In my previous post, I asked 10 questions you’d want answered during the separation phase of your divorce.
There are, naturally, other steps to take during a divorce.
One of the most important is working through the financial settlement with your ex.
The financial settlement phase is, put simply, how you and your ex are going to split your current financial resources and what level of ongoing involvement you’re each going to have in each other’s financial lives.
It’s working out what you’re going to do with the family home, with your superannuation, your investments and other assets.
It’s deciding how the children will be financially supported, as well as meeting your respective ongoing financial requirements (within reason).
This is a big topic…
There’s a lot to consider – but I really believe that focusing on answering these ten questions first will help set your direction and help you avoid being smothered by the blizzard of questions and doubts that can inevitably arise during this phase.
A. ARE YOU SAFE?
The statistics around domestic violence are enough to make one’s blood run cold.
I’m in the privileged position – like most men – of these stats also being the (inadequate) proxy for fully understanding the horror and fear a hostile partner can wreak on your life.
Your situation will be unique, but if there’s any question around your safety, I hope you know of, and feel confident in, the support services available.
Because, as with the initial separation, this is THE question you need answered before doing anything else.
I repeat my point from that post as well that Victoria has a 24/7 family violence support service, which can be found at www.safesteps.org.au.
I hope you don’t need it, but it is there.
B. WHO’S YOUR LAWYER?
There are, I’m sure, some completely amicable divorces that occur smoothly with plenty of easy discussions and no hard feelings.
But even those divorces should involve some level of legal assistance.
And for those with more complexity – children, intricate financial arrangements, emotional anguish – this is even more critical.
They’re invaluable when negotiating the specifics of your financial settlement as well. They will protect the best interests of the kids and make sure you’re looking after your interests too.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should find yourself a combative champion to take you through the court system.
There are plenty of options within the legal process for having your divorce finalised.
And a great lawyer – and you really don’t want anything but a great lawyer – will explain your options to you, help you navigate the process and most critically, protect your best interests, and those of your children.
You might also like to find out more about the practitioners of collaborative family law, a different approach that tries to avoid too much of the conflict and discontent that can arise.
Some of these are not exactly bargain options but be upfront with your lawyer around your budget and ability to pay their fees and they’ll help you as much as they can.
In Victoria, the Legal Aid website provides a really good summary of your options for different legal services too.
Some of them – such as the Community Legal Centres – offer these services for free.
C. DO I HAVE THE FULL FINANCIAL PICTURE?
Any negotiation has to be based on a full accounting of your current financial situation – and that of your ex.
There are plenty of stories of somebody trying to ‘hide’ assets in different structures, companies or even countries.
Basically – don’t be that person.
Be frank, clear and honest.
Any hint of impropriety or dishonesty is simply going to trigger your ex’s (or their lawyers) suspicions and lead to investigations and, when discovered, severe repercussions.
I’m not a lawyer, but from what I understand, this kind of behaviour is frowned upon by the courts.
Be upfront about what you have and what you owe. And I think that gives you the right to be upfront about what you think you’re going to need in the future.
D. WHAT INCOME DO YOU NEED TO LIVE (NOW AND IN THE FUTURE)?
Here’s where I believe a financial adviser can really add value to the settlement process.
Your financial future has – inevitable and irrevocably – changed. What you had planned, the vision you had for your future, no longer exists
So it’s crucial that you take some time to work out what kind of future you want now. Part of this has to be how it’ll actually be funded.
And step one of that is working out how much it’ll cost.
Which means putting together two budgets (two more than most people ever want to do!):
– The first one is what you need to live now.
– Include things like rent or mortgage payments, reasonable estimates for your utilities, living expenses like food and groceries, as well as anything else you might require like debt repayments;
– The second one is an estimated accounting of the life you want to have.
Big questions come out of this (some of which are covered below) and it can be a fairly big discussion. Conversations that financial advisers are well-equipped to help with.
This exercise will give you two figures – call them Now and Then.
These can then form the (informed) basis of your settlement negotiations.
Knowing what you need and what you want – and knowing the difference – puts you in control of your side of the negotiation.
These figures also flow into every other part of the settlement discussion.
Knowing your income requirements means you can work out what level of assets you’re going to need.
And which assets will best support your living requirements.
It also means when it comes to the compromise part of the negotiation – as it inevitably will – you know what you can give up, and what it actually means for you.
Working out your answer to this question is incredibly empowering so I strongly encourage you to work on it – or find someone that can help you with finding your answer.
E. HOW WILL CUSTODY WORK?
This question is perhaps the most emotive of an indelibly emotional process.
Honestly, I don’t really have any advice or guidance on this point – other than to agree with everyone pushing to put the kids interests first.
This is such a tough discussion to come to terms with – where will the kids live, how many nights a week, how will you arrange pickups and drop offs, school, activities, the whole gamut of parental life.
This is not an easy conversation to have so I encourage you to speak with the helpful advisers at Family Relationships Australia, because they can help you build a structure to help you deal with this enormous change.
There’s plenty of information to digest here, so I’m going to end Part 1 of this post here.
We’ll be back next with the next part of the 10 Questions You Want Answered – The Settlement.
As always, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to get in touch directly via [email protected].
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