Picture the scene: Your kitchen counter is a mess with paperwork. At one end is a large stack of financial documents - old tax returns and bank statements. Next to it is a small pile of notes you’ve taken during meetings with your lawyer. A third includes receipts for expenses that need reimbursement. And on the other end is a loose pile of photographs of your kids and old cards from your spouse. You’re trying to clean it up, but it’s hard to know where to start. And you haven’t even begun to tackle your email inbox yet!
Time and time again, we hear how overwhelming the divorce process is. Aside from the emotion of it all, there’s the sheer volume of information that needs to be gathered, read, and made sense of. If managing your divorce case is starting to feel like a full-time job, you’re in good company.
So how do you get through your divorce case without it taking over your life? The answer is the same as for so many other things: get organized.
If you’re already the organized type, you won’t need selling on this concept. But if not (and there’s no shame), then consider this: the effort you put in now to organize your divorce will pay you dividends in the end. You’ll save money on legal fees, because you won’t have to keep asking your lawyer to send you the same document, again. You’ll save time in not searching for that important paperwork that you know you just saw somewhere. And you’ll spare your sanity so you can focus on more important things, like dealing with your emotions and getting your kids to soccer practice on time.
Having an organized divorce will save you time, money, and most importantly, your sanity.
So here are 6 easy steps to having a more organized divorce. You’ll thank yourself later, we promise.
1. Set up a separate divorce case email account. We’ve talked about the value in doing this before, but it’s worth the reminder. Unless you’re the rare breed who reads and deletes every email as it arrives, your inbox is too full already. Your divorce case will not only add to the volume of emails, but to your emotion. Creating a separate email account just for your divorce case will help you stay organized and also let you focus on your case only when you need to, and not, say, when you’re trying to think about work.
2. Invest in a quality scanner. You’re going to have a lot of documents in your divorce. Many of them will be emailed to you, but not all. In addition to hard copies of things like notices and orders you might receive in your case, you’ll probably also have handwritten notes you take during meetings, reminders to yourself, and even photos and other “evidence” of your spouse’s conduct that you’ll want to show your lawyer. Get in the habit of scanning all these documents to save digitally. It will reduce your clutter, make it easier to share with your lawyer, and help you stay organized. If you don’t want to shell out a lot of $ or have limited space, there are decent apps that will let you turn your smart phone’s camera into a scanner. Easy peasy.
3. Create a folder on your computer desktop for all your divorce related documents. Or use whatever document storage system you’re comfortable with - Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. The key is to have your entire “divorce file” available in one place, so you don’t have to spend hours searching for documents in multiple places. Then, when your divorce case is over, transfer the folder to a hard drive that you can store somewhere you don’t have to see it, like in your safe deposit box.
4. Schedule designated time in your day to focus on your divorce case. The legal process of divorce can be consuming. Between phone calls, meetings, emails and more emails, it can feel never-ending. But you had a busy life before your court case started and you need to be able to keep focusing on the other parts of your life. Like parenting, your career, or tending to an aging parent. If you don’t designate time for your case, it will take over your life. I learned this one while dealing with my own court case. The calls and emails would come in at all hours, and without putting any thought into it, I’d stop whatever I was doing to react. Once I started treating my case like it was part of my job, I was able to time block it to fit in with the rest of my day. It still took up a lot of time, but it didn’t derail everything else to the same degree. So pencil in the times each week (or day if necessary) that you can devote to your court case. Then protect the rest of your precious time like it’s your baby.
5. Set up a calendar for divorce and parenting events. You’ve already got a paper calendar and a digital calendar, right? Ok, but remember we’re talking about getting your divorced organized. And one of the best ways to do that is to separate it out from everything else that’s calling for your attention. Create a new calendar in Outlook, Gmail, or whatever system you use. Name it a word that makes you happy or just something descriptive like “divorce” or “co-parenting.” This is where you’ll enter all your co-parenting events, like parenting exchanges, appointments with your parent coordinator if you have one, as well as events like lawyer meetings and mediation. The nice thing about this is, if you need a visual break, simply un-click that calendar and voila - it disappears from your screen. Just don’t forget to re-click it so you don’t miss that important meeting!
6. Create a spreadsheet to keep track of expense reimbursements, support payments, etc. Here’s another thing you probably never dealt with pre-divorce: tracking all the various expenses you pay that require reimbursement from your ex. There are doctor and dentist appointments, extracurricular activities, and co-pays at the pharmacist, to name a few. Then there are the monthly support payments that your ex usually, but not always, makes on time. Being organized in this area can make the difference between being paid back, or not. Create a form spreadsheet that lets you keep track of these items - with columns for things like the type of expense, the name of the provider (who you paid), the date, the total you spent, and the amount owed to you by your ex. Do the same to track your support payments as you receive them. By the way, if Excel isn’t your thing, a simple table in Word plus a calculator (to do the math) will work just fine.
These steps will take a few minutes to set up, then you’ve got to incorporate them into your life. But like any other habit, once you start doing them, they’ll get easier and easier. It’s time to get organized!