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How to get a divorce in Canada: 6 money-management tips

Gail Johnson

Never mind the emotional angst: getting divorced can be a financial nightmare. But breaking up doesn't have to break the bank.

Get it together

"The best thing you can do is be organized," says New York lawyer Jeffrey A. Landers, president of New York's Bedrock Divorce Advisors and author of the just-released book Divorce: Think Financially, Not Emotionally—What Women Need to Know About Securing Their Financial Future Before, During and After Divorce. "Get all the things you need to gather: tax returns, bank statements, credit-card statements, wills, trust accounts, real-estate records...  The more organized you are, the better it will be for you, your attorney, and your financial planner, and of course there will be less mistakes."

In other words: don't do what some of his clients have done and stuff a bunch of papers in a big cardboard box in no particular order and wish your lawyer luck figuring it all out.

Don't use your lawyer as your therapist

"If you go off on a tangent and end up on the phone for an hour complaining about life and how terrible everything is, your attorney is still going to charge you whatever their rate is: three- four-, five-, 700 dollars an hour," Landers says. "If you need to talk to someone, talk to a friend or get a therapist. A therapist will be much cheaper than an attorney."

Vancouver lawyer and mediator Deborah Lynn Zutter recommends hiring a mental-health coach who specializes in divorce for that very purpose. "Instead of getting stuck in anger or depression, you're moving on in a healthy way," she says, noting that some extended-health care plans cover such costs. "You're also able to give your lawyer much better instruction."

Check your credit report

Get a copy from each of Canada's three credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and XX, Landers suggests. If there are any unpaid balances or accounts in your name you didn't know about, they'll show up here.

Find legal counsel you're satisfied with

Do your research on lawyers: what are their credentials? What do other people say about her? Remember, you're the consumer.

"Sit down with them and interview them, even though it might cost consultation fee," Landers says. "Somebody could have great credentials, but if you meet with him or her and she's on her iPhone texting or keeps you waiting, you need to wonder if this person is going to give you the attention you need."

Find a legal approach you're comfortable with

Some divorce cases are destined for court, but litigation isn't the only way to get the job done.

Collaborative dispute resolution and mediation are others, and are generally less pricey than going to court.

"Mediation is usually the least expensive, followed by collaborative--except where there are complex financial situations with lots of assets and lots of debts or when there's a lot of anger," Zutter says.

"Court takes time," she adds. "So do mediation and collaborative meetings, but generally they will not take as much time. They also save you angst. Choose a process that suits you."

Do what you can in advance

Before a divorce is under way, it's possible to do things like change beneficiaries on RRSPs—but not once proceedings have started.

"Open up credit card in your own name, a bank account in your own name," Landers says. "What happens if he leaves and cleans out the joint account? It wouldn't be first time that's happened. Where are the bank accounts, the stocks? Know as much as you can about all accounts."

Put the kids first

If there are children involved, focus on their best interests in the near and distant future.

"It's amazing what happens when you step away from your own feelings of hurt and sadness and anger," Zutter says. "Work for the best plan possible to go forward as a parent."

By Gail Johnson

Never mind the emotional angst: getting divorced can be a financial nightmare. But breaking up doesn't have to break the bank.

Get it together

"The best thing you can do is be organized," says New York lawyer Jeffrey A. Landers, president of New York's Bedrock Divorce Advisors (www.BedrockDivorce.com) and author of the just-released book Divorce: Think Financially, Not Emotionally—What Women Need to Know About Securing Their Financial Future Before, During and After Divorce. "Get all the things you need to gather: tax returns, bank statements, credit-card statements, wills, trust accounts, real-estate records... The more organized you are, the better it will be for you, your attorney, and your financial planner, and of course there will be less mistakes."

In other words: don't do what some of his clients have done and stuff a bunch of papers in a big cardboard box in no particular order and wish your lawyer luck figuring it all out.

Don't use your lawyer as your therapist

"If you go off on a tangent and end up on the phone for an hour complaining about life and how terrible everything is, your attorney is still going to charge you whatever their rate is: three- four-, five-, 700 dollars an hour," Landers says. "If you need to talk to someone, talk to a friend or get a therapist. A therapist will be much cheaper than an attorney."

Vancouver lawyer and mediator Deborah Lynn Zutter (http://debzutter.com) recommends hiring a mental-health coach who specializes in divorce for that very purpose. "Instead of getting stuck in anger or depression, you're moving on in a healthy way," she says, noting that some extended-health care plans cover such costs. "You're also able to give your lawyer much better instruction."

Check your credit report

Get a copy from each of Canada's three credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and XX, Landers suggests. If there are any unpaid balances or accounts in your name you didn't know about, they'll show up here.

Find legal counsel you're satisfied with

Do your research on lawyers: what are their credentials? What do other people say about her? Remember, you're the consumer.

"Sit down with them and interview them, even though it might cost consultation fee," Landers says. "Somebody could have great credentials, but if you meet with him or her and she's on her iPhone texting or keeps you waiting, you need to wonder if this person is going to give you the attention you need."

Find a legal approach you're comfortable with

Some divorce cases are destined for court, but litigation isn't the only way to get the job done.

Collaborative dispute resolution and mediation are others, and are generally less pricey than going to court.

"Mediation is usually the least expensive, followed by collaborative--except where there are complex financial situations with lots of assets and lots of debts or when there's a lot of anger," Zutter says.

"Court takes time," she adds. "So do mediation and collaborative meetings, but generally they will not take as much time. They also save you angst. Choose a process that suits you."

Do what you can in advance

Before a divorce is under way, it's possible to do things like change beneficiaries on RRSPs—but not once proceedings have started.

"Open up credit card in your own name, a bank account in your own name," Landers says. "What happens if he leaves and cleans out the joint account? It wouldn't be first time that's happened. Where are the bank accounts, the stocks? Know as much as you can about all accounts."

Put the kids first

If there are children involved, focus on their best interests in the near and distant future.

"It's amazing what happens when you step away from your own feelings of hurt and sadness and anger," Zutter says. "Work for the best plan possible to go forward as a parent."

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