By Trey Yates
Women at midlife who experience a major life change such as divorce face some tough obstacles. Yet, it has been my experience that women who approach divorce by doing their homework and engaging in the process with a positive attitude, do very well. I have identified five very important areas that all women going through divorce should consider. I call them the Five Keys to a fuller, happier and healthier life post-divorce.
- Securing legal representation
If you are thinking about divorce, it is a good idea to seek legal advice early, even before you have made a decision or filed. Consulting with an experienced divorce attorney early will help you consider a number of factors that may or may not have occurred to you, including the timing of your filing, your spousal rights under Texas law, what is separate and what is community property, who qualifies for spousal maintenance, and much more.
A good place to start is by looking for an attorney who is Board Certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Family Law. Of the more than 70,000 attorneys licensed to practice in Texas, only 7,000 have earned the right to be recognized as board certified. Board certified attorneys must pass rigorous testing, have significant trial experience and take about twice as much continuing education as non-board certified family law attorneys. I also advise women to meet with several top divorce attorneys and find one who they can connect with and feel good about.
- Sorting out your marital finances
One of the most important aspects of the divorce process involves finances. For starters, you must gain a clear understanding of the current state of your marital finances. You must also come to understand how divorce law affects divorce finances, and how decisions made during the divorce process will likely impact you and your family for the rest of your lives. Make copies of all marital financial documents you can get your hands on — bank statements, investment accounts, IRAs and 401(k)s, credit card statements, mortgage statements, income tax returns for the last three years and credit reports on yourself and your spouse. Here are some additional issues to research and consider:
- What happens to the family home?
- What level of child or spousal support is possible?
- What about pensions and investment accounts?
- What about dividing retirement plans?
- What assets and debts are considered separate or community property?
- What are the tax implications of your divorce?
Depending on how complex your financial estate is, you may want to consult with a CPA or a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst to help you find and evaluate all marital assets and debts in order to reach an equitable settlement.
- Refreshing your life skills
Your lifestyle is likely to change dramatically following divorce. Now is the time to think about and plan for what lies ahead for you. Your future is in your hands — maybe for the first time in your life. You have the freedom to pursue your long-forgotten dreams or goals. How will you support yourself? Maybe it’s time to get that master’s degree. You may have always wanted to open a bed-and-breakfast in the Texas Hill Country, move to the mountains, visit remote regions of Asia or teach school. Whatever your dreams, now is the time to plan and prepare for how you will make them a reality.
- Attaining a renewed state of wellness
Many women focus on caring for their husbands and families for much of their lives. As you begin to transition through divorce, now it the time to focus on yourself and your needs – physical, psychological and spiritual. You may benefit from engaging a therapist to help you and your family handle the stress and emotional responses to divorce.
Now is also a great time to experiment and try new things. Try a new hairstyle and maybe, a new hair color. Take a painting class. Update your wardrobe with some new pieces. Sign up for a yoga class or get a personal trainer. This is also a great time to clean closets and donate what you no longer want. Out with the old and in with the new — you!
- Making new friends and connections
Some of your “couple” friends may or may not make the transition with you through divorce, so plan now to look for opportunities to make new friends. Your church or place of worship may offer events and activities for singles. Another good idea is reaching out and reconnecting with old friends.
There is also the whole world of online dating if that sparks your interest. A great way to expand your social circle is to take a class in something that sparks your interest – – maybe at the local community college. Volunteering for an organization or cause is also a good way to help others, make new friends and engage in productive activities.