Divorce is a tricky business. It's complicated to divide up what was a melded, combined life into two distinctly separate lives. It's even more complicated if you have complex assets or, of course, kids together. You might think that you know some things about divorce already, before you go through the process yourself. Your friends have told you that it's exhausting and expensive; that things might not go just as you think they will. That being said, there are plenty of things no one ever tells you about getting divorced as well, things that you don't realize even factor into the equation until after you've experienced them yourself, or you've convinced a friend or family member to be especially honest about their own experiences.
From what happens to your bank accounts and health insurance, to knowing when you should file and how long the process will take, even if you're both on the best of terms, there's a lot you probably don't know about divorce. Divorce can be difficult no matter how much you think that you and your partner will be able to get along and play nice throughout the process. Both of your individual lives and the lives of your kids will all change once it's all said and done (and sooner than that if you and your partner separate before making it official).
If you and your partner are discussing getting divorced, here are some things to consider that you probably have not yet added to your checklist.
If you never thought about what would happen to your health insurance after a divorce, it can actually be a bigger issue than you may have thought. "A lot of people are covered by a spouse’s health insurance plan through an employer and once you are divorced you can no longer be on that plan. Certain plans are subject to COBRA provisions, so you would get to keep the coverage and pay on the basis of COBRA, but not all plans are," Elysa Greenblatt, owner at Greenblatt Law, tells Romper. If your plan doesn't fall under that category, you could end up having to purchase private insurance in order to stay covered. Not only would that be an inconvenience, but a huge financial undertaking.
While you might think that any individual bank accounts the two of you have will simplify things and make it easy for you both to separate and keep those accounts that are in your name, it doesn't actually quite work that way in practice. "Even if you have all of your accounts and you just keep everything in your own name, that doesn’t mean that it’s yours in the divorce," Greenblatt says. "So we have clients come in all the time who say, ‘you know, we have nothing together. I have my own accounts, he has his own accounts and so there’s nothing to do here.’ But that’s actually not true under the law," and this can vary by state.
You might not have to split them evenly in the case of divorce, however. "Here in New York, there are arguments you can make not to split things if you’ve kept them in your own name, like you never had a real financial partnership because you kept your finances separately," Greenblatt adds. So while it's not a sure thing that you'll have to share your personal accounts, it's also kind of a gamble in many states because there's no assurance that you'll be able to keep your personal accounts separately either.
A divorce between you and your partner means, at most, two lawyers, right? Not exactly. As Greenblatt explains, in New York (for example), a judge might appoint an attorney for your child if there's a contested custody case. "[A]s a parent, you don’t think about the fact that you could have this person appointed, this person could be totally against your position, and you still have to pay for it," she says.
If you don't have kids, you might not need to spend as much time with your ex-partner in the future, but if you do have kids, you'll likely have to deal with them in some capacity for much of the rest of your life. "[Y]ou think you’re done with your ex, but if you have children, this is so not true," family and divorce attorney mediator and attorney Eileen Coen of Eileen Coen Mediation tells Romper. "Marriage might be temporary, but divorce is forever. You’re always gonna be your children’s parents." So don't expect that you can avoid your ex forever — there will be countless occasion for the two of you to cross paths again.
You likely are well-aware that divorce can be an expensive process, but it could actually be even more expensive than you thought you were prepared for going into it. Gabriella Formosa, an associate at Greenblatt Law, notes that counsel fees can really pile up. "The spouse who doesn’t have any money and expects that his or her spouse that has money will be paying, a lot of times, people think, ‘well, my spouse has all the money so my spouse is gonna pay my fees, I won’t have to worry about it,'" Greenblatt adds. "That’s not usually the case. You’re gonna have to come up with money up front to pay a lawyer in most circumstances and even if you get attorney fees, it usually doesn’t cover everything." So you might actually have to cough up more cash than you thought you would.
It's important to take into consideration when you should file for divorce. Greenblatt says, "Here in New York, when you file, you get what’s called a cut-off date and so any property that’s acquired after that isn’t marital." That means that while you might be separated for a long time before actually filing divorce papers, you could potentially end up having to split whatever you buy or get after moving out. Waiting to file (if you know for sure that you will) could end up hurting you or your partner and your family in the long-run.
You likely share a lot of things, from car insurance to family phone plans. Coen notes, "there’s a lot of administrative things to take care of, to disentangle financially, and to take care of yourselves."
Beyond those mundane tasks, there's also the matter of your retirement plans. Though you might think that your retirement plan is solely yours, it might not be. "It’s marital, whatever portion you’ve earned during your marriage, and there is a way to transfer funds from your retirement plan from one spouse to another on divorce without taxes and penalty," Coen says. It'll have to go into your partner's qualifying retirement plan, but it's doable and could end up happening during a divorce.
While you might think that divorce is a swift process, in some cases, it takes longer than you think. "Many people think that they can just 'file for divorce,' however, the first process is usually 'discovery,'" attorney Jessica Markham tells Romper by email. "All the financial accounts and expenses must be 'discovered' in order to determine a division of assets and possibly alimony. Depending on the size of the estate and the level of complexity of assets, that can be a herculean task. If there are businesses, trusts, pensions or overseas investments, it can require not only attorneys, but CPAs, financial advisors, valuation experts, actuaries and other experts that the lay person would not contemplate."
All of that back and forth — and inclusion of so many other experts — can take a lot longer than a "simple" divorce. While not all divorces will be this complicated, it's good to have it in mind if you think yours might be more involved.
Sadly enough, some of the friends that you assumed would stick by your side no matter what might not be so loyal when you're going through your divorce. "I have seen folks be blindsided by are how people they thought were their friends dropped them [or] began excluding them from social encounters," psychotherapist and divorce mediator Toni Coleman tells Romper by email. As if your divorce and changing family dynamic wasn't difficult enough, you might not have that support system that you thought you would.
While you and your partner probably just want to be and to get what's fair, unfortunately, it likely won't work out that way. There's no uniform set of standards as to what's fair and what isn't. "Divorce is not about justice, at all. There is no justice. It is really a way to — just like in every decision in life — figure out how to solve it in a way that you can live with," Coen says. "There’s nothing that’s perfect and you’re definitely not going to get paid back for something, or compensated for past wrongs — that doesn’t happen in a divorce. It just doesn’t." Focus on the future. It might not be fair, but it'll be over soon enough.
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