What Do You Want From Your Divorce? If You Don’t Know, it Could Hurt You.
Thank you for listening! Find a transcript of this episode below.
I’m going to start off this episode with a quote from Yogi Berra, or at least it’s attributed to Yogi Berra, and he said, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going because you might not get there.” The reason I read that quote is because one of the first questions as soon as a divorce process either hits you in some cases, or if you’re planning for it, or maybe if you’re in the midst of it already, one of the first questions or one of the main questions you should always keep in mind is, what do you want? What do you really want during the divorce process and after it’s over?
If we have a coaching call together, it’s actually one of the questions I usually ask people on calls, and it’s really just to try and figure out, well, do you know what you want out of life? The divorce process is going to be over. So are you making decisions during the divorce process that will help you for the rest of your life? Also, what do you want out of the divorce process itself? So one of the things you should be doing, regardless of if you’re about to sign the settlement papers or you haven’t filed for divorce yet but you know it’s coming, or you’re in the middle of divorce, doesn’t matter, one of the most important things that you can do as part of this process is really set your goals. When I say set goals, I want to put them into two contexts.
Goal number one, or set of goals number one, and I like to make goals pretty simple, so I usually just do three things, I do these myself, I’m not going through divorce, but I do them for other things, like as I think about what I want for the podcast, for instance, I have goals for the Divorce and Your Money Show and how many people I can help. But you set three goals. You put your top three priorities or goals on a sheet of paper and you say, “Hey, priority number one …” And these are my goals, or your goals in this case, for life. So as you think about, “Well, what do I want in life?”
If you are going through the divorce process, most of the people I talk to, let’s just say you’re 60 years old for sake of discussion, and in good health, statistically, you’ve got another 20 to 30 years of life ahead of you, maybe longer. So you have a whole ton of life to think about. What do you want out of those 20 to 30 years? Or if you are one of my younger clients and you’re 30 years old, well, you might have 50 to 60 years. The divorce process is only going to last hopefully a few months or maybe a year or two, but then you’re going to have decades of life to think about.
As you sit down right now, what are the three things that really matter most to you? Could be something having to do with a fulfilling job or financial security, or something for your kids, or being able to travel, or whatever your life goals are, write those three things down and figure out what kind of future you really want. This is independent of the divorce. You assume the divorce is over and you’re just living your life. What does that look like to you? I put those on a piece of paper and I review … You should be reviewing those goals at least, I think, every day, and I’m going to tell you why in just a bit.
The second thing, the second set of goals that you should be putting down is, what are the goals for your divorce? Now, I get to speak with you every day on a coaching call, and I hear a range of thoughts about the divorce process and what you want out of it. Sometimes people will call and they’ll say, “I want every asset ever and that’s what we’re going to do.” Other times people say, “Well, I just want this to be over. He or she, my spouse can have everything. I just want this to be over with.” Then there’s everything in between, where some people say, “Well, I understand, even though of course I want everything, I understand how this process is going to go and I want something that’s a fair and reasonable settlement, all things considered.”
Well, whatever your situation is, you need to sit down and think, “Well, here are my three divorce goals.” Some of the divorce goals might be involving custody arrangements or support arrangements, or debt, or what kind of assets you have afterward and after the process is over. One of the things is, is you want to write these down. I say top three because three is easy to do. You do your top three goals from your divorce. You can do 10 if you want. But I like top three because it really forces you to select your priorities.
So here’s what happens after you have those three goals. So you’re going to have two sets of goals, one set of life goals and one set of divorce goals. What you should be thinking about during the divorce process is, how do I make decisions today that get me closer to those goals? Now, everyone that you work with as part of the divorce process should have a good sense of your goals, because if your attorney knows what your life goals are and what your divorce goals are, he or she can structure a divorce settlement that helps you get closer to those goals. If you tell me your goals, and you don’t have to tell me, most of the time I’ll ask you, particularly if we’re working on a more in-depth case or situation. Sometimes people call with a very specific question and we go through the specific question. But if we work on a longer-term basis, I’ll ask, “What do you really want? And how do we get you closer to those things? And how do we come up with a strategy and daily steps to move you closer to those goals?”
So one of the things that you need to be doing is sharing those goals with everyone that you’re working with. And another thing that’s important about your life goals and your divorce goals, particularly the divorce goals when it comes to sharing them, is, sometimes we’ll say, “That’s not realistic.” Either realistic or not realistic, or a bad idea. So sometimes someone will come and they’ll say, “I want every asset. I don’t want my spouse to have anything after the divorce.” I’ll say, “You know, I understand that’s a goal of yours, but that’s not realistic, because if your spouse has a semi-competent attorney or if you go in front of a judge, no one’s going to let that happen except in the most extreme of scenarios. So you need to adjust your goals.”
Conversely, sometimes someone will say, “You know what, just give my spouse everything, I’m just going to start fresh, and I just want this over next month and we’re going to move on.” I’ll say, “Hey, you could do that if you want, but that’s not a good idea, and here’s why.” Ultimately the goals are up to you, and you might want to adjust your goals a little bit. So the point is, is one of the reasons you write these down, you share these goals, is so that everyone’s on the same page working for you.
Now you have your two sets of goals, and you start figuring out what you really want. What happens is, if people know what you want, people like me or like your attorney, or just you yourself having clarity as to what you want out of the divorce process, you can start taking actions and creating step by step actions to achieve those wishes, those wants, those goals, that direction that you want. So whenever an issue comes up, particularly as part of the divorce process, you’re going to be faced with some major issues about assets, about kids, about life, and these are substantial questions. Well, when you have your goals when you know what you want, you will have a north star to help guide you. Basically, when you’re facing a particular issue as part of the divorce process, you can say, “Well, does this fit into my life goals? Does this fit into my divorce goals?” If it doesn’t, then you need to make an adjustment or take a different action. Or if it does fit in the goal, you can say, “Yeah, you know what, this is what I was aiming for.”
But if you don’t have your goals and you don’t keep those high-level things in mind, you could end up running down a path that you never intended to take. Or, as I started with the Yogi Berra quote, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going because you might not get there.”
The other thing I want to leave you with as you think about setting goals and deciding what you really want out of both life and out of the divorce process, you need to have some flexibility. So one of the most important things and one of the most fun parts of my job, and yes, I do have a lot of fun, I get to help people with very hard questions, I know that you’re in a difficult situation, but everyone I work with is a good person who finds himself in a tough spot, so one of the questions or one of the things you have to keep in mind is, there isn’t a fixed path to your goals and sometimes you need to have, or all the time you might need to have some flexibility regarding them.
So I’ll give you a very concrete example. I’m going to keep it generic but concrete. Let’s just say you want to have enough support, enough spouse’s support to live comfortably for the next 12 months while you get yourself on your feet and find a job. Just using that as an example. Well, you might be thinking in your head, “Well, I need $3000 a month in support to achieve that goal.” Well, that may be true, that might be one way to achieve your goal. But what if there is another way? What if that other way was, you got a lump sum payment for $34000, which is a little bit less than the monthly amount, but you have it all upfront, and you have the money to live on and you’ve achieved the same goal of that financial security for a year, but it came in a different form?
Or what if you ended up with a house that’s fully paid for or close to it and therefore your living expenses are lower than you anticipated because you don’t have to go find a new place, and instead of $3000 a month you only need $1500 a month? It’s about flexibility. In all three examples you’ve gotten to your goal of being able to live comfortably for the next year, but there were different paths to get there.
So when you think about your goals, and as I said, that’s a very micro example, but for any goal, whatever it may be, you have to realize that there are different ways to achieve what you were looking to achieve. So having flexibility is very important when you think about your goals because they don’t always happen the way that you originally had in mind. But just because they didn’t happen exactly the way that you thought they were going to happen, doesn’t mean they’re not going to happen. It just means that you need to be open to alternative solutions and alternative ways of getting what you want to get to and have out of life and out of your divorce.
So as you think about the divorce process, really sit and start by asking yourself, wherever you are, what do you want? Are the decisions you’re making right now set you up to get to that point that you want later down the line? If you keep that question in mind, and I actually, believe it or not, I have a daily email that comes to me every morning, it comes at like 3:00 AM, so by the time I get to my desk, whatever time I get to my desk, I usually get up pretty early, but I have a daily email that says, “Here are my goals.” And I get to look at those every morning and then I look at my schedule and what I plan on doing today, and I say, “Hey, does this take me one step closer to my goals?” If it does, then great. If it doesn’t, then I’m working on the wrong thing. So I keep those in mind for myself.
It is something that you should be doing as well, to make sure you stay on the right path and make sure that you are getting what you want out of this process.