Recently on our divorce forum a user asked, “I have been married for twenty years. My husband just came home and told me he wants a divorce. I am at a loss. Can you give me some practical advice about the divorce issues I need to consider?”
Divorce Issues overview
Divorce has been compared to death. Not only is it emotionally and physically draining, the decisions you make now while you are in a stressful state can have a major impact on your future financial security. With that in mind, the first step is to find the best divorce lawyer you can afford. Divorce does not have to be adversarial, but you will need a legal expert to help you navigate the process. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the top issues you will need to consider.
Top Divorce issues:
- How will your property be divided?
One of the most common divorce issues is the division of property. State laws will generally determine how many assets are divided. For example, there are currently nine states in the United States (AZ, CA, ID, LA, NE, NM, TX, WA, and WI) that are community property states. In these states all of your joint marital assets which you and your spouse have obtained during your marriage will be divided equally.
If you live in one of these states and you have been married 20 years there’s a good chance that most of what you own was acquired while you were married.
With this in mind, state laws might determine how the lion share of your property is distributed. The good news is property division does not have to be contentious, but if it is you can hire a mediator to help resolve the conflicts.
- Identify all of your debts.
Not only will assets have to be divided, debts will also have to be divided and paid. Depending on state laws, the two of you may be responsible for debt accumulated while you are married. In some cases, however, your spouse may be responsible for debt which they have in their own name. In general, however, debt payment will need to be negotiated by either paying off the debt prior to divorce, paying debt in exchange for more assets, or coming to an agreement about how the two of you will repay debts.
Ideally, your spouse will be forthcoming with all of your financial information, thus simplifying the divorce process. But either way you will have to gather all of your financial data, including a credit report from each credit reporting agency, and make sure you know what debts the two of you have accumulated.
- Understand your retirement benefits.
If you have been married for 20 years you may still be entitled to a percentage of your spouse’s retirement benefits. It’s important to educate yourself. In some cases, you might be able to access the money now (although an early withdrawal penalty could be assessed). Before doing anything, however, you should talk to a financial planner, lawyer or accountant who can help you make the right decisions and avoid unnecessary taxes and penalties.
- Make good decisions for child custody.
You did not mention whether you have children living at home, but child custodial agreements remain one of the most emotional and contentious legal battles fought during divorce. Ideally, you and your spouse will be able to create your own child custody agreement. If you cannot come to an agreement, however, the courts will intervene and will help create a plan they believe is in the best interest of your children.
Educate yourself about the divorce process and divorce issues. Get the best legal help you can to ensure a smooth divorce.
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