Thank you for listening! Find a transcript of this episode below.
This may be the one of the most important episodes that I've ever recorded. I spent a good chunk of my time in December at a conference for lawyers and a lot of the top family lawyers in the United States were there. And one evening we all went out to dinner and we spent three or four hours together, just discussing what's going on and what's going on in everyone's practice. What they're thinking about, whatever. It was fascinating because all of these lawyers, they're the top in their respective cities and states, from California to New York to Florida, and everywhere in between. They all universally had one big issue. One very important issue that they wish that their clients understood so people like you listening to this podcast.
They wish that everyone would get a better handle on and understand as it pertains to the divorce process. And what was that? That was you need to know who your judge is and how they think about decisions. Many times you come from this perspective thinking, well because we haven't come to a settlement I think we're just gonna fight it out in court and that's gonna lead to a judge listening to everything I have to say. They're going to take into everything into consideration my ex-spouse has done over the past year or 10 years or 20 years or whatever the case may be. Ultimately if they just hear my story that you are ... That that judge is going to listen, take it into account and rule in your favor.
It turns out that's not the case. What you really need to understand is most of the time if you can avoid court, you should. You need to understand how judges think, how they react, and how unique judges are and how much of a gamble going in front of a judge is for most people. I was talking with these lawyers at dinner and as I said we were together for three or four hours and it was just amazing how much time we talked about the judges and really a few issues came up when it comes to judges and thinking about what might happen in front of a judge. I wanna get into a few of these issues. The first is that many times in your county court you don't have a family law specific court. So if you are in certain ... Whatever county you're in, where your courthouse is, that county or the judge that you might see in a given day might have 10 other different types of issues that he or she may be dealing with on that same day.
That judge might be looking at traffic ticket cases. They may be looking at a criminal case. They may be looking at a business dispute. They may be looking at a neighbor dispute. Oh yeah, and then you stroll in and you wanna talk about this family law issue that you're having. Your divorce, this hugely important issue. But then as soon as you walk out of the room they're thinking again about the next five traffic cases. Then they have something with the police officer. Then they have some sort of meeting with attorneys and the point being is, they aren't just focused on family law often times. You can't expect them to know all the intricacies of the law, all the ends and outs and really understand and be able to critically analyze all of the things that you want them to think about because that's not their primary job.
They're either appointed in some places or elected or whatever the case may be. They have so many different responsibilities. Your case, even though it might be the center of your world is one of many things that they are dealing with and looking at on a given day. On top of that, there are some counties that do have family law courts. But what happens often times is what many of these attorneys were speaking with me about is that even when you have a family law court those judges often times don't come from a family law background. The ones that do, they might be there for a year or two before moving on to their next appointment or the next step in their career or different court entirely because family law issues can be exhausting and very tough to deal with day in and day out. So there's a lot of turnover there. So the first thing you need to understand is not all judges specialize in family law and the ones that do often don't have that much experience in family law.
So you shouldn't necessarily get your hopes up. The second, is I kind of eluded to this in the first point but judges don't have a lot of time. Almost in every courthouse across the country judges are overworked, underpaid and understaffed. And actually I'm gonna hold off on the underpaid part for a second. But I will say overworked. And so judges have an enormous case load of people that they have to get through on a given day and it's very tough for them to negotiate and deal with every intricacy of every case on a day because you might be one of 10 cases they're seeing that day. And maybe 50 different people they're seeing that week. Then maybe one of 200 people they're seeing that month. It could even be worse than that in terms of the numbers. And so trying to get them to really I don't wanna say care about you, 'cause not that they don't care but really be able to have the ability to get into the in's and outs from any judges is exceptionally difficult and nearly impossible.
Otherwise they'd be working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and still not get through the amount of work that's on their plate and that's being required of them. Therefore it puts them in a position where you don't get to share all of the facts and consider all of the facts that are relevant to you. The third thing is that judges have bias. Judges are humans. I mean often times I hear from you and we talk and it sounds like you feel as if the judge is going to be your savior. You almost speak in terms like that. That's just not the case. I'll use an interesting example from Dallas 'cause I'm based in Dallas and I know a lot of Dallas family lawyers and I get to speak with them pretty clear. And I have a decent sense of the Texas court scene, you know I'm not there every day by any means but one of the things that's fascinating is in one of ... I think in Dallas county, there's something like 32 judges or something to that effect, I don't remember the exact number off the top of my head.
But point is if you were to go in front of, you could be assigned any one of those 30 or so judges and on top of that is you could end up with 30 completely different results from any one of those judges on any given day. Which means even though there is a family law, even though there are facts to the case you could present those same facts and those same laws to each one of the judges and end up with a totally different outcome. It could be very much in your favor, it could be very much opposite of your favor. The point is, is that you don't necessarily know what that judge is going to do and how they're going to rule. Judges are people and they have certain things that they like and they dislike. I call them bias.
You might go in front of a judge ... A judge might not like your lawyer. And because they don't like your lawyer for whatever reason, they rule against you. Or it may be the case that a judge doesn't like what you're wearing. Or it could be the case that a judge tends to think that the mom should have primary custody and most of the time, so that's how they think about decisions. And so even if you're the father and you should probably have primary custody and maybe even during the divorce you had temporary custody of your children, the judge might say, "Well I think it's better for the mom," and therefore the mom gets it. And you're like, "But wait a second." You're left totally confused 'cause in your situation that just wasn't the way things are working or it could be the exact opposite. Is the judge might say, "Well I think the father should have primary custody." Or a judge might say, "Hey, you know what. My default position is that whether or not it's good or bad, custody should be split 50/50."
And you are SOL as we say is, "shoot out of luck." If that is the bias that your judge has even if it's not appropriate for you. Then the fourth thing that is very important is that judges often make decisions on things that are totally irrelevant. What do I mean by that? Well it's interesting, I don't know if you ever watched one of those ... I'm going to switch from family law to the criminal law for a second. But if you ever watched television and you ever watch one of those shows that's like what happens after a big jury verdict in the courthouse. So if someone gets committed for a crime of if someone gets acquitted from a crime and they go and interview the jurors and they'll say, "Juror #7, why did you say that that person was guilty and you gave them the death penalty?" And the juror will go, "Well I knew when he walked in that room he was a bad guy." Then the interviewer will be like, "Well but, there was this evidence that says he wasn't even in town the day of the murder." And the juror will say, "Yeah, well. He must have done something. That's why he's in front of here, right?"
You're just like, well wait a second. That has nothing to do with the facts of the case. Unfortunately in the family law world judges can often be the same. Judges can walk in and they'll say, "Oh, well I saw this piece of evidence and therefore I'm just gonna vote this way and this is how we're gonna split things." Or if you have something super complicated they might not wanna think about it and so they'll just make a decision based on what feels right to them. Whether the facts support it or not. Some judges ... You know, I caution myself when I was talking about pay increase or don't get paid enough. Some judges, becoming a judge is pay increase for them. That's why they became a judge and they get paid more to do less work often times. Or at least to have a shorter workday. 'Cause their legal careers weren't necessarily going the way that they thought they would.
You just never know the motivations of the judge that you're going in front of. And you never know what is going to resonate with them. Maybe they grew up in a single parent household and therefore they identify with one parent more than the other. You might not know that going in. So the decision they come to might not make any sense to you or to anyone but it is because it is what is it, because that's what you signed up for and that's what that judge believes. And so it's something that you really need to think about. So what's the point? The point is this, is I have nothing against judges by any means. That's not the point of this episode. But the point is this, is that most cases settle out of court. There's a reason for that is because there's a lot of things you can solve and come up with most of the time a semi-reasonable agreement. If you settle out of court.
Now it's not always going to be the case, but your position shouldn't be, I'm going to fight this out and I want to take this all the way to trial and that's the way things are going to be. It's not necessarily going to beneficial to you. Going to court is a gamble and it can be a very big and very expensive gamble. I was speaking with someone just yesterday and I said, "Look. You, instead of going to court, you may as well just put $100,000 on the roulette wheel." Your odds are going to be better then ... And having a good outcome rather than you going in front of a judge." Because you're just taking up ... This person was very close to a settlement agreement but just couldn't quite get over the finish line and they're now thinking about spending a bunch of money on an expensive trial and I was like well, that's a waste of money. Just go to Vegas, gamble it, put it on black and call it day because that's basically what you're doing in this case rather than just agreeing to something that may not be perfect but it pretty dang reasonable from what they had said.
So you need to really be careful about whether or not going to court is good for you. Now sometimes you're in a position where you have to. It just is the case, your spouse is unreasonable and everyone's gonna be better off unfortunately if you go to court. My point only is that you should not use that as your default position. Because court is a very dangerous game that you're playing and very expensive gamble that you may be making. Judges are the ones who are in charge of this process when you're in front of a court. And judges aren't always going to consider all of the things that you have in your head in terms of becoming a final, in terms of becoming a great arbitrator towards your case. Some judges out there are great but you need to really understand what's going on in your local court and really understand what judge you may get assigned. And how that judge feels about certain issues and how they generally like to rule on certain things and if you're going to be in a good position or a bad one by going in front of this judge.
Thank you for listening! Find a transcript of this episode below.
Chris: Hey everybody, it’s Chris Denmon with Denmon and Pearlman out of St. Petersburg, Florida and today I’m with Shawn Leamon. Did I pronounce that right Sean?
Shawn: You got it right.
Chris: All right. Shawn Leamon, who is a certified divorce financial analyst and the host of a podcast which is Divorce and Your Money. Which is how I found Shawn and we’re continuing our series today. We’re interviewing tangential professionals in other professions that can help our clients get through the divorce process in the best possible way and help them move onto their lives in the best possible way. And so Shawn, you’ll be talking to some of my future clients and my current clients. And take it away, what did I miss? What else about you should we let people know?
Shawn: No, I think that’s great. I’m a certified divorce financial analyst. I get to work with people all over the country. My podcast, Divorce and Your Money is probably the largest divorce podcast that’s out there. I like to help people as much as possible because you know, divorce in many aspects, financially, legally and emotionally as well, is a very complex process for someone. So I like to help at least in my small segment where I can.
Chris: Absolutely. And yeah, the same idea, right? So when I’m a lawyer and I do lawyer things, and my clients are going through the process, they’ll come to whether it’s for a figuring out a budgeting issue, or whether it’s a tax issue and I’m not an expert at that. That’s not what I know best, and I turn to people like you to help me answer those questions, and a lot of times, it’s easier for me to just introduce my clients to somebody like you, or you to you because then you can help them get the answers they need better than I can do it. And you and I were talking before we started, and I know you from your podcast. I also know you because I was looking up an answer to something that here I am, the divorce attorney, I didn’t know the answer, and you had answer it on a very detailed, excellent blog post that I was able to get the answer for me and then share it with my client. And you’re able to help that way.
Chris: So, thank you for taking some time to chat with me today. I appreciate it.
Shawn: Thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here.
Chris: With my clients, I have two different phases where I think they need help and I’m going to kind of just mention that and let you kind of help educate in any way that you can. But I know that I have clients that right at the very beginning of the process, in anticipation of a divorce, or in anticipation really of a separation where they have one household and they’re getting ready to potentially move into two households, and they have to figure out how to budge for it. Plan for it and make the right decisions with their finances. That’s kind of one bucket where my clients need help.
Chris: And then the other bucket is when it’s all said and done, you know as a divorce lawyer I think we’re good at getting things done and then we shake hands and then we release our clients into the wild, right? And sometimes we have clients like maybe a needy spouse who for the last 20 years, she hasn’t really done any of the budgeting and I don’t want to leave them … I don’t want to shake hands and let them go off and have them ill-prepared. And that’s another, that’s an area where I think that they need help. Is that kind of your experience?
Shawn: Yeah. You know I think the main focus for anyone who’s thinking about divorce is already in the process, really boils down almost to two things. The first is knowing what you have. The number of conversations where people don’t know they have a retirement account, or you need to know … I mean, if you have a house, you need to know what it’s worth and have a good sense of that. If you have a mortgage, or if you have other debts somewhere. If you have credit cards. Regardless of whether you were the spouse who took care of the finances, or has never seen them at all, your first step is just to figure out, “Well, what are we splitting up?” And from that comes the second question which is, or a second answer that one should know the answer to is, what do you want?
Shawn: The other problem or other area I see everyday is that, well you know you have a house that’s worth a certain amount, you know you have these retirement accounts, you know you have maybe a little credit card debt or whatever the case may be, but you don’t really have a clear sense of, “Well, what do I want when this process is over? What will I need to live?” Most of the people, at least that I deal with getting divorced, I like to say, “Look, you’re going to probably die these days at 100 years old. So if you’re 50, you’ve got 50 years of thinking and planning to do. What are you going to be thinking about over the next two or three or five decades? And are the decisions that you’re making right now, splitting up your family and your assets and everything else, are these really kind of what you want for the long-term and are they working for you?”
Chris: Sure. And I mean, how do you help people engage in that conversation when … Because divorce is so life-changing, right? People tend to identify with what they’ve been for an extended period of time, especially in a long-term marriage. And then now, sometimes, am I right, would you say that sometimes they don’t even know what it is they want yet?
Shawn: Yeah, it’s a great point. And one of the things that I try and tell everyone, which is very hard to do in practice, but actually makes a lot of sense is to depersonalize what you’re going through when it comes to making your decisions. Or the way I like to phrase it is, pretend like you’re the CEO of this process and you’re the businessman, businesswoman and what would just a rational person looking from 30,000 feet think about and would recommend for you and your situation? Meaning, if you’re going through a divorce, there’s any number of overwhelming emotions that make it hard to have any sort of clarity of thought. You know you have got a million questions, you’ve got to figure out this process, let’s forget all of that for a moment. Let’s just pretend that we take … Or the way I do it, or the way I speak about it with people, is let’s just take at least the asset part, the financial part. Let’s just put it all on a piece of paper. Your name doesn’t even have to be on it. It can John Doe or Jane Doe. What would you recommend Jane Doe for their future given what they have right now? And what do you think makes sense?
Shawn: and once you kind of remove the you from it, I know it sounds weird, is to take yourself out of this process, but when it comes to making decisions, if you make emotions kind of cloud your judgment, that’s where people can go very far astray or end up making pretty poor decisions. Once you kind of depersonalize it a bit, you can really sit there and just treat them as X’s and O’s or numbers on a sheet of paper and say, “Hey! This person that I’m looking at on this piece of paper should probably do X instead of Y. Or take more of one asset or ask for more support, or ask for less support. And would be better off if we did whatever.”
Shawn: And it becomes actually, for most people, a lot clearer pretty quickly once they take the me out of it.
Chris: Sure. You got me thinking of the scenario where a party, they’re emotional to a home, and maybe the home is too big for the party by themselves,. The kids may be out of the house, the home might be too big already. But then you may have a, one of the party’s who are really attached to the home and they want to stay in the home but maybe the numbers don’t make sense and maybe if they were to keep the home, not only would they be keeping assets that are not going to generate any money for them in the future, I mean not really, unless you sell the house, it’s not a liquid asset.
Chris: But they’re also, their standard of living is necessarily going down because they’re not going to have enough cash flow to do what they want to do. You know, so that’s a … Is that something, is that a problem that you … Is that a scenario –
Shawn: That’s one of the most common things that I have to deal with on a daily basis. And the way that I teach people to think about it is before you decide what you want, start with your expenses. And so, the divorce process for most people, as painful as it is for most, is really only going to be a year or two of their life. And as I said earlier, you have decades to think about. Well, let’s start with, what is your life going to cost after this divorce? What is your mortgage payment or rent going to be? How much are you spending on cars and telephone bills and everything else. Once you kind of know – or your kids as well. Once you know what your expenses are, then you can start to say, “Well, all right, now I know at least how much income I need to stay even.”
Shawn: And also you can say, “Well how much am I …”, and then you can start thinking about bigger questions like how much am I going to need for retirement or whatever else. But if you start with your expenses, things like that house that you have an emotional attachment to, you can see very quickly and very clearly that in many cases it’s not affordable. And you’ll see, like wow, you know if you’re spending … I’m just going to make up a number but if you’re spending 3,500 dollars a month on a house, and your income for a given year after a divorce is only going to be 5,000 dollars a month, it becomes very apparent that you don’t have much money for anything else.
Shawn: And, once you just kind of map out – and when I say map out, I do things very simply. I take a blank sheet of paper and a pen and I say, “Let’s just do some simple math. How much is the house? How much is the car? How much are you spending on kids, clothes, going out, travel, vacations, whatever?” I just take a pen and a paper, nothing fancy, and just start writing down these kinds of things. And then once you have that kind of rough number, doesn’t have to be precise, you can start to think about is, well what is that really look like for me and start making the right decisions based upon that.
Chris: Right, that’s a great way to do it, because … I think a lot about the stay at home mom because we represent a lot of stay at home moms and they just … Their responsibilities for the family have traditionally been kid-related stuff, maybe. Maybe the stay at home mom hasn’t traditionally had dollars and cents responsibilities. I mean, they’ll go out there and they’ll do the work and they’ll go do the shopping and all that stuff. But they may not be doing the budget and then it comes time, they have to now figure all of this out and they also have the great unknown of what their income is going to be when this is all said and done, and you know alimony will often play a big part in that.
Chris: But if you don’t know what your expenses are, how are you going to know what is the money that you need outside of just saying, “We’ll get you the most amount of money possible.” Which is great, but it’s not really a great way to solve the problem. You just gotta know what you need and then try to get that and maybe some more. And I like your idea of just putting pen to paper with it because sometimes there are lawyers will do things that become a little cumbersome. Spreadsheets and it doesn’t really work. Sometimes simpler is better to help people, especially with so much else that’s going on in a divorce. So many other things to worry about, you know?
Shawn: Yeah. There’s a lot to say about that point, particularly with the stay at home moms. I also work with many and there’s a variety of issues oftentimes with the stay at home moms. Sometimes a lack of confidence. I said you have to be the CEO of your divorce process. I’ll always say, because I talk to stay at home moms every day, everywhere, and I’ll say, “Hey, so, while your husband was working, who took care of the kids? Who took care of the house? Who took care of every other daily detail that happened?” And it was always them. And they have all of these skills in terms of managing a very complex life. They might not feel like they do, but they’ve been doing it for 10, or 20, or 30 years. And this is just one other challenge in that process. But they already have everything they need. They just need a little bit of guidance in terms of focusing that same energy they’ve had for a very, very long time.
Shawn: And, as part of that, sometimes it’s, you know when I think about things that you need to do when it comes for planning for the process. Well, one big question is, we talked about the house. Sometimes I’ll say, “Well, let’s take some action towards it and find out. If you want to stay in the same neighborhood, why don’t you contact a real estate agent. See what houses are available in your neighborhood. You know particularly if your kids need to stay in the same school district.” I’ll say, “Go check out some apartments in the area. Are any of them feasible? Find out what the rent is for something that you could live with.”
Shawn: It might not be the same, but sometimes just gathering some basic information that’s free, no cost to anyone, to call up a realtor and say, “Hey, I’m about to get divorced, or I’m in the divorce process, can you show me what some options are in the neighborhood?” Or, walking to the apartment building or driving over to the apartment building and say, “Hey, what’s a three bedroom in this area cost?” And those types of little steps, not very hard, and you can also start to crystallize, and you can say, “Hey, you know what? This three bedroom apartment actually could really work for me for the next few years while I get back on my feet.” Or you might say, “You know what? I’m priced out of my neighborhood. I need to think about what the right option for me in the long term.”
Shawn: And it gives you the ability to confront reality head-on. Good or bad or anywhere in between. But at least you come through, or you start the process with some solid information so that you can make the right decision when it comes to going to mediation or talking with you or whatever else. It’s just you have a real, clear picture of what the future might look like, instead of just guessing and hoping for the best.
Chris: a little bit of information goes a long way on the path. So that’s a great idea. And do you find yourself encouraging people to do that early in the process? In the middle of the process? When?
Shawn: Yeah, it’s a good question. The answer is as soon as you can. You know, divorce is challenging of course, to understate it. And, you know, it’s not an instantaneous process even to get to the point where the D word gets dropped, much less serving papers and everything else. So, you know, it really depends. What I say is, the sooner you can figure these things out, the better. But, I have people who, and I actually am talking to someone in just a few minutes, who has to, has their proposals, their settlement proposals on the table. Right? And so the question is, well, does this make sense or should I be trying to make some adjustments? And some of the things that we’ve already discussed are going to be exactly that.
Shawn: It’s like, “Hey, did you check to make sure that you’re going to be able to afford the house? Or be able to move to another place? Or be able to refinance? Or whatever the case may – or your spouse be able to refinance? If you go with this proposal, and if not, we gotta get these kind of details done now, so we make sure that we’re not walking you in to something that is not ideal for you.”
Shawn: You know, the sooner you can plan the better. For the people that I get to work with before even papers are filed, I’ll say, “This is awesome. You’re going to go into your consultation with an attorney, with almost everything prepared, and your attorney is going to be able to take this job and do everything for you and I won’t need to talk to you again.” Other people, if you’re kind of still in the middle of the process, figuring things out, it’s okay, if you’re in the middle, so long as you’re starting to formulate that picture of what it is that you’re really aiming for.
Shawn: I mean what I’m trying to say is that, if you don’t have a goal, you’re not shooting towards anything and you really need to have a clear sense of what your goal is for this process, otherwise your attorney, you aren’t as empowered as you could be to help them get to be where they need to be when this process is over.
Chris: An awesome way of framing it. And we, again as an attorney, we’re always, we’re goal oriented. We have a process from the very beginning of getting them to conceptualize our clients and focus on their goals. But it can be easy to focus on goals that are more related to the divorce process and maybe kids, and sometimes, for however, it works out, because maybe our clients when they’re coming in, some of the issues we’re addressing at the beginning are more emotional. Sometimes the financial goals outside of minimizing my alimony payment, or maximize my alimony award, which isn’t very concrete, it isn’t very helpful. But outside of some of that stuff, we tend to maybe miss some of those financial goals from the very beginning. Whereas, if we have them from the very beginning, makes it easier to get people to where we need to get them to.
Shawn: That’s exactly right. And you know the only thing that I would add to that is also if you have the goals, I say this all the time, is, once you have your goals written down, now’s a great time to talk to your attorney and make sure that your goals are reasonable. Because, you know, I see people who might say, “I don’t want to pay a dime of alimony and no child support and I want 100% custody.” And you’re like, “Your spouse is a decent human, even though the two of you don’t get along. That doesn’t seem like a reasonable case. You might want to think about those a little more.” But, you know, it’s having kind of a sense of what that is, so you know, my job, the way that I do view my job is to make them prepared for you.
Shawn: And to, so that whatever time you spend with the client is maximized and you can do your job more effectively. You as the attorney and as the people listening are the people in charge of this process. And you know I’m sort of a support person, but you know, I want to make sure that what you’re doing and what I’m doing can kind of help them get to the best position possible.
Chris: Absolutely. Before we go Shawn, do you have any like any tips to help somebody, whether it’s the husband or the wife, when they’re in the beginning of the process, maybe they’ve contacted me, maybe they haven’t, and they’re considering separation. And so, from a financial perspective, do you have any tips to help somebody who is thinking, “Hey, I think I need to get … I think for my own emotional wellbeing, I think I need to be in a separate household from my spouse. Obviously I’ll talk to a lawyer about things like custody and stuff like that. But what do I need to pull off from a financial perspective? And how do I get there?”
Shawn: Yeah. I think the two things when it comes to separation. Some of the things that we’ve already discussed, but one is your credit report. Knowing what’s on your credit report. I have clients who make 100,000 dollars a year. I have clients who make 100 million dollars a year. You’d be surprised what’s on a credit report, and there are always surprises. And so just kind of knowing what that is. And then also, knowing what your expenses are. I mean look, when you’re separating, we’ve talked about expenses before, but, your income is going to be the same more or less, whether you’re married or in the separation process. The income part is semi-fixed. The expenses part is now all of a sudden doubling. And so you need to really understand is can you afford that? And what that looks like. Do you have enough savings? Do you have enough income? Do you have enough whatever the case may be that you need to separate.
Shawn: And actually might add a third thing to that, is, separation can have other effects on the divorce process and so I always encourage my clients before taking that separation step, to talk to someone like you. You know, consultations are confidential. It’s not like, you know I have some clients who are afraid to step into an attorney’s office. I say, “Look, attorneys are confidential. No one’s going to know that you’re there. No one’s going to sign, put a billboard up in town that says, ‘They met with Christian’. It’s just so that you can understand your situation, the implications of what you’re doing and making sure that you ultimately protect yourself and don’t unintentionally run afoul of something that might come back to hurt you later.
Chris: Absolutely. That’s right. I can help them with the legal pros and cons of separating, but you can help them with the practical if you separate, can you do it, and how will you make it work? And what’s it going to cost? Shawn, thanks so much man. I had a great time. I really appreciate you taking a few minutes to chat with me and ultimately chat with my clients and some people that are watching this just for advice. If somebody needs to reach out to you, what do they do? How do they do that?
Shawn: Yeah you can visit me at divorceandyourmoney.com, and there’s a podcast by the same thing if you search any podcast player called Divorce and Your Money.
Chris: Sounds pretty simple. Shawn, thanks.
Chris: I appreciate it.
Shawn: Thank you, Christian. Take care.
Shawn Leamon: I want to start this episode off with a quote from Yogi Berra, in which he says, “If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up someplace else.” I think that's a good theme, particularly as we're starting the year, and thinking about the divorce process, or regardless of where you are. I want to discuss a little bit about setting goals.
Shawn Leamon: It's the beginning of 2019, at least when I record this. There's almost 200 episodes of the podcast, and 100,000 people listened in 2018. One of the goals I have, at least for the podcast, is to help as many people as possible go through the divorce process, and make sure that I can do it in an affordable, cost efficient manner for most people. One of the ways that I can do that, is having regular coaching calls, and for some people working in greater variation, and more hands on with others.
Shawn Leamon: When it comes to the divorce process you have to have your own goals. A lot of times goals, particularly at the beginning of the year, come up in the context of, oh well what's your new years resolution? Are you going to lose weight, or exercise, or stop smoking, or whatever the case may be? Ideally I should say, you should attach something specific to that. If you're trying to lose weight, it might be, I need to lose 15 pounds.
Shawn Leamon: Well the goal setting process, is equally relevant when it comes to your divorce, and understanding what you should be doing, and understand really what you want out of the process. That way once you set your goals for the divorce process, both you, your attorney, your divorce team, myself, can help you get in the best way possible, to the place that you're aiming for.
Shawn Leamon: As I said, we started with the Yogi Berra quote, “If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up someplace else.” One of the most important things you can do during the divorce process, is really set your specific goals for the things that you want. There's a concept out there called smart goals. Smart goals stand for smart is an acronym. Smart stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and the t is time bound. If you look up smart goals, if you type that online, you'll find the acronym.
Shawn Leamon: You should be setting up smart goals for your divorce, and in terms of the things that you want, when it comes to the divorce process. A lot of times I might speak with you, and either you're still in the planning phase, or you're midway through the divorce phase, or even you're right at the final settlement proposal, and I'll say, "Hey, that's all well and good, but what do you want?"
Shawn Leamon: One of the issues is, sometimes you don't know what you want. You want what's best for you, and what's best for you really depends on what your dreams and desires are. When it comes to the divorce process, it's temporary. It can feel overwhelming, I get that. It can be a lot on your plate, and of course it is, but at some point for some of you in a few months or others in a couple years, whatever the case may be, this process will be over, and you will have moved on with the rest of your life.
Shawn Leamon: Well, what do you want the rest of your life to look like? What does it look like? Of course this divorce and your money, so what does it look like financially for you? Are you receiving support? Are you paying support? Are you working? Are you retired, or planning to retire in a few years? Are you living in the same home? Are you living in a different home? Are you starting a new career? Are you traveling more? Are you doing all these other things in life, that you'll have to ultimately try and figure out in the best way possible about yourself?
Shawn Leamon: And so one of the things I say, regardless of where you are in the divorce process is, don't necessarily ... Or one of the starting points, is actually start after the divorce. Sit down with a pen and paper. If you ever see me in person, and I get to see a lot of you in person across the country. One of the things I carry with me, 100 percent of the time, is a notebook and a piece of paper. My notebook, actually I love blank white sheets of paper, and bring a pen with me.
Shawn Leamon: What I do is, I want to make sure that I always keep on top of my goals. I keep them very simple. But I sit alone, sometimes on a plane, or a coffee shop, or in my office, and I make sure that everything is written down. Sometimes my goals are just for the day, what do I want to achieve that day. Sometimes they are, what's going on that week, that month, that year, and in life. That way, at least when I'm presented with different options, I can say, "Hey, does this fit within my goals, and ultimately what I think I would have liked to do with my life?"
Shawn Leamon: When it comes to the divorce process, you should be thinking in many ways the same thing. Fast forward, the divorce process is over, you're envisioning you, and your kids, and your family. Even thought it's split, how do you want things to look, from a financial perspective, or a custody perspective, if you have children that you're going to have to be dealing with custody issues with? Do you want partial parenting time? Do you want split evenly? Other things to think about, how do you want to plan for college? Is that's something that's relevant and important to your kids? What does that look like, for you specifically? What do the holidays look like? Or all of those types of things, and types of questions.
Shawn Leamon: Once you start at that end goal, you need to have it clearly written down. When I say clearly written down, you should be able to email me, or send to your attorney, or send to a friend for all that matters, and say, "Hey, here are the goals that I am achieving." You've got to have it written down, specific, and posted up somewhere that you won't lose it.
Shawn Leamon: Then when it comes to your team, and the divorce process, you can say, "Hey, here's the stuff that I'm shooting for, can you help me get to those points as part of the divorce process?" You're sitting down with your lawyer, one of the things you should be doing, is saying, "Hey, Mr. or Ms. Attorney, here are the goals for my life. How can I, during this divorce process, get there the best way possible?" Your attorney might help you say, "Well, I think these are pretty reasonable, and we can get you there."
Shawn Leamon: I just had a lunch with someone in person, and we were looking at her goals. It was very clear, I was like, "Look, you're goals are going to be fine, so long as you just do these two or three things, you should be able to achieve your financial goals, and move where you want to move, and live the rest of your life the way you want to live it." Other times, I'll hear from you and I'll say, "Hey, what are your goals for your divorce?" I'll say, "You might need to adjust some things." Or, "Hey, you're going to actually probably need to get a job." Or, "Hey, you might really need to think about it, if you can really afford this house, if you're planning on saving for retirement, and whatever the case may be. Maybe there's another property in your school district that might be okay, so you can keep the kids in the same school, but you might need to move, so your monthly expenses are lower, and therefore you can actually afford a good life in the long term for you."
Shawn Leamon: We start with your future goals, and I think that's a great place to start, particularly at the beginning of the year. It doesn't matter where you are in the divorce process, but knowing what you want is crucially important.
Shawn Leamon: The other thing that's very important, is knowing your goals. Once you know what you're aiming for, knowing the best way to get there through the divorce process, is also something that is very relevant.
Shawn Leamon: The approach can be very different, depending upon who you are. And so sometimes you are in a situation where perhaps there is an abusive spouse, and you don't really have the option of sitting in a room with them, and mediating the divorce in a very civilized manner, pursuing like a collaborative divorce process, and so you have to take a tougher handed approach, to get through your divorce in the best way possible.
Shawn Leamon: Other times, in many cases, you and your spouse are actually very civil with each other, and you know that this divorce process is coming, and you can still talk to each other. Basically, your job should be, hey lets minimize the fees, lets minimize the damage, lets not make this more difficult than it needs to be. Maybe we can work out 70 percent of this on our own. We still might need attorneys for another 30 percent, or a mediator to help us for this last 30 percent. That's okay, but I think we can get to a pretty fair place, at a much cheaper price, than both of us fighting it out in an adversarial divorce process.
Shawn Leamon: For you, that might be the goal for this process, and the approach that you take. For others, it might the case that you end up in front of a judge somewhere at the end of the day, deciding upon where the judge is the one, who after many months and potentially years of fighting, litigating, and everything else, the judge is the one who has to ultimately make a final decision. Sometimes that's the approach that you have to take too for this process.
Shawn Leamon: To the extent possible is, you need to think and set goals for your divorce process. It could be as simple as, if you haven't chosen an attorney yet, you can say, "Hey, here are my goals in the choosing of an attorney process. This is what I want. Here are the goals when it comes to how I want to interact with my attorney. Here are the goals for how long I hope this process takes or doesn't take. Usually it's as little time as possible, but for some there's reasons to extend it out a little bit.
Shawn Leamon: There are different ways to set those goals. For everything in this process, take a sheet of paper, map them out, make them very clear, look up the smart goals framework, and really understand where you're going in this process, and what you want to achieve from it, so that everyone is on the same page, including you. You need to know where you are going. If you start the year off right with your goals, and where you want to go, you can set up every action that you take from this day forward, to make sure that you're doing the actions that fit within your goals.
Shawn Leamon: I'll give you an example that came up recently, this is a family friend who got divorced. They didn't have very clear goals for their divorce process, and they ended up spending 10's of thousands of dollars on who got what silverware, which was a waste, it went to the attorneys, and many years later they regret the way that they handled that divorce, but neither of them went in with the appropriate goals, and process to think about them.
Shawn Leamon: One of things you should be doing, is just making sure you always stick to those goals. You do that, you'll put yourself up for ... I'm not going to say that this process is ever easy. I'm not going to say it's always going to go in the way that you think it will. It rarely goes the way that you envision. But my objective for you, is to make sure that you're putting yourself in the best position possible, to achieve all of the things that matter most to you, and to do it in the best way possible.
Shawn Leamon: And so, start this process, start this year, regardless of where you are on the divorce process, either making your goals or reviewing your goals, to make sure that you are on the right path.