance equal to the amount of money needed to pay for a lifestyle that is equivalent to what was led by that person during the marriage. This is not the case. Yes, an analysis would be done by the court to determine what your minimum, basic needs are. Yes, if it is shown that you will not be able to meet those needs you can be paid spousal maintenance if you have been married to your spouse for ten years. With all of that said, you are not entitled to some pay-day just because you are getting a divorce and your spouse has money in the bank.
If you have a disability or are in charge of caring for a child who has a disability this may be a different story. However, absent either of those two situations you will not be able to just jump into a life that you cannot afford on your own after the divorce. The reality is that you are going to have to find a job even if you have been out of the workforce for an extended period of time. You need to understand this and then plan accordingly for your divorce negotiations.
For example, pushing your case all the way to a trial just because your spouse will not budge on how much or how long spousal maintenance should be paid is not a good plan. While your spouse may be on the hook for some degree of spousal maintenance you should not expect him to pay for you to immediately purchase a new house or to help fund a college education for you. Be realistic about what your expectations are in the divorce and you will arrive at a fair and equitable settlement. Odds are it will be done quicker, too.
Finally, you need to be able to look closely at the finances of you and your spouse during the negotiation phase of your divorce. Your spouse may not be in a position to pay you spousal maintenance or to pay you as much child support as you would otherwise be entitled to under the law. The judge won’t be able to force more money out of your spouse than he has. Look at your inventories, look at the breakdown of your community property estate and finally look at your spouse’s income. If he truly doesn’t have the money to pay your spousal maintenance then you should consider backing down on unrealistic demands.
The best lifestyle for you after your divorce is one where you are able to raise your kids in a safe and loving environment. You do not need near as much as you may think to do so. If you can negotiate for what you need, focus on your post-divorce career, and do your best to be present for your children when they need you, that will put you ahead of many people who are going through a divorce in our community.
What are your income needs post-divorce?
Budget. Budget. Budget. Then budget again. You need to sit down and hammer out a budget for your post-divorce household. Don’t have kids? What will you need for rent/groceries/gas/utilities? Figure it out by the month and then multiply that by 12 to figure out what your yearly budget would be. Take into account any debts that you acquiring in the divorce and how you are going to pay those off. You may need to work a second job in the event that your debts are more than you had anticipated.
On the other hand, if you have children then your calculations would involve considering how much your children need in income in addition to your own needs. Fortunately for you, kids don’t need additional housing or food compared to just you. They eat the same thing as you do (most likely) and live in the same house as you. Clothes can be a minimal cost from month to month. Their utilities are the same as yours. What you should quickly find out is that unless your child has a medical need or disability that requires additional care, the costs of having a child are not that significant. Now, saving for their college education or for a car is a different story. For our purposes, however, I’m just trying to get you to a point where you are able to survive with a little comfort after the divorce.
Now, once you have your budget it is time to think about how you are going to negotiate. If you have a job and have child support you should be just about all the way there. If you have needs that are greater than most or do not yet have a job, you will need to negotiate for spousal maintenance. Once you find out how much spousal maintenance you will be paid and for how long it will be paid to you then you will need to figure out how your income will eventually substitute in for that spousal maintenance once it goes away.
Judges typically will award spousal maintenance for no longer than five years. Odds are your spouse’s attorney knows this and will not allow you to negotiate for more unless you start to give up parts of your community estate that would ordinarily go to you in the divorce. Be sure to put yourself in a position where you have some degree of financial flexibility in the divorce from the outset. A nice cash payment of some sort, or property that can be turned into cash readily is the way to go in my opinion. Do not put yourself in a position where you are cash poor at the beginning of your post-divorce life.
Where are you going to live after your divorce?
You are either going to live in the existing family home after your divorce, or you are not. Pretty simple. If you are going to stay in the home then you need to be absolutely sure that you can afford to pay the mortgage on that home. Taxes, insurance, repairs and other considerations need to be made as well. Take all of the regular costs and then insert some “worst case scenario” costs into the fold. If you can still afford to stay in the house go ahead and negotiate for that in mediation.
Otherwise, you will be leaving the home and moving in somewhere else. It could be that you are able to move in with family if you are single and younger, but if you have kids or are an older person then you likely will need to budget rent into your post-divorce financial plan. Your specific situation will determine where you live. An important consideration is that the more you pay in rent per month the less you are able to save for a rainy day or pay down debt with. There is a balancing act in this regard and you need to think about your options before committing to a certain plan.
How are you going to find a job?
If you are a professional with years of experience in your field this section of the blog probably won’t be all that relevant to you. For everyone else, you need to consider where you are going to find employment after your divorce is over with. If you have worked part-time or full time at a job that pays you by the hour then you need to decide what you want to do with your future. Do you need to return to school to acquire some skills that will allow you to work at a more stable occupation? What can do, whatever situation you find yourself in, to stabilize and then increase your income.
Finally, if you have not been in the workforce for some time you need to think about how you are going to get yourself back into condition to look for a job. In some cases you will have a soft landing after divorce thanks to spousal maintenance and child support. Otherwise, you will need to hit the ground running as far as finding a job is concerned. Begin your search for a job early, send out applications, talk to head-hunters and then find out what programs exist in your area to acquire skills or attend school at little to no cost. Again, this takes effort but the end result can pay huge dividends for you and your family.
More on the financial components of divorce will be discussed in tomorrow’s blog post
If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post 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 here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity to learn more about circumstances and the services our office can provide you and your family with.