I’m not sure what constitutes a “good” divorce. But certainly how much you wind up paying your lawyer you must weigh in there somewhere.
Experts say that if a soon-to-be-divorced couple can (a) manage to remain civil (b) keep their emotions in check (c) find a way to work out finances in a way that is non-adversarial and THEN (d) bring in the divorce lawyer to dot the i’s and file the court documents, the couple can save a substantial amount of money.
According to Nihara Choudhri’s The Complete Guide to Divorce Law (Citadel Press) — a divorce lawyer should actually be a couple’s last step. All to often points out Choudhri, couples don’t do their research ahead of time and wind up spending anywhere from $150 to $300 dollars an hour several times over to get answers to basic information regarding divorce that they could have come up with on their own.
So — you’re wondering — if getting a divorce lawyer is the last thing you should do, what then, is the first? If you answered, “get aquainted with the divorce laws in your respective state” then you go to the head of the class. If you didn’t know that — then guess what — you know it now.
The website www.divorceinfo.com points out that once a couple gets up to speed on divorce laws where they live, then its time to take a stab at listing and dividing property and assets. That may be easier said than done I know. (Heck, if you worked this well as team early on maybe you wouldn’t be looking to get a divorce in the first place. Anyway — both parties are going to look at property and assets differently and each is going to have their own idea on how it should be divided up. That’s o-k — say the hired guns — just get it down on paper. And while you’re at it, both the soon-to-be ex-husband and wife need to fill out budgets and take a realistic look at what it will cost each of them to live separately.
If a couple can get this much done without strangling one and another than that alone is cause for celebration. The next step is the important one – if a couple choose to do it, they can either construct and attempt to draft up the financial agreement themselves and have lawyers review each draft or they can attempt to settle things with a neutral mediator. According to Nihara Choudhri, this step is important because using a mediator is often a costly one. Mediation can usually run between $1000 and $5000 dollars and even more depending on the assets to be divided up.
Time to take a brief pause and fill you in on a way-cool new settlement option (as way-cool as you can get in a divorce). It’s called the collaborative divorce and this basically entails both spouses pledging in writing that not to go to court. Sure, each person may have their own lawyer, but the approach is decidedly non-adversarial. You can find more information at www.collaborativepractice.com. The most positive aspect about collaborative divorce is that a divorce can be worked out at a nearly 50% savings of what a regular lawyer vs. lawyer divorce would cost.
A fact-filled article in Kiplinger’s Persoal Finance magazine (Oct 2006) points out that 90% of divorce cases are settled without going to trial. That’s a good sign, but the flip side is that often neither party ultimately gets what they are looking for.
Some of the big-ticket items generally haggled over during a divorce:
Insurance – Separate policies should be a valid argument at the beginning of a marriage — say experts – instead of at the end. Barring that, spouses can generally stay on the other spouse’s employer-provided health insurance for up to 36 months.
The House – typically something the wife wants, but if there’s not going to be enough money for upkeep after the kids are grown and child support disappears, the wife could be hit with a huge tax bill down the line.
Estate Planning – Beneficiary designations need to be changed on wills, annuities, insurance-policies and retirement accounts. And the terms of divorce need to spelled out in the new will as well.
Retirement Accounts – According to www.divorceinfo.com, divorcing spouses are entitled to a share of each other’s retirement accounts and pensions, although in most states the amount of money is limited to the benefits that were earned during the marriage.
Like I said several paragraphs ago, I’m not sure exactly what constitutes a “good” divorce. But certainly a bad divorce is one in which both spouses lose a lot more than just their marital status.