So here's the inside scoop. I've been a divorce attorney for 23 years and as a result, every single one of my friends (both actual friends, and Facebook friends) ask me for my advice when they're facing a divorce.
When I have friends who are getting divorced, and they ask me for advice, here's what I tell them. The real deal, the confidential, back-channel skinny. Beyond legal advice, which they can get anywhere.
These are my top tips for staying out of trouble:
Ignore Legal Smack Talk from Your Spouse: I love that spouses try and give each other legal advice. Really? Since when did your spouse go to law school and become a divorce lawyer? And you're listening? Heck, even if they're dishing out good advice, it pays to double check.
Question "My Friend Said": If your spouse talks about friends' divorces or what the lawyer plans on doing to you legally, ask:
• How many years did that friend's divorce take? • How much did it cost? • How much did your lawyer say that taking me to the cleaners would cost in legal fees? • Is your lawyer willing to put it in writing that they guaranteed that their result will be better than what I'm prepared to offer voluntarily?
You're safe with that last one---no lawyer would guarantee anything or put fees in writing so this will force your spouse to have an honest discussion with the lawyer about the pros and cons of pursuing any given action.
Watch Out For Non-Monetary Games: Keep an eye out for your spouse manipulating the kids. Make sure your bond with them remains strong. Don't bad-mouth your spouse---your kids will figure that out later and hate you, so keep the long term in mind.
Your spouse may think he or she is plotting and being strategic like some sort of Divorce 007. But at the end of the day, it's a business deal and a parenting plan. It is what it is. So don't let your imagination run away with you.
You can keep costs (and suspicion, and plotting) down by:
1. Being organized. Make a notebook with labeled dividers with all of the financial records (recent ones, at least) and tax returns (as many as you have copies of), a comparative market analysis (free from any realtor) of the value of your house, your most recent pay stub...and ideally you'll make your spouse a notebook, too.
I know that might sound crazy (making your adversary a notebook) but your spouse's attorney will charge for making a notebook and getting the records together (which could run up the bill by several thousand dollars) so if you can take the wind out of those sails from the get go (your spouse is entitled to all that info pursuant to law anyway) and all of the mystery out of your financial situation, you're ahead of the game.
Don't get paralyzed by your emotions. It's easy to sit down with a hole punch and a notebook and put stuff in by date. You don't need all your faculties to do that, so it's a good activity for when you're feeling lost.
2. Staying Sane. Make appointments with your therapist, make time for your kids (and don't talk about your spouse), play golf or ride bikes (ideally with your kids), make time with friends. Take care of yourself. Eat right and work out.
3. Don't taking the bait: Your spouse will say stuff to you just to get you riled up. Ignore it. "Obviously, this is a hot topic for both of us, so I'm not going to respond at this point. I do hope we can work all of this out, though, at some point." Then change the subject. Say that as many times as you have to.
Eventually, your spouse will get bored when it's clear you aren't going to fight back. This will freak your spouse out a little, particularly at first, so feel free to chuckle. When you start to behave differently than you have over the last eleventy-million years they're going to wonder what's up and watching that might be a little amusing as the old tricks don't work on you anymore.
4. Find that Special Someone--Quietly: If you decide you want to date or get laid, don't let anyone find out about it. Not under any circumstances. Your spouse will go bananas if you're with someone else, so avoid that at all costs. It doesn't matter if it's your spouse who suggested the divorce or found a new lover first. They still go nuts when they see you've moved on, too. I'm not saying don't do it. I'm saying don't let anyone find out.
Factor to Consider During a Split: Education Pays By Natalie Pace
Include this life line in your divorce settlement.
On June 29-30, 2011, President Bill Clinton brought together over 750 CEOs, NGOs, Nobel Prize winners and young entrepreneurs to figure out how to put America back to work. Why? There are three million jobs that are unfilled today. Filling those existing positions would go a long way to putting America back to work. So what's the hold-up? The biggest reason for so many unfilled jobs is that too many unemployed Americans lack the skills and education needed to fill the available positions. Which is why setting up a college fund (not just the "promise to save" but an actual fund) for the kids is gold in your divorce settlement--as much as custody and alimony.
Today, Americans without an education are seven times more likely to be without a job. There is 15% unemployment among Americans without a high school diploma. Meanwhile, almost everyone with a doctorate is working -- with only 1.9% unemployment among PhDs. As you can see in the graph below, education pays in dollars, too. PhDs earn almost four times as much as someone without a high school diploma.
While not all jobs require a degree, new jobs quite often require acquiring new skills. Of the 3 million jobs that remain unfilled at this time, lower-skilled work, like construction and manufacturing, remain the weakest areas of the American labor market.
There are some initiatives that are helping to solve the skills and education gap. Georgia Works allows employers to recruit, train and then hire staff. As Michael L. Thurman, Georgia's former labor commissioner, explains, with this initiative, the employer gets to "audition" the employee. The Bay Area Medical Academy takes welfare recipients and others on the fringe of society and teaches them to become medical assistants in the San Francisco area. The Green City Force trains and hires young workers to paint rooftops white in New York City. This simple strategy reduces the temperature on the roof by up to 40 degrees and can cut the energy bill in the building by up to 18%. However, far too many of the uneducated labor force in the U.S. are slipping into unemployable status.
The Honor System I've spoken to many divorcees who had divorce settlements that mandated money aside for college, only to discover when it came time to pay tuition that no funds had actually been saved. Or the college fund had been drained to pay other bills. It's difficult, expensive, time-consuming and simply too late to try and go back to court for a judgment in time to keep your kid in college. (College admission is very competitive these days.) That is why setting up a 529 college fund that both parents are able to monitor annually (at minimum) is a safeguard against this disaster. But which brokerage and which fund are best?
529 College Savings Plans 529 College Savings Plans vary dramatically, so much so that FINRA.org, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, has issued an Investor Alert, warning Americans that "investors may be shortchanging themselves by investing in 529 college savings plans with high fees [and] plans that currently do not offer them state tax benefits." The FINRA.org Investor Alert offers "8 easy lessons that, if followed, will help you make smart college savings plan choices."
Once you set up the right fund, the great news is that if the winds of Wall Street fall in your favor, over time, your monthly investment and gains can compound - providing your college student with far more for that Ivy League (or Junior College League) education than you could have ever saved.
Careers of the Future Creating the college ethos (in both homes) is just as important as setting up the funds. So be sure that both you and your ex are reinforcing the value of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) to your tweens. STEM underlies almost every job today. Even car mechanics are working on computers.
Biotechnology, technology, smart phones, cloud computing, health services and engineering companies are hiring at a rapid pace, and some of these professions - especially in computer technology -- have more jobs than applicants. But other emerging industries are on the horizon as well. If Secretary of Energy Dr. Steven Chu and President Obama have their way, clean energy will become a major driver of American industry going forward. And not just to reduce global warming. This focus on clean energy is intended to put the U.S. in the forefront of one of the strongest new global growth industries.
According to Secretary Chu, "The world will demand clean energy and high energy products. This is an international competition. We still generate the best ideas in the world." Currently, clean energy companies in the U.S., like Applied Materials, KLA Tencor and Veeco Instruments, are leading Wall Street in revenue growth, having more than doubled sales over the past two years, with 80% of the revenue coming from Asia.
As President Clinton pointed out at the CGI America Conference, "We're spending too much money on today and yesterday and not enough on tomorrow." When that is the case in a divorce, it could end up costing you a ton of extra money and sleepless nights down the road. You don't want to end up with an unemployed 26-year old sleeping on your couch.
About Natalie Pace: Natalie Pace is the author of You Vs. Wall Street and the founder and CEO of the Women's Investment Network, LLC. She is a blogger on HuffingtonPost.com and a repeat guest on national television and radio shows such as Good Morning America, Fox News, CNBC, ABC-TV, Forbes.com, NPR and more. As a philanthropist, she has helped to raise more than two million for Los Angeles public schools and financial literacy. Follow her on Facebook.com/NWPace. For more information please visit NataliePace.com.