How to Prepare for Your Divorce
Making the decision that you need a divorce is often the most difficult element of the very difficult process, but you can rest assured that you also have challenging work ahead. The emotional roller coaster that is divorce can quickly become overwhelming, which makes preparing for the long journey forward a great place to start. Fortunately, there are some prep basics that can help.
Understand the Timeline
Couples generally want their divorces to proceed as swiftly as possible, but rushing the process is ill-advised. Your financial and parental rights hang in the balance, which makes paying the level of attention necessary paramount. In the State of Texas, there is a required 60-day waiting period after filing for divorce before it can be finalized. This said, however, unless you and your divorcing spouse are on the same page regarding nearly every divorce term, it is likely to take longer than these 60 days to hammer out the details. The better prepared you are from the outset; however, the better prepared you will be to proceed with dispatch.
Gathering Your Documents
The financial elements of your divorce, which include the division of your marital property and spousal maintenance (if applicable), will hinge on your financial situation, and establishing this will hinge on your financial documentation. It cannot be stressed enough that once you make the difficult determination that you need a divorce, it is time to gather and compile your financial documents. As time progresses, the process can become more difficult – especially if your divorcing spouse decides to dig in his or her heels on the matter (and the emotional landscape of divorce is often such that it can be difficult to predict how one’s normally rational spouse might react).
You are going to need that financial documentation, and the sooner you begin collecting it, the better off you will be. Further, the more complicated your finances, the more complicated gathering the necessary documents are likely to be. Consider all the following categories:
You and your spouse’s income from work
Your household bills
Your bank accounts
You and your spouse’s retirement accounts
Your real estate holdings
Your overall financial portfolio
All financial information related to business ownership
Any additional financial tools
Any items or collections of value, such as art, jewelry, watches, vehicles, and more
In Texas, all that property that you acquire when you are married is considered marital property that will need to be divided equitably – or fairly when the relevant factors are taken into consideration – between the two of you. Two exceptions to this include:
Gifts that either of you received in your name alone
Inheritances that either of you received in your name alone
Those properties and assets that either of you brought into the marriage with you – and that you kept separate throughout – will remain your separate property. It is important to point out, however, that keeping property separate throughout a marriage is no easy feat, and identifying separate property during the divorce process often becomes a point of contention.
RELATED READINGS: Divorce and Your Marital Finances
Negotiating the Terms of Your Divorce
The meat of your divorce involves hammering out the primary terms of the divorce, and if you and your spouse are able to find common ground between yourselves, you can review the terms you have landed on with your respective divorce attorneys and the path forward from here should be relatively pain-free. Most couples, however, encounter a sticking point or two. Your options at this point include turning to your respective divorce attorneys to negotiate on behalf of each of you, and if this does not get you where you need to be, turning to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) option, such as mediation.
At mediation, you and your divorce attorney, your spouse, and his or her divorce attorney, and a professional mediator who guides the proceedings will engage in a back-and-forth negotiation process that will help you better understand your options and how the court would likely rule, which can help facilitate negotiations considerably.
Any terms that you are unable to resolve between yourselves outside of court will need the court’s intervention. Couples generally prefer to keep the decision-making process between themselves (to the extent possible), which can also help advance negotiations.
RELATED READINGS: Divorcing? Prepare to Negotiate
Setting Your Priorities
An important aspect of preparing for your divorce is setting your priorities. If, for example, you believe that it is in your children’s best interests to remain in your family home with you as their primary custodial parent – your negotiation efforts should focus on this goal (rather than taking a scattershot approach). Establishing the priorities that you are willing to go to the mat for and those that have more wiggle room built in can make you a better negotiator and can improve your chances of achieving your goals. Divorce is all about compromise, and once you accept this fact, you will be better prepared to move forward.
The Terms of Your Divorce
The prep work for your divorce is all about gearing up to resolve the terms of your divorce, and although your divorce will be utterly unique to you, the terms that must be resolved remain the same for everyone.
Your Child Custody Arrangements
If you and your divorcing spouse share children, your child custody arrangements will be of primary importance. In Texas, child custody breaks down into both legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody involves the decision-making aspect of divorce and who will be making the important, big-picture parenting decisions moving forward, including:
Decisions about your children’s schooling
Decisions about your children’s religious upbringing
Decisions about your children’s healthcare needs
Decisions about your children’s extracurricular activities
This decision-making authority can be allotted in any of the following ways:
You and your children’s other parent make every decision together.
You and your children’s other parent make every decision together, but one of you has tie-breaking authority for any decisions that ultimately deadlock you.
One of you takes on this decision-making authority in sole capacity.
You and your children’s other parent divide this responsibility according to the kind of decision that is being made.
The kinds of decisions that need to be made on a daily basis – like whose turn it is to take out the garbage and what the snack options are – remain firmly under the decision-making authority of the parent who has the kids at the time.
Physical custody guides when the children are with you and when they are with your ex, and while the scheduling options are basically endless, there are two primary modes of dividing your parenting schedules, including:
One of you becomes the primary custodial parent, and the children spend the majority of their overnights with this parent.
You and your ex split the number of overnights you have with the children down the middle (more or less).
It is important to note here that the court makes every child-based decision in accordance with its perception of the child's best interests. If you need the court to determine this divorce term on your behalf, it will take a wide range of variables into careful consideration. First and foremost, the law believes that children are best served when they have the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time with both parents. The court may also attempt to maintain the status quo to the degree possible (in an attempt to minimize the extreme stress that almost inevitably accompanies divorce). This means that the court may be moved to keep the basic outline of the living situation you implemented during the divorce process.
The state holds both parents responsible for supporting their children financially – until each child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school (whichever happens later), and child support is the tool that it uses to help ensure this happens. A wide range of factors goes into the determination of child support, including:
Each parent’s income and assets
The age and individual needs of each child
Each parent’s financial ability to contribute to the children’s support
The amount of time each parent spends with the children
The earning potential of the obligee (the parent who pays child support) if it is different from his or her actual income
The childcare expenses incurred by either parent that is necessary for him or her to remain employed
Whether or not alimony plays a role in the divorce, and if so, who pays what amount to whom
The cost of the childrens’ healthcare insurance and out-of-pocket medical expenses and whom they are paid by
The cost of travel for either parent to have his or her parenting time
Any other factor deemed relevant by the court
Very generally, the parent who is the higher earner will have the child support obligation (even if the couple splits parenting time equally or nearly equally.
In Texas, alimony is officially called spousal maintenance, and it is intended to help balance the post-divorce financials between ex-spouses. Basically, this means that if one spouse experiences a financial downturn and the other has the means to help, alimony may play a role. The factors that generally trigger alimony include:
The couple was married for at least ten years, and the spouse seeking alimony does not have the financial means to support himself or herself and lacks the ability to earn an income that meets his or her basic needs.
The spouse seeking alimony is unable to earn enough income to meet his or her basic needs due to a significant physical or mental disability.
The spouse seeking alimony is the primary custodial parent of a child who requires significant ongoing care and/or supervision (due to a physical or mental disability) that prevents the parent from working outside the home.
The obligee was convicted of an act of family violence against the other spouse and/or their shared children within two years of filing for the divorce (or while the divorce is pending).
The varied factors that go into the determination of alimony’s length and amount include the following:
The duration of the marriage
Each spouse’s ability to provide for his or her own reasonable needs
Each spouse’s level of education and employment skills and the amount of time required for the spouse seeking alimony to acquire the necessary education or training to gain greater financial independence
The age, employability, work history, and physical and emotional health of the spouse seeking support
Whether or not child support plays a factor in the divorce and the effect it has on the payor’s finances
Whether either spouse wasted, hid, disposed of, destroyed, or otherwise artificially decreased marital assets
Whether either spouse contributed to the other’s earning power
Any contributions to the marriage that either made in the form of housekeeping and/or childcare
Any marital misconduct
Any other factor the court deems relevant
The Division of Your Marital Property
As mentioned, your marital property will be divided in a manner deemed equitable or fair. While your separate property will remain your separate property, the line between separate property and marital property can easily become blurred over the course of a marriage. Some of the factors that play a pivotal role in how property is divided in a Texas divorce include:
The size of the marital estate
The amount of separate property owned by each spouse
Any age difference between spouses
Any future anticipated inheritances of either spouse
Any improper use of or wasting of marital assets
The disparity of earning potential between spouses
If fault played a role in the dissolution of the marriage
Each spouse’s relative health
Turn to an Experienced Killeen Divorce Attorney for the Legal Help You Need
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a divorce attorney who takes great pride in his impressive track record of successfully protecting his client’s parental and financial rights throughout the divorce process – regardless of how complicated. For more information, please do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 today.