Michele Sacks Lowenstein is an attorney in San Diego. In her 30 years practicing family law, she's pretty much seen it all – every aspect of the divorce process, and how it can affect midlifers. We asked her for a divorce consultation, talking about the financial aspects – divorce division of assets and how it can affect your future. "I haven't seen anyone walk away from the table because a divorce will ruin their lifestyle. But I have seen couples decide not to initiate a divorce for economic reasons," Lowenstein says. Here's her advice for managing a divorce at midlife.
Don't Go To Court "I see a lot of cases in court that shouldn't be there," Lowenstein says. "If you have a protracted, litigated divorce, it'll cost six figures on each side. So not litigating is a good way to go." Mediation with or without attorneys is one option. You can have the attorneys and clients in a four-way conference. Or you can sign on for a collaborative divorce, a service Lowenstein offers where the lawyers for both sides "agree to assist the clients to resolve conflicts by employing cooperative techniques rather than adversarial strategies and litigation," according to the website. As Lowenstein points out dryly, "If you spend all your assets litigating, there's nothing left."
Make Smart Calls About Money Financal considerations should trump emotions in negotiating the divorce. Lowenstein offers an example of how your heart can lead you astray. You may want to keep the family home, even if it's too big, because the kids are saying, "Mom, don't sell the house."
"You have to make wise investment decisions now. Maybe keeping the house isn't a hot move," Lowenstein says, advising that you think twice before staying in a big house based on the spousal support you expect to receive. "You think if you've been married 25-30 years, support will last far into the future. In California, spousal support is modifiable. Maybe your spouse loses his job." Suddenly, the support is whittled down.
Save Legal Costs By Resolving the Case for Good Lowenstein urges couples to put a termination date on spousal support. "That way you won't be subject to additional legal bills, which could run $40,000, if a judge orders you to renegotiate. Don't take the Band-Aid approach, saying you'll worry about it after a few years with a renegotiation date. If you can, draft something that will be the last document." If dvision of assets is final, you'll save on future legal fees.
Take Retirement Planning Into Account "That's what the midlife divorce is about. Make an appointment with a certified divorce planner with financial background. This is what they do for a living. They will put your finances on a simple spreadsheet. It's the first thing to do. One of the problems is it's very hard to pull the plug on a divorce once it's filed. You can't say never mind. So do your groundwork first " Plan carefully, and make sure a life insurance policy backs up spousal support.
"The legal side is the financial side," Lowenstein says. "You have to park acrimony outside the meeting room and find common ground. Your anger does not bring you to a good resolution. It takes you to a court room where somebory will make your decisions for you."
Before You Set Up a Divorce Consultation: Lowenstein's website gives more information about the divorce process and division of assets.