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Episode 48 – Planning Your Exit Strategy

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If you have reached a point where divorce appears inevitable, one of the best ways to cope with this difficult life transition is planning. There is a way to develop an exit strategy that will set you up for an amicable divorce. In this episode, Leh and Todd walk you through the 6 essential steps to take to put yourself in the best position you can.

Todd Orston: Well, a new year is upon us, and Leh, I cannot believe that 2018 is almost here.

Leh Meriwether: I can't either.

Todd Orston: As my wife has told me I need to come up with some resolutions, some new year's resolutions. I'm not gonna share online, on the radio, what my resolutions are.

Leh Meriwether: Stay away from Krispy Kreme.

Todd Orston: I think that's probably one of them. But it is a time for resolutions. Sometimes people don't think about what does that really mean, like just the definition of resolution. Definition of resolution is a firm decision to do or not to do something. Usually it's the things like donuts or whatever. Sometimes it's something far more serious even though my donut habit is pretty serious. It might be related to a marriage. It might be that unfortunately you have tried and done everything you can to fix a marriage, and unfortunately your efforts have not been successful and therefore your resolution, your decision to do or not do something, might entail or might include a divorce. And the purpose of this show is to talk about if you've gotten to that point what are the things you need to be, not should be, but need to be thinking about and doing in order to properly prepare if you're gonna go down that path.

Leh Meriwether: Speaking of going down that path, we probably should introduce ourselves.

Todd Orston: That's probably a good idea.

Leh Meriwether: Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. And you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on News Radio 106.7. Here you're gonna learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis and from time to time even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. If you want to learn more about us you can always call or visit us online at

Now, Todd, we really don't ... I almost hesitated to come up with this show because we don't want people to get a divorce. And I hate to say if you're making that your new year's resolution to get a divorce, it kind of hurts me to even say this-

Todd Orston: I understand the struggle.

Leh Meriwether: It's a struggle.

Todd Orston: Yeah. Because we don't want people to just say, "You know what? I need a resolution. Haven't decided to give up donuts so how 'bout I divorce?"

Leh Meriwether: Right. But we recognize, hey, divorce has been here for thousands of years. It's not going away. But what we try to do is if that has become the only option or the next step ... Maybe someone else may be making that step for you. Then the best thing to do is set yourself up for success because we also believe that if you do have to get a divorce, that divorce, even though it may hurt it doesn't have to be nasty. So there's different ways you can basically plan how you're gonna get there. And if you don't plan you can almost plan on spending a lot more money in attorney's fees and the case could be ugly. But if you plan it then you can set yourself up for success.

Todd Orston: Well, you can lessen the stress, stress on yourself, stress on the children. You can create a path that will hopefully get you through the process as quickly and efficiently as is possible. Today what we're gonna do is we're gonna talk about developing your exit strategy and compartmentalizing it. We're gonna go over and cover six broad steps that you need to take basically to plan your exit strategy.

Let's go through 'em. Number one, obviously, educate yourself. Two, secure documents. Three, secure your communications. Four, secure assets and liabilities. Five, plan for the parenting future. And six, financial assessment.

Leh Meriwether: I think you've covered it all.

Todd Orston: We're done.

Leh Meriwether: We're done here.

Todd Orston: Absolutely.

Leh Meriwether: No.

Todd Orston: Hey, my resolution is to have a longer show, right?

Leh Meriwether: Yeah. We just wanted to give you a big broad stroke where we're gonna head. We're gonna break down what each of these means. Cause some people go, "Educate myself ... Okay, what does that mean? Do I pick up a book and read it?" We're gonna break down each one of these over the next hour or so and really explain what we mean by this.

Todd Orston: Absolutely. Why don't we jump in? Leh, when we say educate yourself, what are we talking about?

Leh Meriwether: One of the good places to start is our website. That's because it's almost five thousand pages deep. Actually it may be more five thousand pages cause we're constantly adding more information on our website. You can listen to radio shows like this show and educate yourself. You can listen to podcasts. The shows also rebroadcast in iTunes and Stitcher and those places. Another way to educate yourself that people might not think about is hiring a counselor to go talk to.

Here's one thing I've found that people feel like they have done everything in their marriage, and then they go talk to a counselor. Because it's really hard to see yourself in a mirror. I'm not talking about physically speaking.

Todd Orston: No, I have a hard time looking myself in the mirror right now. Thus the reason for my resolution.

Leh Meriwether: But I mean you could physically see yourself in a mirror, but sometimes it's hard to emotionally see yourself in a mirror, and a counselor can help with that. Sometimes you can start seeing a counselor before you file for a divorce and realize that maybe the way you've been communicating all along has created some tension in your relationship with your spouse and there actually may be a way to save your marriage. But let's say that's not the case. But perhaps there's a way that you can communicate better that would help facilitate a good co-parenting relationship after the divorce.

Todd Orston: You hit the nail on the head because it may be too late to save the marriage, but especially when children are involved you have to co-parent. It is a fallacy. It is not true. It's not realistic to think, "Okay, I'm getting a divorce. We're done. I don't have to deal with you ever again." Yeah, you do. On probably a daily basis you're gonna have to deal with your former spouse on issues relating to the children. So learning not only about the process, but learning about yourself, figuring out where the breakdowns occurred and how to avoid those breakdowns in the future, it's only gonna help you. It's gonna help you in the divorce process and hopefully it will help you in future relationships.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah, exactly. I will say that if you don't take ownership of sort of what may have happened in your current marriage that you're thinking about ending you may be doomed to repeat that in the next relationship. This is part of the process. Educating yourself about like you said the legal process, the law. But then the practical consequences of getting a divorce. I don't know about you but a lot of times I've talked to people on the phone and they're talking and they think that, or at least they feel that, "If I get a divorce it's over with. I don't have to deal with this person ever again." And you're like, "Well ... " Just like you said. Sometimes they're almost shocked when you go, "Okay, listen. This doesn't end your relationship. It may terminate the marriage, but it doesn't end your relationship." A lot of people I'm on the phone with are like, "Wow. I never thought about that."

Todd Orston: Yeah. There are a lot of things that you should think about. What I sometimes say to people is ... Let's say I'm speaking to somebody and they have a job and they have meetings. Do you just walk into a meeting cold? If you go and you meet with your accountant do you go in cold or do you prepare, bring some documentation? If you meet with one of your children's teachers do you go in cold or do you read the assessment and do other things and prepare for that meeting? Then why on Earth wouldn't you prepare for a divorce which could have long-term consequences? And by consequences meaning impact on your life whether that be in the form of financial impact or impact on your relationship with the children meaning parenting schedule and things like that.

You need to put in the time. We've talked about going online. We've talked about going to a counselor. And then obviously go and speak to an attorney. Most attorneys will do consultations where you don't have to retain them. So what's the value there?

Leh Meriwether: The big value is you're learning the local law. So you could read whatever you want online. Our website, a lot of it's sort of broad stroke. A lot of it's also focused on Georgia. The one I referenced, it's or But it's focused on Georgia, so that's gonna give you a certain frame of reference. But then you want to talk to a lawyer because they're gonna be applying their experience to your situation. So you may be looking at this and trying to apply it one way or another. But the lawyers are gonna say, "Have you thought about this? Have you thought about this? Have you thought about this?" So what the lawyer's a lot of times gonna do is he or she is gonna give you some more questions to further educate yourself. And so you're better preparing yourself for those next steps.

Todd Orston: At most people usually get about 50, 60, maybe 70% deep in terms of thinking of all the issues that you need to think about. In other words they understand ... I had a recent conversation with somebody. They understand that the house, the marital residence, needed to be sold. But they didn't understand the methodologies, the things that have to go into how the house is gonna be sold, who's going to be living there during the sales process. How is the price to sell it determined? What happens if an offer comes in? How do they determine if they take the offer, reject the offer? How are the expenses being paid? And there's probably 20 more issues that we would need to talk about.

So people come in, go, "Oh yeah, I know about selling a house." No, no, no. In the context of a divorce you haven't thought about everything and the attorney's gonna be able to help you.

Leh Meriwether: Yes. One last thing I'll throw in this is educating yourself about co-parenting. Because suddenly now you're having to parent your children from two separate locations and you've gotta be on the same page for their sake. That's more thing to educate yourself about because that little bit of investment of time is gonna pay huge dividends later.

Up next, we're gonna continue to dive into these subjects and you don't want ... You really need to hear these things about things like securing your documents, secure communication. A lot of people don't think about how easily communication can be lost to the other side when it shouldn't be and it can explode things. So you don't want to miss this so that you can help move your case forward in am amicable way ...

Hey, Todd, I just thought of a new year's resolution for you.

Todd Orston: I'm scared.

Leh Meriwether: Do a better job [inaudible 00:11:27]

Todd Orston: You know what? The good thing about resolutions is maybe we don't always succeed. It's sort of like me and my donut resolution. I'm gonna try and stay away.

Leh Meriwether: I'm totally kidding. You do a fine job.

Todd Orston: Fine?

Leh Meriwether: Excellent job.

Todd Orston: Thank you. That's better. All right. Let's sort of lead us into this segment. Last segment we talked about basically educating yourself. Looking online, going to a website like our website at Meriwether & Tharp, going and speaking to an attorney, speaking to a counselor. Bottom line-

Leh Meriwether: Listening to our radio show.

Todd Orston: Listening to the radio show in podcast form or live. Get out there. Spend some time. Make the effort. Educate yourself so you know when something comes you're prepared. You at least have a basic level of understanding. So that's what we talked about in the first segment. But now let's jump in and let's talk about number two. What we were talking about is securing documents. And obviously we're not talking about get two of the biggest Dobermann Pinschers or whatever and they will guard the documents. What are we talking about when we say secure documents?

Leh Meriwether: Well, I probably should say real quick just in case someone's just joining us. "Hey, I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners of the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on News Radio 106.7. if you want to learn more about us you can always read about us online at Today we're talking about if you have done everything you can, and despite your best efforts your marriage is coming to an end. Which we hope that isn't the case, but we have learned over time that one of the best ways to ensure or to at least improve your odds that your divorce is in amicable fashion where it basically it may hurt, but it's not nasty, is to plan for your success, is to plan ahead. So we're talking about six sort of overriding or over ... six broad subjects to think about to help you get ready. So basically plan an exit strategy.

Todd Orston: Hey, Leh.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah?

Todd Orston: Excellent job.

Leh Meriwether: Oh, thank you. Good, I'm getting better. Wait, that was your resolution.

Todd Orston: Right. Exactly.

Leh Meriwether: So secure documents. So that's the next one. You want to collect and maintain copies of records of important information like financial, personal, and insurance related information. And we're gonna give some specifics here in a minute. Here's a good one that I noticed a lot because you never know how someone's gonna react. Some people have been talking about a divorce all along, and then some people haven't been talking about a divorce. And so one person's ready to get out of the relationship and the other isn't. That's one of the things we talk about when someone meets with us. Be prepared for a negative reaction when you first sit down and say, "Hey, I want a divorce." Cause some people are shocked that the other side wasn't expecting it. And we've talked about that shock and where it comes from in other shows.

So you want to secure certain things like separate property. So maybe you came into the marriage with existing 401K or an IRA. And you came in and it was worth 50 grand for example. Well, you want to make sure you have secured a copy of that statement from before you were married or immediately right after you were married. Because we've seen situations where suddenly paper goes missing.

Todd Orston: Well, and on that point, before we go into more specifics about the types of information you want to secure I want to hit it from a more general place. What you have to understand is that these types of cases are all about information. Whether it is parenting schedules and figuring out what ... If you maintained calendars or journals or whatever. Or if it's a financial issue, banking records, tax records, all the things we're gonna go into in a little bit more detail. It's all about information. And what ends up happening a lot of times ... I just spoke with somebody on the phone a couple days ago. This is what we talked about. Because it was well, where is this information? "Oh, it's in a filing cabinet in our house."

It is important that you, if you know you're going down this path, secure the information. If that means you take the information, put it somewhere safe, that's one way to do it. As long as you don't get rid of anything, you don't destroy anything. You know that it's there so that you're not struggling to try and figure out what's now missing. As opposed to ... or as well as rather, you might want to make copies of it. So if you're not taking the documents at least make a copy. Scan it. Do something.

And I know sometimes people say, "Well, it's hard because they'll realize than an entire filing cabinet is gone." Or it's years and years and years of information. I get it, but that's exactly why we tell people this. Because if you have one ... Like in my house we have two filing cabinets filled with information. If all of a sudden they're empty I couldn't even begin to tell you what was there so I'm just hoping when I make the request in terms of discovery, "Hey give me what was in there." I can only hope that I'm actually getting a copy of everything that was removed. Maybe I'm not.

Leh Meriwether: Right. Yeah, cause if you have an angry spouse on the other side things can disappear. They shouldn't, but they still do. That's the practical side we're talking about. So just so you know we've got a pretty expansive list on our website. The link is So if you go to that part of our website you'll see this list, but I'm gonna give you some of the stuff. The past three years of tax returns, your most recent paycheck stub for yourself and your spouse, most recent banking statements, checking accounts, any information of assets that you had before you got married. Your most recent statements for your 401K, IRA, pension if they're around the house for everybody, you and your spouse. Most recent credit card statements for all the accounts. Most recent mortgage statements.

So a lot of this is just getting this together so a lot of times so you can go meet with a lawyer and say, "Hey, what do you think?" If you've got things in a safety deposit box go photograph the contents. We had this wild story where there was like 900 thousand dollars in cash in a safe deposit ... Not a safe deposit box, in a safe inside the house. And thankfully our client took pictures of that because those ... that dollars kind of disappeared.

Todd Orston: As opposed to a family friend, a friend of my parents, who back in the day he opened a business, did very well. And asked my dad to come over and said, "I don't know what to do." My dad was like, "What do you mean, do?" He's like, "With the money I'm making from the business." And my dad said, "Well, how about a bank?" The man takes my dad into his bedroom, lifts up the mattress, and literally there's cash everywhere. So yeah, money goes missing. You can until you're blue in the face say, "Oh, by the way I had 900 thousand dollars in a safety deposit box." Court's not gonna just assume you're telling the truth. As a matter of fact if you don't have evidence to prove it you can just kiss that money goodbye.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah. So take the time to take pictures of things like that. That's just the tip of the iceberg. So if you definitely check out the website. One more thing I do want to mention probably is passports for you and the kids. Make sure you secure those. There are situations where you're concerned a spouse may flee the country.

Todd Orston: Well, especially in those situations.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah. So make sure you secure those. And social security cards, driver's license. Some of these things, they can go missing in the middle of a divorce or before a divorce. Those types of things. And if you talk to a lawyer they'll add to that list. There is a lot more on this list on our website. We just wanted to hit the highlights.

Todd Orston: There are a lot of additional documents that might be required, but that's where the attorney's gonna come in and be able to say, "Okay. This is what's gonna be important in your case. These are the issues that we're gonna be talking about. I need, in addition to the basics, I need x, y, z." So that's where unfortunately as deep as you might want to go into a website let's say or in listening to a podcast, that's where an attorney and an attorney's advice is invaluable.

Leh Meriwether: So the next thing is securing your communication. Here's an example of where people forget all the time. Change your passwords on everything. That's something that you've never ever even remotely thought of before or would ever think of. A lot of people ... We had a case last year where they didn't change their password for their social media and what happened was the judge issued an order that neither party were to talk about the case in social media. It was a contested custody case and everything. The other person went into one of the person's, one of the parent's accounts, and wrote all kinds of things.

Todd Orston: And then tried to pass it off?

Leh Meriwether: And then filed a contempt saying, "Look what they did." And we were like, "We didn't do that. Our client didn't do that." And so all of a sudden you're having to hire a computer expert to figure out the location from which that account was-

Todd Orston: IP addresses, all that kind of stuff.

Leh Meriwether: I mean you can prove yourself, but that costs thousands of dollars.

Todd Orston: Absolutely.

Leh Meriwether: So update your passwords for all your social media.

Todd Orston: Another thing people don't think about, old devices. If people are like how we are in my family ... I have two kids. They got older devices of ours. Most people, or a lot of people, what they do is they will set up that device before it becomes the old device handed down, for email or you name it. Then they give it to their children and they wipe it clean. But what they don't think about is the fact that it's still gonna populate with information if you don't shut it down and put a stop to it. Not only is the old information potentially still there, but new information might still be being sent to that old device. We've had cases where unfortunately there's information, and it could be related to an affair. It could be related to whatever. But it's sensitive information. Is now not only in the hands of your spouse, but your children are seeing some of it. So be very careful about being knowledgeable about the old devices that are existing in the house.

Leh Meriwether: Up next we're gonna continue to go into what areas you need to make sure are secure as well as the dive into some other things that you need to make sure you're taking care of ...

Well, Todd, we've got some great stories around securing where someone didn't secure their communication. Hey, I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. We are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on News Radio 106.7. Here what you are gonna learn today all about really the steps that you should be taking if the decision has been made by you or your spouse that your marriage is over and you're heading towards a divorce. So how do you properly prepare an exit strategy?

Of course that's not what we want to happen. We would love for people actually to stay married, but we're in business because divorce is a reality of not only our society, but going back through history. Up til now we've been talking about educating yourself what that means. So we talked about it in the first segment. The last segment we talked about securing documents and which particular documents you should be securing. We started to touch on securing your communication and gave some really crazy examples of that.

I had a case where ... Here's another thing that people need to be aware of, the cloud sharing. Whether that's iCloud or ... You'd given the example last time where a parent hands down an old phone to their child and all of a sudden a text come ... They don't clear it. They don't reset the phone completely, wiping out every bit of data.

Todd Orston: Or to your point, they wipe out the phone, but with the press of a button-

Leh Meriwether: A backup could [crosstalk 00:24:01]

Todd Orston: A backup can ... It goes back to the cloud, pulls all the information back out, and next thing you know the person has access to not just communications that were removed, but all the new communications. And that could include communications with attorneys or whoever.

Leh Meriwether: I've seen cases where ... So basically there some photographs taken of one party. And one of the parties was the husband and the other party was not the wife. There was no clothes on. And these pictures were taken, and they didn't even think about the photo stream. And they suddenly start showing up on the wife's phone because they were sharing the same ... They were doing that whole family sharing thing. So all of a sudden these pictures being taken on one phone are showing up on the other phones.

Todd Orston: I can go one better. How about a similar situation, but instead of it going to the wife's phone it went to the children's. It was a hand me down phone, and it went to one of the children's phones who then went the father and said, "Dad, why is mom ... " And that becomes a rather awkward conversation to have with your minor child.

The bottom line is we have seen failures to secure these types of communications make or break cases.

Leh Meriwether: Yes.

Todd Orston: So just be very careful. Obviously we know everyone doesn't have those types of photographs and videos on their phones. But the point is even if it's not that. Those are extreme examples. Little things can sometimes have more impact on a divorce case than you actually think.

Leh Meriwether: Well, here's another example, Chrome. Google Chrome or Safari does the same thing. We're getting really technical here. They have it set up so you can save passwords. So let's say you have used Google Chrome on another device, but on your home computer that your family shares it also ... it's also signed into the same Chrome Google account. So your password for your Gmail account ... your new Gmail account that you have set up on your ... Let's say on your phone or on a desktop computer at your office. But now perhaps your spouse or children have access to that same ... potentially have the same access to that account at home because Google Chrome saved the password.

Completely change every single password. And not only change every single password, perhaps even set up a new Google account. And let's see, the iPhone, so that's in the Android-

Todd Orston: Which we actually tell people a lot ... When you start working with an attorney it's usually beneficial to open up a new email account and dedicate that to communication with your attorney so that you know there's no way that the other party ever had access or you used a device with that spouse, with that party, where it could've saved a password. You know that it's secure.

Leh Meriwether: And make sure you do not allow any of the web browsers to save the email address. Make sure you do that because if you don't you could be passing on that information to your spouse.

Todd Orston: Let's get into the next one, securing assets and liabilities.

Leh Meriwether: Well, going back to our show we had with Anthony Davenport. What was it? Nine steps to manage your credit both during and after divorce. One of the things that he talked about was doing a credit check at the very beginning. Get a complete picture of what your ... at least your liabilities are.

Todd Orston: By the way, for any listeners who didn't hear that show or that podcast it's not as simple as just going online and asking for a credit check or a credit report. There are ways to do it where it is much more detailed than what you can get, the freebie that a lot of these companies like Experian that they offer ... They don't dig very deep. So listen to that show. Listen to that podcast while you're educating yourself. Because there are ways to do it where it's a much better stronger more valuable document.

Leh Meriwether: And so the next thing you should do ... So that's just step one. Check your credit report because we had a case where the wife had gone out and gotten like 40 thousand dollars in credit cards, didn't tell the husband, forged his name to 'em, and had all the statements going to a PO box so they didn't come to the house. That's one thing to do. And understand that when you get a divorce you're gonna be severing your financial ties, or at least you should be.

 So you want to obtain ... get all the information about all the different financial institutions for your current accounts, your spouse's accounts. Usually just like you get a ... you set up a separate email address, you usually want to get a separate checking account. Because I had a case where someone in a different bank ... Let me add that. Because I had a case with ... I won't mention the bank's name even though I want to. But basically our client just opened up another account with that same bank and then when the, in this case, the husband, went and did something inappropriate on their joint account. And she didn't close out the joint account. She left it open. And he basically depleted that account and overdrew it by 400 bucks. The bank took the 400 bucks out of her personal account. So they just took it. That's why you want to break ties with the bank. You want to get another bank, set up another account, so that doesn't happen.

Todd Orston: Yeah, go ahead.

Leh Meriwether: You also want to make sure that ... When we say securing assets that doesn't mean, "Hey, Todd, do you mind hanging on to these gold bars for me? For the next year or two just hang on to 'em and I'll come back and get 'em from you."

Todd Orston: Why yes, Lee. I will gladly hold onto any gold bars you would like to give me.

Leh Meriwether: We literally had that ... Actually it was silver bars.

Todd Orston: Well, actually now I just admitted to taking them on the radio.

Leh Meriwether: Shoot.

Todd Orston: No, you can use that against me.

Leh Meriwether: But that doesn't mean that you take the assets and then hide them somewhere. There's gonna be an accounting. Don't transfer things to friends or family. Don't do those sort of things.

Todd Orston: Let's put it this way. What I often tell people is secure the asset, and sometimes that does mean if there's a joint account, taking money out of that account. I had a case once where there was about 200 ... Let's just say rounding at about 250 thousand dollars in the account. The former spouse got her hands on it during the pendency of the divorce and the judge basically said, "Well, she doesn't work. She can draw upon it to pay family expenses." By the time we got to court ... Okay, cause we weren't able to resolve it, there was only about 70 thousand dollars left.

So it is better to secure money and then basically on agreement or by agreement release some of it and say, "Okay, you can use this and I get to use this and we'll do this all through the courts." But that does not mean you deplete it. It doesn't mean you give it away. It doesn't mean you go on a spending spree.

Leh Meriwether: Buy a brand new motorcycle.

Todd Orston: It means you put it somewhere and then when somebody looks at you and says, "Excuse me, 250 thousand dollars was just taken out of the account." You can look at that person and say, "Yep. It's right here. It's in this new bank in this account. 250 was removed. 250 is still there." That's it.

Leh Meriwether: Definitely want to talk to a lawyer. Be careful there.

Todd Orston: Absolutely.

Leh Meriwether: So had a case ... You got different extremes. Had one case where 450 thousand dollars ... It was a personal injury settlement. Somebody suddenly ... One of the spouses ... and it wasn't even her injury. It was our client's injury. Just took off with the money. We had to get an emergency hearing cause we were worried that money was gonna disappear. And then the money, thankfully she didn't spend it. It was put in our trust account, which was held there until the end of the case and we decided what to do with it.

But then you've got another ... That's on one end. And on the other end you may have someone with an addiction issue whether it's drugs or alcohol. Maybe you don't wait to talk to a lawyer cause you're worried they're just gonna take it and go on a drug spending spree.

Todd Orston: We've seen [crosstalk 00:32:45] We've seen people waste money in many, many, many different ways, but the one common thing is the reaction of the court. If the evidence comes out that you took marital funds and wasted them, gave it away, spent it on frivolous things it's gonna come back and bite you. So you have to be very careful, and that is where the attorney can help give you the things to think about, the strategies you need to put in place when securing that money.

Leh Meriwether: So on the same note, don't go and incur ... accumulate new or additional debt.

Todd Orston: Sometimes it's unavoidable.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah, if you need to pay for a lawyer.

Todd Orston: Absolutely.

Leh Meriwether: But just try to avoid that. All right. Up next you don't want to miss planning for your parenting future and making a financial assessment. We're gonna dig deep into those two areas ...

Well, today we have been talking about new year's resolutions. Well, not exactly.

Todd Orston: We started off with that.

Leh Meriwether: We started talking about it. But some people at that beginning of the year they kind of start the divorce process. They feel like they've given it all they've got. They've fought for their marriage. The decision's been made to more forward with divorce. So today what we've been talking about is really six things that you need to be keeping in mind when it comes to your exit strategy.

Todd Orston: If you're gonna do it, how to be smart about it.

Leh Meriwether: How to be smart about it. When I say smart about, setting yourself up so you can have an amicable divorce rather than a World War Three. Hey, everyone, my name is Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on News Radio 106.7. We are going into the last two elements of planning your exit strategy. We've already gone through the first four. Let's keep going cause we got a lot of material to cover here in just this last bit of time.

Todd Orston: Absolutely. So the next one's gonna be planning for the parenting future. That sounds like a sci-fi, the beginning of a sci-fi television show or movie. But what we're talking about here is basically like we said at the beginning, divorce does not mean you're done, that you are not gonna be in each other's lives, you don't need to communicate, you don't need to deal with each other on any issues. If you have children that journey has just begun. And so a divorce doesn't put a stop to that. So you need to be thinking about what that's gonna look like. How will you interact with your former spouse? How are the children ... How are their needs going to be met?

Leh Meriwether: Where are they gonna be when?

Todd Orston: Absolutely.

Leh Meriwether: Who's getting them to extracurricular activities? Who's picking 'em up from school? All those things really become more complicated when you have two separate households.

Todd Orston: Yeah. And even if you are ... Even if you're one of those people where let's say you're in a relationship where you handled everything. We've all had that. "I'm the one that took to every doctor, every coaching, every sporting event, every this, every that. It was 95% me." That's going to change because now you are sharing. Doesn't mean 50/50, but you are sharing time with your former spouse and that means there are new complications. There are new things that you're gonna have to deal with in taking care of the children and their needs. So that means you have to be able to think these things through, think about what the future is gonna look like. So what's gonna be the first tip in doing that?

Leh Meriwether: What I usually like to say is begin with the end in mind. I know that's a big broad stroke. We've actually went and spent a whole show on how to craft a parenting plan that's a win-win. So we're just gonna hit some highlights here. What I usually like to say is start off with thinking what is, "Okay, we're divorced tomorrow," and what is ... Let's say it's January 1st. What is the month of January gonna look like? Or even start with a week. What is this week gonna look like? And then pull out a calendar and start writing down what it looks like. That's when you'll start hitting all those details. "Oh my gosh, Joey's got soccer practice these days. I'm gonna have to go back to work. This is gonna be a problem."

So what you do is you start looking ... When you start planning these things they're not a shock or surprise. It may be a surprise when you go, "Oh my gosh, now we have to work together to deal with these things because everything's changing." But you've set, "Here are the questions we need answered and I'd like to answer 'em together rather than one of us dictating to the other what to do."

Todd Orston: You know what it also does? It also allows you to set for yourself proper expectations. Because when conflict arises a lot of times it's because you haven't set reasonable expectations. So if people are going into this, if someone going through a divorce doesn't think about what life is really gonna look like as a co-parent then when the former spouse comes in and goes, "No, no, no. It's my time. I'm gonna take to soccer." Or "I'm going to be at this event with you." Or whatever the case might be.

Leh Meriwether: Or this doctor's appointment.

Todd Orston: Or a doctor's appointment or teacher conference. You may get upset because you really didn't think about things in a realistic way. So set proper expectations for yourself. You do that by beginning with the end in mind, thinking about what it's actually going to look like when you have to be in that co-parenting relationship with your now former spouse.

Leh Meriwether: You start setting yourself up and then another good thing is once you sort of say ... You say, "This was what my ideal week, month, year might look like with our kids." Then you may sit down with a lawyer and say, "Hey, am I realistic here? Is this something the court would approve? What have you experienced husbands or wives objecting to with this kind of parenting plan?" That sort of thing. And that way it sets you up to sit down with the other parent and say, "What do you think about this?" So you're setting yourself up for hopefully an amicable resolution to your divorce.

Todd Orston: Absolutely. The next one will be staying active in the lives of your children. For some people that's easy. For other people maybe it's a little bit more challenging. It's not for necessarily a bad reason. It's not that you're a lazy parent, uninvolved, uncaring. But it might just be you are a workaholic. You have a very strenuous career. You have a lot of time commitments already. But you know what? If you're going through this process you need ...

Leh Meriwether: Things are changing.

Todd Orston: Absolutely. You need to commit yourself to the relationship with your children. Commit yourself to making sure that their needs are met. You need to do those things so that when the eyes are upon you, when the court is looking at you and looking at your behavior and how you are co-parenting, you've put yourself in a good situation to ask for whatever it is you're going to ask for in terms of parenting time and parenting rights.

Leh Meriwether: And you've made a good segue into this. The next one is the financial assessment. And here's why I say this is a good segue. So let's say you're the bread winner. I'm gonna use stereotypes here cause it's easier. So the husband's been the bread winner. The wife has been the stay-at-home mom. The husband's like, "I can't afford ... Now we're gonna have two separate households. We accumulated a lot of debt during our marriage. I can't afford to pay a whole lot of alimony." So that means she's going to have to work.

But now when you start doing that financial assessment and go, "I can't pay that much alimony," and she's like, "Well I'm gonna have to have some alimony until I can get back in the work force." Now you're doing this assessment going, "Well, if she's working then I'm gonna ... I can't be a workaholic anymore. I will have to help her pick up the kids. I will have to help with these things. She took care of everything before."

So these things play together. When you plan the financial future it also triggers making a financial assessment. So what you should do is do a projected budget once you move out. So you need to look at the totality of the situation. "Okay, when it comes to family planning I would like for us to ... " Here's an example. "I would like for us to live within two miles of each other so the children stay in the same school district." Okay. "Well, within two miles the cheapest mortgage/rent is gonna be 25 hundred dollars a month cause we live in a very expensive area." I'm just using this as an example.

She hasn't gotten a job yet. It's gonna probably take her six months to get back, get retrained and everything. Maybe she was a nurse or a teacher and she has to get re-certified. Can I afford to pay five thousand dollars in a mortgage for the next year or two? So add 25, a minimum of 25 hundred dollars to my budget on top of potentially paying alimony and child support. Is that doable?

Todd Orston: And that analysis needs to be done by both people.

Leh Meriwether: Yes.

Todd Orston: Because, again, it comes down to setting proper expectations, and that's where an attorney comes in handy. Because the person who might be the one paying ... In your situation, let's say the working father or working husband is gonna be looking at that financial affidavit. For those of you who might be trying to do this on your own or at least do the homework and trying to educate yourself, it's what we call a domestic relations financial affidavit. DRFA, for short. The payer spouse might have to ... is gonna have to look at their own budget and go, "Hold on one second. By the time I pay basic expenses I don't have two nickels to rub together."

But the other spouse also can't go into this with unrealistic expectations because they need to keep in mind "If this is how much my spouse makes then it doesn't matter." I could go into court. If truly at the end of the day basic expenses are paid and they don't have two nickels to rub together ... Alimony is based on two things, need and ability to pay. You can go in and establish a giant need for support, but if the evidence isn't there to show that your spouse has two nickels to rub together there's nothing there then.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah. And depending on the judge you're in front of you're probably not gonna get any. That's when you start ... If you're the person who may be expecting some sort of alimony you probably need to look ... Part of this financial assessment is, "What can I get a job at doing? How quickly can I make a good living? How much money could I realistically expect to earn within six months or a year after my divorce?" Another thing I want to toss out here is the divorce is a triggering event regarding health insurance. So you need to go out there and research health insurance options because Cobra is extremely expensive.

Todd Orston: Yeah, if you're not the primary that's a huge expense.

Leh Meriwether: Huge expense.

Todd Orston: There are a number of things, and attorneys can help you, but we are also not financial advisors. So somebody for you to talk to might be a financial advisor because there are so many things you don't think about when you're paying everything on your own and then you're not on your spouse's insurance, you're not ... You don't have access to certain monies, whatever. You need to think about those things so that when you sit down and project it's a true and accurate projection that you can then base a lot of decisions on.

Leh Meriwether: Well, you know what? That about wraps up this show. We have covered a lot of information. So just as a quick recap. You want to make sure your educate yourself. You want to make sure you secure your documents. You want to make sure that you secure your communications. You want to make sure you secure your assets and liabilities, plan for your parenting future, and make a financial assessment.

Well, that about wraps it up for this year. From everyone at Meriwether & Tharp, Todd and I wish you a happy and healthy new year.

Speaker 3: This audio program does not establish an attorney client relationship with Meriwether & Tharp.