By Robert M Going, Attorney
Divorce is naturally stressful, even under the best of circumstances. When you add in issues of child custody and visitation, division of assets, and debt, it becomes even more stressful.
If you’re a Lancaster County resident filing for divorce, there are steps you can take to make the process less traumatic for you and your family.
Don’t Focus Your Divorce on Revenge
The end of a marriage is often the result of wrongdoing by one or both spouses, so naturally, you may feel angry and hurt. Don’t assume that exacting revenge on your spouse will solve your problems. The more you try to make things difficult for your spouse, the more likely your spouse will retaliate, resulting in a more protracted and far more costly divorce process.
A drawn-out, nasty divorce also adds stress to an already stressful situation, especially for your children. You don’t need revenge to reach a fair settlement. Try to view your separation as a business deal, instead of a way to settle a score. You’ll likely speed up the process, save on legal fees, and reduce stress on your family.
Before You Divorce in Lancaster, Get a Separation Agreement
A separation agreement is a legally binding contract that outlines the rights and responsibilities of both spouses. This document can map out details concerning the division of property, spousal support, and child custody. You may think divorce proceedings will be quick and straightforward, or that a verbal agreement will be sufficient, but often a couple’s situation is more complicated than they realize. Without a separation agreement, each new issue that arises can result in disagreement and stress.
A separation agreement can address issues such as who is responsible for debts like mortgages, credit card bills, and student loans and how they will be paid. It will resolve tax details, such as who will claim the dependency exemptions and who will receive any tax refund.
Perhaps most importantly, a separation agreement will define how you will make decisions regarding your children, how they will divide their time between both parents, and who is responsible for child support. Establishing guidelines for temporary child support before the divorce is settled can ensure your child’s basic needs are met, including food, clothing, housing, daycare, and medical expenses.
Don’t Forget About Retirement Funds
Couples typically give a lot of thought to how they will split time with their children and how they will divide significant assets, such as their home, vehicles, and property. Often, however, they tend to forget some critical non-liquid assets, including pensions, 401ks, 403bs, IRAs, life insurance, brokerage funds, and stock options. All retirement, investment, and insurance assets are communal property that you should include in your divorce settlement.
Dividing these assets can be a complicated process with serious tax implications and a loss of benefits should you do it incorrectly. In the case of defined contribution plans such as 401ks, the distribution of assets may depend on the size of the plan before the marriage, during the marriage, and after the separation. Pension plans often require an actuary to calculate the value based on factors such as the employee’s years of service, salary, and life expectancy.
Some plans call for a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO, a special court order that allows the division of retirement benefits in a divorce. QDROs are necessary to avoid early withdrawal penalties, but they also are complicated legal documents with highly technical language outlining the distribution of assets.
A qualified divorce attorney can help you organize your assets, ensure that your spouse is not hiding any assets, and take the legal steps necessary for a stress-free and penalty-free transfer of assets.
Get a Custody Agreement in Place Immediately
A child custody agreement outlines which parent will have primary physical and legal custody of the children and whether custody will be split equally. If it is not, the agreement also will map out a visitation schedule for the noncustodial parent.
The end of a marriage is particularly stressful for children, which is why it is important to think through shared custody arrangements early, even before your spouse has moved out. An experienced divorce attorney can serve as a mediator to help negotiate and finalize a custody agreement that is fair to both parties and serves the best interests of the children.
As a mediator, a divorce lawyer also can diffuse emotional reactions and advise you on the best options for managing shared custody and child support in your unique family situation.
Be Careful With Social Media During the Divorce
No matter what you may think, nothing on social media is private or secure, and all of it can be used against you during proceedings. Think about how photos of your new car, your recent weekend getaway, or your fun night out will look when you’re trying to convey in court that you need financial support.
Social media can do even more harm when it comes to child custody. While posting photos of yourself dating or partying may help you to feel empowered at a time when you are hurting emotionally, those posts can end up backfiring in the long run.
In Pennsylvania, social media posts can be used as evidence that you are an unfit parent, even if they are taken out of context. Don’t post anything that would allow your former spouse to paint you as a partier rather than a responsible parent. If you’re in the middle of ending your marriage, it’s best not to post on social media at all.
Hire an Experienced Divorce Lawyer, Committed to Reducing Stress
Filing is trying enough without attempting to handle all the details alone. Hiring an experienced attorney who can protect your interests and the interests of your dependents can go a long way toward reducing stress.
A seasoned divorce lawyer will guide you through the separation and divorce process, help draw up a custody agreement, and ensure you receive the child support and alimony you deserve. Good legal counsel will also help you protect your assets, manage deadlines, help you deal with Protection From Abuse (PDA) filings, and advise you before you make crucial decisions.
If you’re considering divorce, contact the Law Offices of Going and Plank in downtown Lancaster. We will guide you through the process, help you organize your assets, and review your options for child custody, child support, and alimony. We can also offer the calm, professional support you need to minimize stress and ensure a fair settlement for you and your family.
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