EP 149: I was Served! How to Respond to Divorce Papers

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You’re listening to the Divorce and Your Money show, the number one podcast that discusses the complex business of divorce. I’m your host, Shawn Leamon, MBA and certified divorce financial analyst. You can visit us at divorceandyourmoney.com.

In this episode, I want to discuss the first few moments about what you should do when you are served divorce papers, and also some things to watch out for and things you shouldn’t do when you’re served divorce papers. Those first few moments, first few hours, first few days can be some of the most difficult. And while I’m going to focus on the person who is just served divorce papers, even if you’re the one who is doing the serving of the papers, there’s a lot of stuff in here that you should follow and watch out for as well so you know what to think about. Because it’s general advice, but I want to approach it from the one of, “Oh my gosh. The paper just came. Now what?”

I’m going to discuss five tips if you were just served. The first one is just to breathe. Second is get organized. Third, get a team together. Fourth, see if you can communicate with your spouse. And fifth is work on your emotional health. I’m just going to jump right in.

Step one, you have been served papers. Now what? You breathe. Those first few moments are filled with adrenaline, filled with lots of emotions. Even if you were expecting this day to come, that moment when it becomes real can be transformative. It’s an oh crap moment. It’s, “Yeah, this is really happening, and this is really ending.” And even if you know that you’re getting divorced for a reason, but even if things were going okay or at least civilly with your spouse, all of a sudden the game changes when those papers finally come. You could be sad. You could be angry. You can feel anything in between.

But, those initial moments that those papers are served are critical, and critical that you don’t do anything. When I say do anything, it’s a good time to act irrationally and act out of emotion, whatever that emotion is. Whatever you do in the heat of the moment is usually not the right action, and you should regret it, and you could regret it. So when those papers come, give them a read. I know when you’re reading them you might not even be able to see the words on page. You know that there are words there and you know that they’re in your language, but the amount of emotions involved, maybe you don’t even read them at the moment, but you know it’s there.

Go for a walk. Take a breath. Go do something that is nothing, something that’s low-key, low-maintenance just to gather your thoughts. Go to a yoga class. Don’t go rushing to call your friends, your family, everyone. It’s not time for that quite yet, quite yet.

The first thing, and it might just be for 30 minutes, it might be for the next 24 hours, is just to absorb that this is happening, whatever amount of time it takes for you, within reason of course. It takes a couple of days just to wrap your head around everything, then it takes a couple days. If it just takes you 30 minutes for you to breathe, meditate, just sit in quiet or walk quietly. Do something that’s relaxing, as relaxing as things can get. It’s good just to wrap your head around this is happening.

Conversely, I do want to bring this up, is if you’re the one doing the serving, expect some reactions from your spouse. Now, what I say is if your spouse does something threatening, or just mean, or whatever else, document it because it could be very valuable and relevant later in the divorce process. But if you’re the one being served, don’t do anything stupid that you’re going to regret later.

The second thing is once you’ve taken a pause, a breath, is to get organized. This is something that you can just do. I have a great getting organized checklist on the website. Your goal is just to gather up your documentation. It’s not necessarily mentally challenging to gather up your documentation. You take the checklist, and you just start putting the documentation together in a nice binder collecting it all. If you don’t have access to something, that’s okay. You just make a note that I need to get this documentation. We’re talking tax returns, bank statements, annual reports, any kind of key statements. I have a great checklist. I talk about it all the time about getting organized. I’m not going to go through it here in this episode, but just start getting the information together. Getting organized isn’t something that is usually mentally challenging in the sense that if you just follow the list and then just go get the information you don’t have to do a lot of hard thinking processing, so it’s a good next step to start doing.

The other thing that you do when you get organized is the one thing you should really consider is what process you’re going to use to resolve this divorce. Do you think you can sit in a room and mediate it with your soon-to-be ex-spouse? Do you think you can try collaborative divorce? Or is this just beyond repair and beyond communication and it’s going to be a litigated divorce? These are things for you to think about.

The third thing is start to assemble your team of professionals. What’s important about your team is that you need a team. You will need always … I recommend always having an attorney, an attorney that fits your process. Look, if you think this is going to be a collaborative divorce process, you should get an attorney that works in collaborative processes. If you think that this is going to go through mediation, have an attorney that’s experienced with mediation. If you think it’s going to be a long, protracted battle, then get someone with experience in long, protracted battles.

But, I will also caution you to say don’t get someone who’s going to make things a long, protracted battle because sometimes attorneys will cause the fight, even if it was unnecessary. They’ll get you worked up because that’s what they do, and that’s how they increase their billable hours in many instances. So, you got to just make sure you pick the right attorney for you. But, I will say that the point of that previous statement is that the “toughest” attorney that you can find is not necessarily the best attorney and won’t necessarily get you a good outcome. I’m actually going to have to do, coming soon, a whole series on why you don’t want, or at least a whole episode, on why you don’t necessarily want the toughest attorney out there. So, start interviewing attorneys. I have lots of great episodes on how to pick an attorney.

Now, the next step is, what do you do? Well, you should also look at a financial advisor, a certified divorce financial analyst specifically, someone like myself, if you want to work with me. But also, there’s lots of great certified divorce financial analysts who can help you navigate the complex challenges and financial challenges that you’re going to be dealing with is you got to remember is your attorney is an expert at the law and is key to the divorce process. But, most attorneys are not financial experts. And when you’re dealing with mostly financial issues, for many of you, outside of custody, it’s all splitting up your assets and your debts. That is a very complicated process, at least 150 episodes of a podcast worth of complications, that many people aren’t well equipped, many attorneys aren’t well equipped to handle, even though they can be very good at the legal aspects of the case.

Also, you should consider getting some sort of, or at least thinking about, other potential specialists you might need. You might need a real estate specialist. You might need forensic accountant or a private investigator. There’s other different people on your team you might have to think about getting, so start looking at that and look at the reviews and start conducting your search and to building the ideal team for you.

Fourth is try to open up what I call the lines of communication with your spouse. What do I mean? Is in politics, you might see two leaders, world leaders, who are openly bashing each other politically. Or to bring it on a more local level, you might see a governor who’s fighting a mayor in public. Well, what you don’t see is actually there is a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes. There’s a lot of communication and work going on in behind the scenes between the parties.

Actually, those, that governor and that mayor, or in this day as I record it, the United States and Mexico, they … Our current president, I don’t want to get into politics, but has a lot of incendiary rhetoric towards Mexico. And Mexico, if you follow Mexican politics, also has a lot to say about the United States. Well, that’s what they’re saying, but what’s going on is there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who are working behind the scenes to actually create real progress with the two countries. And actually, the presidents may be speaking to each other directly as well and having civil rights conversations with each other, even if in public they’re playing the political game.

Why do I bring up this weird discussion about politics? Well, the same thing happens in the divorce processes. Even if you might not have the best relationship with your spouse, you have two options. You can open up those lines of communication. You can maybe still talk civilly with each other about everything else that’s not specific to your divorce. So if the kids need to go to an afterschool program, or if they have a soccer game, or whatever else coming up, you should be able to talk civilly about that issue if possible. But maybe you can even start crafting an agreement for the divorce process on your own if you really have a clear sense of what you want, and you can start formulating that agreement. You should start to open up those lines of communication with your spouse.

If you can’t do that, is that’s what your team is going to be for. So even if you and your spouse are not communicating well, well, your attorneys and relative financial advisors, et cetera, should be communicating with each other and will be more or less civil, or at least should be if they’re professional. So even if your attorney writes a very mean letter to your spouse’s attorney, believe it or not, when they call each other on the phone, they might be best of buds. But, this part of the game.

Same if I’m working with another financial advisor is I’ll say, “Hey, let’s just talk about these things. Hey, I saw you said this or saw that,” or, “I saw this in the attorney’s letter. I don’t … ” And we just talk about the same … with about the same level of emotion that I have right now. That’s because that’s our job, is we’re professionals at doing it, and we get to remove the emotions from the process. That is how we communicate to hopefully get an ideal settlement for everyone involved.

And then finally, this is issue number five or point number five after being served is take care of your emotional health. We started this with breathe, but you have to start formulating your plan for how you’re going to go through this process in the best way possible. You should think about getting a therapist. If you’ve never been to a therapist before, it can be an intimidating thing, but you just start doing it. Your attorney is not your friend. I am not your friend. I would love to work with you, and I do end up developing some very deep friendships with the people that I work with, but my job is to help you through the financial aspects of this process. I don’t charge by the hour. I charge fixed services. Your attorney is charging by the hour, and your attorney is usually charging hundreds of dollars per hour, which is much more expensive than just talking with a therapist for an hour who’s specialized in working through the emotions with you.

Consider a divorce support group. They’re great. Also, consider friends and family. You want to keep your emotions … And I don’t want to say keep your emotions in check, but you want to work through your emotions so that they’re not guiding your decision-making process through the divorce. You want your decisions to be purely rational when it comes to the divorce process and not emotional. Because when they’re emotional, that’s when you make mistakes.

The point of all this is when you’re first served divorce papers, it’s your opportunity to take charge of the process. Particularly in the beginning, those first few hours, minutes, days, months when it’s super, super fresh and raw is this is your opportunity to step up, and take charge, and not panic, but to really understand that you’re the one who’s soon going to be in control of your life. You’re always in control of your life, but soon without maybe that partner that you had relied upon for a long time. So now, this is your time to really do what’s best for you and do what’s in your best interest for the rest of your life, because that could be the next 20, or 30, or 40, or 50 years, depending upon how old you are or longer.

You need to make sure that you’re doing what’s right for you, and this is your opportunity, your moment to take care of these things, because this all will end. Even though it’s raw in the moment, you have to conduct yourself with as much professionalism as you can and really control. The way I like to think about it is you are now the CEO of your life, and you need to treat the divorce process like you would the CEO of a business because it’s a business deal. So when you first get those papers, first thing you do is just breathe. Just wrap your head around what’s happening. Second is get organized. Third, get a team together. Fourth is see if you can open up those lines of communication with your spouse if it’s possible. It’s not always possible, but if it is. And finally is work on your emotional health. Just do it. You got it.

Now, before you go, I want to make sure you get some really important information. All you have to do is go to divorceandyourmoney.com. The first thing you do on the website is sign up for the email list. You’ll see a little box that says “get updates and tips,” and I will send you exclusive articles and content that you won’t find anywhere else, and it goes directly to you. It’s a great way to reach me and ask me your questions.

Second, on the coaching page at divorceandyourmoney.com, you can learn about our personalized coaching services. And here’s the reality, many of you are making financial mistakes or not getting all that you deserve as part of the divorce process. Or maybe you’re just having a hard time making sense of it all and making rational decisions during this emotional time. And look, your divorce attorney is good. It’s great to have a divorce attorney, but divorce attorneys are not really financial experts. So, ask yourself a simple question. Did your attorney, if you have one, explain some of the details that we just talked about in this episode? The financial issues in divorce can be really complicated, and that’s why there’s over a hundred episodes of information, hours, and hours, and hours of information just related to the complex financial things that you need to be thinking about as you get divorced.

One of the big questions you might have if you’ve been listening to the podcast, or read the book Divorce and Your Money: The No-Nonsense Guide, or have been reading the articles that I sent just to the email listeners, you might be asking, “Well, how does this apply to me? How does this apply to my situation, and my divorce, and what’s going on in my life?” Well, the only way to really find out, the only way I can help you and your specific situation is through the personalized coaching sessions. I get to work with you across the United States from California to New York and everywhere in between, in-person, by phone, and by email, depending upon what you need. All you have to do to start getting help is go to divorceandyourmoney.com/coaching. You’ll see some videos there. You just fill out a short form, answer a few questions, and we will set up a complimentary introductory call.

Here’s the deal, is once you sign that settlement, there’s no going back. So the sooner you get help, the better. Finally, subscribe to the podcast and make sure you automatically get updates with all the new episodes that are coming out. And leave a review. A five-star review on iTunes really helps other people discover this show. I’m your host Shawn Leamon, MBA and certified divorce financial analyst. Thank you for listening. (singing)

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