EP 208: How To Finalize Your Divorce Before Year End (Even If You Haven’t Filed Yet!

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As I record this episode, there are about four months left in the year, and you may be at a time crunch trying to wrap things up before year end. I want to give you some tips on how you might be able to do that, regardless of where you are in the divorce process. Some of you might not have even filed, I’ve talked to a few of you who are thinking about filing and wanting things wrapped up by year end, and others of you are preparing for settlement negotiations and other things so that you can have it in before the end of the year is out. Of course, there’s many reasons to want the divorce to be finalized as the year wraps up. The main reason, of course, just being sanity sake. You get to start the new year afresh, you get this divorce process behind you, and it gets put into the rear view mirror.

There are practical and family considerations. Sometimes it might have to do with something like getting a new place, or a new home, or credit reasons as you think about moving. There are tax considerations, such as if you get divorced by December 31st of this year, it means you’re divorced for the whole year, so for 2019 you get to file taxes as a single person or whatever status you reflect or choose, which may be beneficial for you for a variety of reasons. That’s something to think about. But the point is that you’re trying to get this wrapped up before the next year starts.

Now, the big challenge is that where in September as I record this, there’s only three and a half months or so before the year is up, and that is not a lot of time. Just for understanding’s sake, is that divorce under normal circumstances takes one to two years on average. It by nature is a very slow process, and trying to wrap up and rush the divorce in the span of a few months will not always work. But if you’ve been at the process for a little bit of time, there may be some opportunities to button it up, close it up, and move on in an efficient manner.

Just something to note if you haven’t filed for divorce yet. Almost every state, well I should say every state, I think has a cooling off period for divorce. What does that mean? It means from the date that you file, it doesn’t mean that you can have your divorce granted until a certain amount of time has passed. On the short end, states have a 30 to 60 day cooling off period before you can get divorced. You have to look at your state to figure out what the rules are.

On the longer end, some states mandate that you are separated for up to a year or more before they allow a divorce to be granted, so there are very different rules in terms of the cooling off period for divorce. You need to figure out what the rules are in your state. It may be the case that if you haven’t filed yet, you need to file first thing so that you can at least get that clock ticking. And so if you have to wait 60 days or 90 days, you’ll be able to get that divorce through, even if you take the time in between to figure out all the details. Just something to note and figure out the laws in your state, to get that time clock ticking, or if it is as long as a year, so be it, it is the nature of things, but you’ll need to know that for next year so that you’re not dragging it out an extra a year’s time anyway. Be aware of that and plan in advance or plan quickly.

Now, the main thing that comes up when you are trying to wrap up a divorce quickly is the negotiation time. One of the things that people don’t think about or don’t realize is that you can negotiate much of the divorce up front, and you could in theory have the divorce settlement attached to the divorce filing, and then you’re just waiting for the time to click off and you’re on your way. One of the things I encourage, or at least worth thinking about, if your situation permits it, and that’s always an if, is that you can negotiate a lot in advance before you file.

Oftentimes, you can work with your spouse, I know that might not sound like the most appealing option, but they call it the kitchen table divorce settlement, where you and your spouse sit around the kitchen table, you look at all your assets and debts, you divvy them up to something that looks fair and say, “Hey, we’re going to take this agreement to an attorney, have the attorney draft it up, and then we’re more or less done.” That is the best case scenario, and I work with a lot of people like you who might be going through that process, and my job is merely just to check over and make sure nothing’s missing and everything looks fair, but that is a way to file and complete the divorce efficiently.

Now, there is another option which is the middle ground. As I said, if you have a cooling off or if you haven’t filled out the cooling off period, you can say like, “Hey, I’m going to file for divorce now and let’s take the next 60 days to come up with our negotiation, do our discovery as best we can, and come up with that settlement, and just put a rush on the process.” I mean the parts of the process that are slow is if you wait for the deadlines to do everything. You and your spouse and your attorneys can work out things quickly if you’re willing to work out things quickly and if you’re willing to be open with each other in terms of what exists in the discovery process doesn’t take forever.

One of the largest or most complex parts of the divorce process is just figuring out what you own and what you owe, and if you are upfront about what you own and what you owe, you can come to a negotiation really in the span of a couple of days if you work at it and put your time, attention, and focus on it and negotiations. There’s plenty of times, even in some of the most complex situations where, and I haven’t talked about some of these examples in awhile, but you know you might go to a two day mediation, you might go away for a weekend and do a mediation, or you might spend two or three days or a day just mediating all the issues in your divorce. And you can, once you know what you’re dealing with, it’s very realistic to expect things can be done in a day.

The big problem is that scheduling can have conflicts. There’s life conflicts. There’s work. Oftentimes if you’re not forthcoming about what exists, and what your assets are, and if you have to track down a bunch of things, it slows down and delays the process and you may as well just plan for the next year.

Also, if one of the parties is just not cooperating or is being unreasonable, that can also hinder the divorce process and mean you have to go to settlement conferences, and court dates and temporary orders, and this and that, and your next court date if you file today might not be for 90 days, just because the court has enough on its plate and it’s backed up, and you’re automatically into the next year if that’s the case and that’s the way it’s going to go. But that said, if you can, even in bad situations, and I see it all the time, and for better for worse, I have to deal with the tougher divorces almost all the time, that time pressure of the end of the year can really motivate someone to want to get things done and wrapped up and settled quickly.

Now, a word of caution when it comes to rushing your divorce, is make sure the decisions you’re making are still the right ones. One of my favorite phrases is penny wise, pound foolish, meaning you’re trying to save a few pennies but you’re losing a few pounds, and when I say pounds it’s, I think it’s a British phrase, so I mean British pounds. I could be making that up and I could be wrong about that statement. But when they say pound foolish, they mean try not save a few pennies and lose many, many dollars by trying to save a few pennies. The point of that being is if you are rushing the divorce and you end up with a much worse settlement, maybe it’s not worth rushing the divorce process. But if you can end up in a reasonable place with the divorce, you can start to get that done and get things wrapped up by the end of the year.

Now, one other thing I want to make sure that you’re aware of as you think about your timeline and how you may want the end of the year to play out as it pertains to your divorce. Just because you come to a settlement on December 31st doesn’t mean the court has signed off on it on December 31st, and so you may end up still with the divorce bleeding over into the next year. One of the things I’m doing, you think about that is get your settlement in as soon as possible so the court can sign off on it. One of the things I’ve seen, and this is something that you need to contact an attorney about to figure out how your local courts work. In some courts around the country, they understand that people want to be divorced as of the end of the year.

Happens is you might submit your divorce settlement on December 22nd, but in some places the courts are closed Christmas through New Years, and so you’re in this weird position where you filed your paperwork but it’s not signed off, and you’re like, “Well, why did we rush to sign the paperwork?” Well, some courts actually have a solution for that. Not all courts. I don’t know how your local court is actually going to work, and I would contact an attorney to figure this out, but if you get that paperwork in towards the end of the month in December and the court hasn’t signed off on it, I do know some courts that will backdate your paperwork for you.

They might have a month or two of work just on their docket and they can’t get to it, and so what they’ll say is, “Hey, you’ve got your paperwork in by the deadline, even though even though the judge hasn’t looked at this order until February 22nd of the next year.” The judge will say, “Hey, you got the documents in on time. From a legal perspective, you are divorced as of the end of the previous year. All is well, even though I didn’t sign off on it until it’s later.” So they’ll do the backdating for you and make sure that you don’t get screwed just because they have a lot of work on their plate.

Something to think about and something to ask a local attorney to figure out how the courts work in your system. But regardless of what it is, now is the time to really be thinking about, I don’t want to say rushing, but really being speedy about this divorce process and not delaying if you want it over this year. If you don’t, there’s no reason to rush and you might as well take your time, but for peace of mind’s sake for some, for tax reasons, practical reasons, moving on for others, if you want to move to a new state, get a new job, whatever the case may be, having this divorce finalized by year end can be the lifting of a big burden off your back for many. Something to think about as we’re in September here, and I just want to make sure that you’re aware that the clock is ticking.

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