Avoid sabotaging yourself in divorce with the Three Bs

Divorce and divorce finance require some thought for a good outcome. Photo by Kim Bundo via Unsplash.

As you know, divorce is often a messy, emotional process. And, allowing emotions to rule decision-making is pretty much always a bad idea. It’s hard to think clearly about the situation, especially toward the beginning of the divorce, and especially if you’re having difficulty accepting that it is going to happen.

“I don’t see divorce as a failure. I see it as the end to a story. In a story, everything has an end and a beginning.” — Olga Kurylenko

But, it’s a good idea to think about what you want from the divorce. Notice I said “think”, not “feel”. What will allow you to move forward after it’s over? Will you need help in going back to school so you can then go back to work? Will you need to continue receiving income from a rental property? Do you want to completely sever ties with your spouse and move forward with your life separately?

If you have children, what is best for them? If you know the person you’re divorcing is actually a good parent, even if they’ve been a terrible partner to you, coparenting with equal time might be best. Would it be better to keep them in the same school district, or would they be better off near your hometown so your family can help with childcare?

Note that none of these questions is really about your current spouse. They have their own goals and their own agenda, which may not (and probably does not) line up with your own. They’ll take care of themselves.

Instead, the questions are all about you and your children if you have them. With a good sense for what your goals are in the divorce, you’ll be better able to evaluate proposals from the other side. Or, you can make proposals of your own as far as what the parenting plan and the financial settlement should look like.

In addition, thinking through your ideal outcomes prevents you from being so frustrated with the length of time it’s taking that you just take whatever assets you can to be done with it. I can’t tell you how many people (especially women) have told me they regret not asking for more in the divorce, but they were so tired of the process they just wanted it to end.

In order to develop your plan, remember The Three Bs: Breathe, Brainstorm, Be Realistic.

Breathe

I know I beat this drum a lot (my apologies, regular readers!) but making decisions while you’re in the grip of strong emotions is almost guaranteed not to end well. To add to the pressure, the decisions you make during the divorce can greatly affect your financial future afterward! When making any kind of financial decision, whether during divorce or not, having a clear head will produce better results.

It’s not easy. But one thing that does help is to settle your breathing. Fast, rapid breathing tells the body there’s danger, which gears up our reptilian brain to action. What you want at this time is for your executive function to override fear so you can think more clearly.

Therefore… before you begin, take three long, slow, deep breaths. You can hold it for a few seconds before exhaling. Make sure both the in-breath and the out-breath are slow. This helps deactivate the fear, so your rational mind can take over.

Brainstorm

After you’re calm and oxygenated, banish thoughts of your spouse. You want to list out the ideas that are best for you and your children (if any), not what’s best for your spouse. You also don’t want what’s worst for your spouse, even if you have a lot of resentment towards them. What’s bad for them is often bad for you as well, if not now then in the future. Focus on brainstorming what you want out of the divorce that would be positive for you. Find goals that you want to move toward because they will enrich your life.

Do not let yourself be interrupted by social media while you’re doing this. Don’t scroll through your feed looking for things that will make you feel bad, like pictures of your spouse with their new partner. (People do this. It’ll just make you crazier, so don’t.) It may be more helpful to write your ideas out on paper, if typing them on your phone or computer will make social media too tempting.

You can come up with more than one idea or goal for each topic. You might have an “ideal” outcome in mind, but you can also have another alternative that would be “acceptable”. Having these boundaries will help you negotiate. These aren’t all the questions to ask yourself, but should get you off to a good start.

  • Housing: Where do you want to live?
  • Income: Do you want to go back to school? It doesn’t have to be in your original field, if you went to college. Is there a certification you’d like to get? Will you go back to work?
  • Parenting schedule (if applicable): How much time should your children get with their other parent? Which holidays do you want them to have with your family?
  • Future relationship with current spouse: Do you want to be cordial (at least on your side)? Would you prefer to delete them completely from your life?
  • Other: Anything else you have a strong viewpoint on, such as a desire to run your own business?

Be realistic

Now that you’ve written down your goals, look them over. Can they actually be achieved, given what you know about your family’s situation?

Housing: Can you afford to live where you want?

  • If you stay in your current house, you may need to refinance the mortgage to remove your spouse from the loan. Can you qualify?
  • If you live in an affluent school district, and both of you have to work in order to be able to afford the house, you probably can’t afford to continue to live in that school district once you’re on one income.
  • If you’re thinking of moving to your hometown, will that be a logistical problem for your coparenting schedule?

Income: In most states, alimony or spousal support is not expected to last throughout your lifetime, especially for those below retirement age.

  • So what happens when that money runs out? Is there enough to handle two households? Can you support yourself?
  • If you got your degree 15–20 years ago and you’ve been a stay-at-home parent, the degree might not allow you to get a good job now. Fields like biology and technology change a lot over time, so you may need to look into a new certification, or even a different subject altogether. Just remember that it has to support you at some point — you won’t be able to make a career out of underwater basketweaving! Your spouse is probably not going to be able to afford to put you through med school either.

Parenting schedule: Unless your spouse has no relationship with the children, they will want some time with them. Does your plan work in terms of times and distance?

Future relationship: As I’ve said before, you can’t make anyone else do anything. You have control over your own actions.

  • If you have children, assuming the other parent has some relationship with them, cutting off all ties to your soon-to-be-ex is not possible.

Other: how much will these goals cost? Do you have the skills to do them or will you need to acquire them? How long will it take to come to fruition?

Summary

Be as rational as you can when deciding what you want the outcome to look like. Have an idea of what you want so you can negotiate something that works for you. Remember the Three Bs when you’re developing your wishlist: Breathe, Brainstorm, Be Realistic.

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