First: Let’s break it down
Divorce is both a transaction and a lifestyle. At dtour.life we will educate you, prepare you and guide you on this journey. We are intent on bridging the gap between the human experience of divorce and the legal system. We want to change the experience for everyone – men, women, mothers, fathers, children and all family law professionals. We believe that the lack of clarity and inefficiencies in the process contribute to the protracted timelines, expense and suffering; we have built this platform to change all that.
Divorce at 10,000 Feet: Money and Children
Divorce is a transaction comprised of two components: money and children. That is not to ignore or marginalize the multiple layers of emotion, be it grief, regret, betrayal, anger, or any other type of gut-wrenching emotion. But, at its core it is a transaction governed by the family law code in every state. So let’s strip away the emotion and family narrative, just for a moment, and explore these two areas.
Money. Whether we think of it this way, or not, the marriage contract is a financial contract or a business contract. So when a marriage is terminated in divorce, there is a process to unwind the financials. To break it down further, financials in divorce are mostly addressed in four categories:
1. Separate Property
a. Identification and value of any property that existed before the date of marriage, (i.e., cash, bank account, stock, real estate, personal property such as art, furniture, etc.)
b. Identification of any gift or inheritance to one spouse during the dates of marriage.
c. Identification of any portion of an asset that might be claimed as separate property, for example the down payment of a house that originated from separate property funds.
For a separate property claim to be upheld, documentation must be provided to support its existence and value. It is also necessary to clarify if any of these assets or debt were treated in a manner, such as co-mingling, that has altered its character. (Different states handle separate property differently, so it is imperative that you consult with your local attorney.)
2. Assets and Debts
a. Identification and value of assets.
Real estate, bank accounts, automobiles, stock, business ownership, etc., with documentation to establish value such as appraisals and bank statements.
b. Identification and value of debts
Mortgages, lines of credit, student loans, car loans, personal loans, etc., with documentation to establish value such as bank statements and promissory notes.
All state divorce paperwork requires each spouse to disclose everything they know about every asset and debt, but we also find that the forms do not facilitate the gathering of information essential to the settlement. This process alone can often take months and cost a small fortune, yet it is the foundation of every divorce. We have designed an easy-to-use tool to assist spouses and professionals to develop a list of assets and debts with both a summary and detail page for each item. This is the tool the professionals will use to discuss the distribution of the assets less the debt and address the granular detail that is often missing.
3. Personal Property
Personal property refers to furniture, artwork, appliances, electronics, jewelry, collections, etc. Sometimes the distribution of these items has to do with value, and sometimes it has to do with just splitting it up. If there are objects of value, then often an appraisal or other document to support the value is required and then this is considered an asset added to the net worth statement. (Often gifts, for example a piece of jewelry or a watch from one spouse to the other, is considered a gift and therefore separate property and not considered as a family asset. In other cases a gift of significant value, such as a very expensive car, might be classified as a marital asset. Check with your professional for legal guidance.)
4. Income and Expense
Alimony/Spousal Support or Maintenance payments and Child Support awards are based entirely on the income and expenses of each spouse.
a. Identification of all sources of income
Employment income, other compensation including bonuses, stock, passive income from rental properties, investments, etc., with documentation to support the numbers.
b. Identification of all expenses
Rent, mortgage payment, car payment utilities, groceries, credit card payments, out of pocket medical expenses, dues, clothing, entertainment, etc.
A professional might ask for all the expenses the family has spent in the past or they might ask for a forward looking budget (i.e. what cash you will need for future expenses). In all cases, the report that details the income and expense (i.e. a cash flow statement) is required. We find that the court forms for expenses do not accurately reflect a family’s real cost of living, so we have developed an expense tool and a budget tool to help you evaluate various budgets based on various lifestyle decisions. This is often overlooked and yet it is an essential component of settlement discussions.
Children. It is truly impossible to express the depth of emotion and often fear that consumes parents at the thought of divorce and what life will look like for their children, and themselves, within a new family structure. It makes no difference if they are 2 years old, 12 years old, or even 17 years old. Everyone will give you advice and tell you how resilient children are, that this is “their” journey, and yet it remains a completely devastating experience for everyone involved, including extended family. If we provide better clarity we believe families might make smarter choices.
1. Custody (abbreviated, see Custody- Defined for more information)
Legal Custody refers to decision-making authority. If parents have “joint legal custody,” it means that they will mutually make decisions on all matters of education, religious upbringing and medical care. If a parent is granted sole legal custody, it means that they can independently make those decisions, or ideally, make them jointly, but if agreement is impossible, then the person with sole legal custody has the right to make the final decision.
Physical Custody refers to where the child lives. If parents have “joint physical custody,” it means that the child has two homes, subject to a schedule. The child might spend 30% with one parent and 70% with the other parent, but it is still joint physical custody. If a parent has sole physical custody, it means the child lives solely with one parent and the other parent might have a visitation schedule.
2. Court Process
Every state has its own legal process for establishing legal and physical custody. We will begin to identify it state-by-state and bring that to you, soon. For now, we will focus on the methodology that we believe should be strongly considered, whenever possible (though we know there are many situations that preclude this and we will address those situations in forthcoming content).
3. Parenting Plan
Despite the emotional challenges, whenever possible, think about “custody” as a schedule and agreements and less about ownership or a triumph over the other. Identify what is most important to you as a parent, explore the calendar and holidays, family events, rituals, etc., and consider how these children will experience their lives. It will be different than you imagined, and often crushingly disappointing, but there is value on family resources and absence of emotional discord. (See both “Custody- Defined” and “What is a Parenting Plan?” Parenting Plan: Agreements and Parenting Plan: The Schedule for more information.)
Second: Where do you start?
1. dtour.life: Education
We are building a comprehensive library of educational topics to educate and inform every family about the issues that are most important to them. For some families, child support is the most important issue, for others it is credit card debt, and for others it might be the shared parenting schedule. We are just getting started, so come back frequently for new posts.
2. dtour.life: Financial Tools
a. Answer questions to develop a case profile with all the necessary statistics about your family and relationship.
b. Enter all the data you have about your assets and debts.
c. Consult with an attorney, or if you have retained an attorney, continue to build out all of the information to have as the case proceeds.
3. dtour.life: Custody/Shared Parenting Tools
a. Learn more about parenting plan development, hire a mediator and begin the process.
This is your divorce; don’t let it happen to you.
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