Updated: Sep 28, 2021
The only thing worse than being married to a controlling, manipulative and narcissistic person is the process of divorcing. And without careful planning, cautious execution and principled representation, it could re-traumatize you in ways you need not endure. So today on the Starting Over Stronger divorce survival and recovery podcast, we are going to talk with Attorney Kenzi Higgins about narcissist exit strategy tips. Some of you may have already received this helpful guide from me. It is called the N.E.S.T. Guide. And if not, you can send me an email at Annie@startingoverstronger.com to request one, and I’d be glad to provide that. So Hello, Kenzi. And thank you for joining us.
MaKenzi Higgins 01:18
Hi, thank you so much for having me.
Annie Allen 01:20
Yeah. So tell us a little bit about yourself.
MaKenzi Higgins 01:24
I am a general practice attorney, which means I do lots of different kinds of things that all play in together. But the largest part of my practice is divorce and post modification issues. So initial divorce, changing child custody, child support those kinds of things.
Annie Allen 01:45
Okay, so this is right up your wheelhouse, which I knew.
MaKenzi Higgins 01:48
Right up my alley.
Annie Allen 01:50
We’re going to talk about divorce preparedness today and what you need to do, hopefully, even before you ever go see an attorney or file for the divorce. So let’s just get started.
MaKenzi Higgins 02:02
Annie Allen 02:04
Well, as a CDC Certified Divorce Coach and fellow survivor, I have been helping clients with their exit strategies for years, and I’m sure you have been as well as a divorce attorney. And with these experiences, you and I have compiled extensive lists of tips that will aid those who are going through this in making their exit as safe and as smart as possible. We’re going to go through as many of them today as we can, but we may not hit them all, we may miss something that’s really important for someone. So this is not necessarily an exhaustive list. But we want to definitely try to hit the highlights and get as much of this information out there as possible. So we want you to consider each of these things that we mention today. And then make your own timeline that you feel will work best for you and get help in doing that if you need from an divorce attorney or divorce coach. If you have any questions about implementing these strategies, you are welcome to email those to me as well. And also, of course, if you’re seeking more comprehensive support, let me know that as well. And I’ll and I’ll get you help. So I want to start with the number one most important tip, which is, in my opinion, waiting to move out of the home until you have secured everything that may be important later. That could include a lot of different things. And that may be you know, even if you have to move upstairs or downstairs or to another bedroom or ask your spouse to do that. And definitely if there are kids involved, this is an important thing. So before you file, you want to make certain you have access to everything important. And we’re going to talk about some of that stuff today. What are your thoughts on that, Kenzi?
MaKenzi Higgins 03:48
You know, it is probably one of the most common mistakes that people make. They’re done with the relationship for whatever reason, and they’re ready to separate and move things on. And so they think well, because I’m the one who is wanting to do that, usually I will be the one to move out. And that’s usually a big mistake, especially if you have children. The courts, particularly in Kansas and Missouri, but really anywhere will give great deference to maintaining the status quo for children or the status quo of the relationship. The more monumental changes you make right at the beginning of this process, the harder it will be for you to move things back into a place that is more similar to the way things were before. And so it’s most important that you figure out a way to stay in the home if you can. Now obviously, if this is a domestic violence situation, you need to get out. You need to get somewhere safe and the rest of that can be worked out later. But if it’s not, then your best option is to stay in the home and the tips that you have on this NEST guide are exactly right. Either moved to another bedroom, move upstairs or downstairs, sleep on the couch, whatever you have to do to make it tenable to live there, but also be able to remain in that home.
Annie Allen 05:10
Yeah, absolutely. And we get that it’s… it’s such an emotional time. And there’s a lot of heated moments and a hasty exit probably sounds really good, and maybe even unavoidable, like you said, but it does quite often lead to regret and significant emotional and/or financial or even legal risk. And, like you said, especially if children are involved. So that is our number one tip of the day, but we’re going to break down now some communication and privacy concerns. I suggest that on the day you file, if you haven’t already, you want to block the soon to be ex on all social media. It’s not to be hateful or mean, it’s because it’s a necessary boundary, I guess, is the best way to refer to it. And if you receive any harassment, you want to set a firm boundary asking that they stop messaging you about anything other than kids and divorce procedure, until or unless, you know, another attorney is engaged, in which case, you would stop discussing that as well. If it continues, you want to follow through with blocking on the phone and all social media channels and this can be very difficult, and it’s already going to be an emotionally stressful time. So you want to set boundaries that will prevent unnecessary agitation and allowance for abusive communication. And there are even apps which I would love to hear from you on like Our Family Wizard where communication about kids can continue to be encouraged, but it’s staying on that subject, and everybody has to be on their best behavior, right? Absolutely. You know, one of the things that’s probably the hardest is not going on social media and airing everything out. We live now in a time where people are much more open with their lives, their food, their travels, and those things can open you up to ridicule. And so I have my clients sign a social media agreement that basically says you’re not going to post anything that’s not vanilla, for the next, you know, several months or a year or however long this case goes on. That’s a great idea!
MaKenzi Higgins 07:17
Because I have had people absolutely ruin their divorce cases with posting things on social media, especially when there’s children involved.
Ready to listen to the full episode?
Annie Allen 07:28
Yeah, for sure. Now, I agree with you completely that you know, you need to block them, you also need to change your passwords. So you know, if you if you have a family password for a family cloud that’s connected to say, all your iPhones or iPads, you’re going to need to change your passwords, and you’re going to need to get your own cloud base. That way, everything you do, everything you record, isn’t being passed over to the other party. In the same vein, you have to make sure that you’re not invading the privacy of your soon to be ex, you cannot go into the family cloud and download things from their phone just because it’s part of the family cloud, it doesn’t work that way. They have an expectation of privacy, you can’t go into their phone and download messages and send them to your attorney to use against them in court. Those are all big no no’s. It’s a violation of privacy and could be a crime. Wow. Okay, yeah. What are your thoughts on Our Family Wizard?
MaKenzi Higgins 08:25
So I like Our Family Wizard. You know, the problem with blocking in terms of your phone is if you have children, you really can’t block that. You know that the court would see that as a bad co-parenting situation, if you refuse to communicate with them at all. But what you can say is, I find your communications harassing I find your communications hateful or reprehensible or whatever they are. And I’m going to request that we talk through an application so that that can be shared with the court and our attorneys or my attorney or what have you. So that that can all be recorded for later. If you have someone who is harassing you, try to get it in writing. It is very important that you find out and you can do it with a quick Google search, what the recording statutes are in your state. Kansas is a one party consent state. So you can record a conversation between you and another person. If one of those two parties agrees to record it. You’re one of the parties, so you can do that.
Annie Allen 09:34
MaKenzi Higgins 09:34
…but another state, like California, for example, is a two party consent state. So both of the people who are being recorded or all of the people who are being recorded if there are several. All those people have to agree to that otherwise you’re actually committing a crime. And judges typically do not like recordings of children and they definitely don’t want you to put them out on the internet. So be very, very careful about what you record, the best thing is to document. So let’s say Annie and I are married, and we’re going to get divorced. And Annie sends me a voicemail… leaves me a voicemail, calling me all kinds of horrible, terrible names. Obviously, she’s smart enough to probably, especially if she’s a narcissist, not put that in writing. So since I can’t get her to put it in writing, the way I document that is I sent her a text message or an email and say, I received your voicemail message. I don’t appreciate you calling me an “x”, I don’t appreciate you saying “y” those things are hurtful and unnecessary and not helping with our relationship and co-parenting. Can we please get back to communications about this issue or that issue? Those things will document because unless that person unless, Annie texts me back and says I never said that, in which case I have her voicemail. And I can use that. Yeah, but it will help document that this is a continued pattern of harassment. Narcissists especially are very, very good at not putting things in writing, because they know that the court will not be happy about that, and they will see it as a problem. So if they won’t put it in writing, you put it in writing for them.
Annie Allen 11:15
Okay, so that recording of conversations could be screenshots of…
MaKenzi Higgins 11:20
Annie Allen 11:20
…conversations. I don’t know if there’s an easy way to but it could be a recording of a an actual phone call. Is that a possibility?
MaKenzi Higgins 11:29
It could be. Again, like I said, be very careful about recording phone calls or in person communications. You have to make sure that in your state, you have the right to record something with someone that doesn’t make it a crime. But for any sort of text messages, usually the best thing to do is to screenshot everything, and then take a video on your phone, if you can figure out how to do that. And there’s lots of YouTube videos that will help with those things, where you can show slowly scrolling from the top of that communication and the part right before it, down to the bottom, because the judges like to see full communications. So they’re going to want to see everything, what happens a lot is someone will send us a screenshot to their attorney. And it will have one snippet of a you know, five or six “page” conversation, right? That’s a problem because the other party can say that’s only part of it. And it’s taken out of context. So you must give the judge all of the context. Because you have to do that. Watch your mouth, do not say all the things that we know you want to say that are probably valid and probably necessary. But you can’t say those things, you must keep everything… that’s where somebody like a divorce coach can really be helpful, a therapist can really be helpful, to help you deal with the feelings of those things. Because really, when you’re going through a divorce, you have to treat it almost like a business transaction. I always equate a soon to be ex with the person you have to work with, because they’re the son of the company’s owner, who is lazy and annoying and horrible at their job, but they’re never gonna get fired, and you have absolutely no choice but to work with them. So you figure it out, because you need your job.
Annie Allen 13:08
Mm hmm. That’s a great tip.
MaKenzi Higgins 13:09
That’s exactly how you have to deal with these people. Put them in a box. It has to be dealt with on a business basis, or you just can’t get through it.
Annie Allen 13:17
Yeah, exactly. And you can’t expect the judge to hold them accountable to behavior that you’re mimicking. So you have to rise above that somehow. And it’s hard, it really is hard sometimes. And that’s why you do need support. And you know, that blocking that we talked about may extend to others who have loyalties to the soon to be ex and this is sometimes even a harder decision then blocking him. In many ways in this day and age, social and phone blocking can feel as harsh as the divorce itself. And there will be mutual friends, family members and others who you will really struggle to determine whether or not they may now pose a risk to your well-being at least during the time of the divorce proceedings. So you might consider a call ahead to let them know that you’re going to be deleting them. It’s not personal, may be temporary, but just be resolute in your decision that you’re having to keep your circle necessarily small right now. And the only other way really around that is if you just don’t post anything on your social media right now until the divorce is final. And then you can keep them as friends because you’re not going to be saying anything that they’re not going to have anything to say about so. And also beware that some friends are going to pretend to care only to break your confidence and go behind your back to your ex and tell them things that you would rather they not, so you know, yes, of course you’re going to wonder about your ex and you’re going to want to peek back into their world. And trust me that’s just not a good idea. Call your coach, call a friend. When those thoughts come, you got to get better as you go at resisting and instead re-directing that energy to your own well-being and recovery. What are your thoughts on that? You know, I think it’s really important to understand that as a divorce attorney, probably 15 to 20% of the evidence that I have against another party comes from something they posted on social media that some friend took screenshots of and sent to my client. Mm hmm.
MaKenzi Higgins 15:27
And it is very, very common. And a lot of times, they don’t realize they’re just doing it to say, hey, just so you know, you know, so and so was talking about your so and so said this. But what really ends up happening is those things turn into evidence. And so you do not want to provide any evidence for the other side that you are not the most reasonable party here. And so it is usually the best idea to take a break. If you say, I’m going to take a break from social media, I’m going to you know, go unplugged for you know, a couple of months and give myself some break and space and read books or whatever would make sense for you, then you can avoid having to unfriend all of these people. And you’re also going to avoid having to deal with having somebody take, you know, screenshots of something that you’re posting, the most important thing to do is write it and then sleep on it. If you are going to send an email, if you’re going to send a text message. If you feel emotionally connected to it, write it… I’ve had times like that where someone who has an opposing counsel was really hateful. And I want to say all kinds of things. But the best advice that I ever got in law school, and the best advice I can give my clients is shut your mouth, please shut up. Please stop talking. Because the more you say, the more they can use against you and twist your words into something else. So you don’t want to say as little as possible, especially when it’s a written thing that could be misinterpreted in lots of different ways by different people.
Annie Allen 17:01
Yeah, excellent point. Okay, so the next thing is to start a divorce notebook. You want to document everything, you want to take notes everywhere you go take it with you to all your appointments, keep track daily of changes and questions and decisions. Don’t agree to anything immediately or without thorough consideration with someone who you know has your best interests in mind, ideally, your attorney or your coach. And don’t let anyone especially your soon to be ex pressure you on anything or dictate to you what is going to happen. The thing I love pointing out to people, and almost always startles them is… there are only two decision makers in the divorce: you and your soon to be ex. Your attorneys should not be telling you what you need to do. They are going to present options, but they’re not going to bully you into something. And you shouldn’t let your soon to be ex do that either. Right? Absolutely. You know, the thing is, the way the Divorce Laws work in every state in this country is you have the control, you can decide as the people who are divorcing as the people who are parents or, or soon to be ex spouses, you get to decide what’s going to happen. And if you can’t decide, then the judge will decide for you. But the judges don’t want to do that. And they will tell you very often listen, if you can’t come to an agreement, I’ll come with one, but you’re going to give up all control to me. And you’re probably both not going to get what you want. The… some of it usually is you get some things you want, they get some things they want. Everybody’s a little happy and a little unhappy. And that’s probably the most fair thing. Yeah.
MaKenzi Higgins 18:42
And it’s hard because as people, we always approach things from our perspective, we always least see things from our perspective. And in a court, it’s difficult to understand, because I have clients all the time say, Well, he did this, she did that. It’s right there. It’s in black and white. It’s so straightforward. But it’s not. This is not a court of black and white, this is a court of gray. And because it’s a court of gray, you have to realize that for everything you say is “x”, your spouse will say it’s “y”. And the judge doesn’t believe either one of you. You are both biased to your own perspective.
Annie Allen 19:18
And you are.
MaKenzi Higgins 19:19
And that’s true. Absolutely. Yeah. And so the judge is going to look at it and say, Well, maybe this is a little more true. Maybe that’s a little more true. And try and find something in the middle. because technically, starting point for pretty much everything is everything is going to be split 50/50. Child support is going to be paid, maybe maintenance, if one of you makes more than the other, maybe not. You know, the house, the proceeds, the IRAs, parenting time, the sort of default position is 50/50. And then we move the needle one way or the other based on the facts of the case, but it’s going to be based on all the facts, not just the ones that you think are most helpful to you.
Annie Allen 20:00
Right, correct. Yeah. The divorce notebook for me is probably one of the most important things to do. You know, the most important tip, I think is that first one staying in the house, the most important thing to do is documentation, get an actual notebook or create an e-notebook, but make sure it’s very secure. And, you know, start getting things in terms… think in terms of evidence, because it may end up going to that place. And so for evidence, what I need is a small narration… on “x” my spouse called me a this or that, or this or that, threatened to take the children away and move to Sweden. Okay, fine. And then you’ve got the text messages where you’ve taken screenshots of the whole conversation slightly before and all the way after. And then you either attach them, or you mark them, as you know, number one, and you keep those all together, either printed out or saved in a folder. And that way, when you have an attorney, or even if you don’t, and you end up going on your own to the judge, you can present these things to him in a very linear and cogent way. And that way, the judge can follow along with the footsteps of where you’re going, because you’re both trying to lead the judge down the garden path to drink from the fountain you want them to drink from, which is the way you want things to end up. And the only way to get them there is by taking them step by step, stone by stone until they get to where you want them to go. Skipping steps will mean that you’re giving an opportunity for them to wander off of your path. And so you want to keep everything very, very linear. And you start that from day one. Because even if you think that you are in total agreement, and you may very well be everything can fall apart in a second. Yeah, I think that’s one of the hardest parts is… when I’m coaching a client, and they’re telling me that, you know, we’re just going to use the same attorney and he said he’d do this and he said he, I just… I hate being negative, but I just… I always am just so sobered by that comment, because I know what’s gonna happen in most cases. And yet, you know, I want them to keep their hope and I want to be wrong. But you know, even just in case, that doesn’t happen, let’s just document everything and be you know, let’s err on the side of caution and some of those things are creating a new email address and setting all your new or important accounts to go to that new email. That you know is secure. Likewise, you may want a PO box that only you can access for snail mail. And you definitely as you mentioned earlier, want to change all passwords for important logins, utilities, if you’re staying in the house, phone companies, financial institutions, you’re not trying to block his access, you’re just trying to ensure your own so that you don’t get blocked out of anything. And you know what you want to continue to have access because they sometimes will attempt to block you and things I happen to have a personal example of that. So I know that it happens. So and then of course, you want to make a list of everyone that you want to contact to inform of the divorce after it’s filed. So that you can provide them with any new contact information that you may need. And this could be friends, it could be business contacts, but it may even be like your insurance agent, or someone like that, who may need to know that a divorce filing has happened so that they can protect both parties from making unilateral decisions or changes on things. So what are your thoughts on that?
MaKenzi Higgins 23:35
You know, the courts especially look very negatively towards people making sweeping changes in anticipation of a divorce. And in anticipation I mean immediately before filing. Or immediately after filing. A lot of the of the jurisdictions here, a lot of the court systems here will allow for temporary orders. Some of them are called ex parte, which means that you can ask for them without the other party being present or having an opportunity to weigh in on that. So if you’re the one filing that might work in your favor, if you’re one thing piled upon that might not. And so if you’re going to change the utilities into your name, if you’re going to separate your cell phone, if you’re going to you know change your financial institution, those things have to be done before those ex parte orders are put into place typically, because those orders will not allow you to make those changes later. Now you can open your own bank account, you can start putting your pay stub in there if you want to. But you can’t close accounts, you can’t withdraw, you know large amounts of money if the court says that you can’t. And so you have to be very careful about what the orders are in the case. If you have a case already. If you don’t, then you can make those kinds of changes but it can’t be to disadvantage the other party. In other words, if you’re going to file for divorce on October 20, and October 1, you sign up for new insurance, and you intentionally leave your spouse off of your insurance that you’ve always had them on. Because you know, you’re getting divorced and they don’t.
Annie Allen 25:14
Oh my gosh, yeah.
MaKenzi Higgins 25:16
That that would go poorly. The judge will not be very happy about that. So those kinds of things, you know, you can’t cancel your spouse’s cell phone. Well, it was on my account. I hear that all the time. Well it was on my account! There is no “my account” Everything in especially in Kansas and Missouri. They’re not community property states when you’re married. Technically, your stuff is your stuff and their stuff is their stuff. Except once you file for divorce, it all becomes community property at that point, the presumption is that it’s all marital and you have to prove that it isn’t. And same thing with all debts and assets. So make sure that you don’t do anything that makes you look like a brat.
Annie Allen 26:00
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Well, let’s get into some of the financial matters that you’ve begun to address. If you have months or even weeks in advance to prepare and you face a significant income disparity, you may want to begin to tuck money away whenever and wherever you can. If you are financially disadvantaged in the marriage, one common tip is to just get cash back on purchases as much as you can, especially if receipts can be tossed, placed into place that cash somewhere that only you have access to it. And it could be a lifeline for some people. And then another recommendation that I’ve heard and actually used myself in my own divorce situation, was that the day before or the day that you serve the papers (And of course, you want to discuss this with your attorney) but transferring half of all the liquid accounts to your own new account for the purpose of securing, you know, what is that 50% that’s going to be yours… not more than that, right? Absolutely. Yeah, the most that you would ever want to take is 50%. And make sure that it’s something that is a liquid account, essentially, for your family. You don’t want to take 50% of, you know, the business account, that is technically your spouse’s business, you know, even though you have access to that, that’s not a good idea. But if you’ve got savings account, checking account, money market accounts, anything like that, yes, absolutely, you can go ahead and transfer half of all the liquid assets into an account that’s just in your name. Just be aware that you can only really use those things for regular living expenses and attorney’s fees. You cannot go and buy a Lamborghini. Yeah, that would be a bad idea. The judge would not be impressed. So make wise choices with those things. And the bottom line is you don’t know how much this is going to cost, how long it’s going to take, whether or not you’re going to have to move out, whether or not you’re going to have to refinance the house to get it in your name if you want to keep it. There’s lots of things that may require you to have some liquid assets. So you want to get those out before you file but yes, right before or the day of because, obviously, they’re going to figure that out pretty quickly and be a bit stunned if they didn’t know ahead of time, right? And you don’t want to leave a gap because it happens unfortunately, that once someone is served divorce papers, they kind of go into you know, a ego driven survival thing where they have 100% of the accounts. And that happens a lot and you may need this money to supplement your expenses like you said. You’re even just to retain the attorney. And it’s not theft, if it’s only 50%. And the threat is either party on any joint account has the ability to remove 100% the funds at any given time. So your choice to remove half, I believe, and I think you would agree, is seen as cooperative by the court system because you, you could have taken it all. And you took your part. So if you don’t, you may end up with none. So…
MaKenzi Higgins 30:14
Yes, Yeah, I agree. I absolutely agree with you. I think you’re right on with that.
Annie Allen 30:19
So another thing to do, then is to call banks to request that accounts require both signatures if that’s possible. It’s not always. If it’s not, you might want to just discuss with your bank, how to protect yourself financially during the divorce. And I think one way to do that, one thing that I had to do is just to change banks, we were at a small bank, and they knew us as a couple, and it was just too risky for me to have that account be at the same bank, because, frankly, they messed up more than once and sent… in one case sent a statement for a personal account of mine the marital house where I was no longer living. So yeah, mistakes are made. So if you change banks, you have less worry with that. And, you know, obviously, like you said, start a new bank account and make sure there are no ties. Also run a credit report. I like Experian. I don’t recommend C***** K****, but anything is better than nothing. You want to set credit alerts to track what affects your score as the divorce progresses, and be aware that on time payments, low utilization, and the moderate number of open accounts are the biggest factors that contribute to those scores. And I have connections with credit specialists, if someone were to have concerns with that, what are your thoughts on credit? And how you deal with that in or do you? I don’t deal with personally. I always refer them out to a credit specialist or someone to deal with those issues if there are. One thing I will say is that one of the mistakes people often make is when it comes to what they’re doing with the money. If you run a credit report, and you find that there are all kinds of credit cards in your name or something like that, you want to let your attorney know immediately because that could be fraud. It could be fraud on the part of your spouse, or on somebody else’s part. But remember that just because it’s in your name doesn’t mean it’s yours necessarily. So if your spouse was the one with better credit, and they had all of the credit cards open in their name, and you could use it but it doesn’t show up on your credit for some reason, then they’re not responsible for just all of that all by themselves only because it was in their name. All those debts are going to be seen as marital just like all of the assets are going to be seen as marital unless you can prove they’re not. And so you have to remember… Recently, I had a case where someone got a $7,000 tax refund, because they filed… she went ahead and filed on our own… which is fine, you have a choice always to file married, filing separately. But she claimed all three children. Dad didn’t get a chance to do that. She ended up with a $7,000 refund and called me and said, Well, what can I do with this, I said nothing. You can’t do anything with that. Because you have debts. There’s debts of this marriage, there’s credit card debts, those debts will have to be satisfied before they start divvying things up to most degrees. So you need to be very aware of what your credit report says. And if you have their credit report what it says. Any information that you can provide to your attorney with regard to where their bank where they bank, where they have credit cards, where the mortgage is held, all that information is going to be necessary and useful as we go throughout your case. Yeah, for sure. Well, and going back a step, I guess, or maybe not looking at attorneys, consultations. My recommendation to clients is to interview at least two to three attorneys. Expect that most, if not all, good ones will charge for their time and it’s worth it. Free consultations are worth every dime you pay. So you want to be sure and bring questions and that divorce notebook that we talked about to take notes on answers to your most important concerns. And you want to select your attorney not just by a Google review or something but by a personal recommendation from someone you know, who had a great outcome in a similar situation. It’s not recommended to just go by online reviews or your friend that you know, they didn’t fight over anything. They had nothing to fight over and you’ve got this really complicated case. You know, your friend who hugged her ex at the end of their three-month mediated divorce is not a good recommendation for you if you’re looking at a contested and toxic situation so and you know, understand that going with the lowest retainer or hourly fee can also not be a great decision. You may find that it costs you more in the end. An assertive and experienced attorney with a stick strong moral compass is what you need. And I do help my coaching clients with those decisions and offering excellent recommendations. What are your thoughts on the concept of you need to just interview people and make sure?
MaKenzi Higgins 35:16
Absolutely. You for sure should meet with at least two if not three attorneys. You know, you need to find somebody who you click with. This is a very personal and emotional journey, you need to find somebody that you feel like you will listen to, not necessarily just someone that you like.
Annie Allen 35:37
MaKenzi Higgins 35:38
That’s a big mistake that people make. “Well, I loved him or her”… that’s great. But if they’re not going to help get your case moved along and completed in a timely manner, without it costing you an ever-loving fortune. Then they’re probably not the best choice, even if you really like them. I do not recommend that you use a family member. I don’t do family law for family members of my office, I don’t. My partner might do it. But I would stay completely away from it. Because it’s difficult to compartmentalize how you feel, from you know, the personal aspect of it. You don’t want an attorney who will sit there and cry with you. And that sounds terrible. But I’m a very expensive therapist, guys. You do not want to pay me for that.
Annie Allen 36:26
MaKenzi Higgins 36:26
And I will talk about whatever you want at $275 an hour. I had a client come in for a consult once, once for a divorce who wanted to read Matthew, the book of Matthew, with me to talk about the Pharisees changing money in the temple as an example of being a narcissist. I mean, I usually read Matthew for free, but if you want to pay me $275/hour, that’s fine with me.
Annie Allen 36:51
MaKenzi Higgins 36:52
…but it’s not a good use of your time or money. Remember that your attorneys, whoever you choose will charge you for everything. You get charged for phone calls, you get charged for emails, you get charged for text messages, some of us are more reasonable about those things than some other people, but you are going to get what you pay for. If you hire a flat rate attorney, then realize that you will be one of a lot of people who are paying that same flat rate. And if your case becomes more complicated, they may ask for more money, or they may just take a lot longer to get back to you. That’s not fair. But that’s how it is.
Annie Allen 37:31
MaKenzi Higgins 37:32
And so you know, I don’t offer free consultations, not because I don’t, I wouldn’t be okay with it. But when we did, people never showed up. People don’t appreciate things that are free. So I don’t do that I charge $50 for a half hour consult, you can ask me anything you want to. And then if you want to consult with me more than that you pay my regular hourly rate. But you have to be prepared to find somebody that you believe will fight for you when you need them to and fight with you when you’re wrong. That’s really important.
Annie Allen 38:06
Yeah, that’s a great point. And another great consultation is with a divorce financial planner. If there’s any significant level of assets involved, and maybe even if there isn’t, I definitely have some of these in my…what do you call that? my Rolodex. But you know, you don’t want just any financial planner or financial advisor, you want one that specializes in divorce, it’s a very different thing. And you’ll want to take a full financial inventory tax returns employment information, banking, pension, retirement, insurance, children’s bank accounts, all the debt record, a summary of your current position with wills, powers of attorney Social Security statements. I mean, we could go on and on. But yeah, that’s why you need a divorce financial planner, because there’s just so much to think about. And it’s really hard at this point to think about anything, right? Absolutely. And it’s really the most important thing to figure out. One of the lists that I always ask people to provide is what is your list of must haves and can’t stands? Where do you draw your lines, because you’re not going to get every single thing you want? I’m telling you right now, no one else will tell you, you will not get everything that you want. So you have to decide what is the most important? What hill are you willing to die on? Where are you going to draw your line and say, absolutely not. If this isn’t happening, I’m going to trial. I’ll let the judge decide it. And anything other than that, you have to let go. Yeah. And that is a good point that you kind of need to know what your bottom line is. What, at what point is it going to be worth going to trial? Because trial is expensive, and it’s long and it’s painful. So you don’t want to go there if there’s any way you can get around it. Right? Absolutely. And one thing I want to say about attorneys and I I say something to my clients all the time… that’s called “good for me, not so good for you.” So if I telling you that it’s good for me and not so good for you, what I’m saying is that I’m going to get paid to make this argument either way. But either way it happens, I still get paid. And I don’t think it’s a good idea to spend $275 an hour times the two or three hours it’ll happen to fight over a $250 laptop. Not a good idea, go buy a different laptop with that money instead of paying me. I’ll be fine. And I always want people to think about what is the actual value, and this is not brand new replacement value for things especially. This is garage sale value for stuff that’s used, your $7,000 couch is worth 500 bucks in a garage sale. And that’s all the courts going to look at it as. That’s right. You know, we always were very house-proud of everything, our time that we spent with our children, the you know, things that we took them to versus our spouse, the thing that we made with our bare hands, we’re very house-proud with those things. But this is a court of law and equity, they’re not going to value those things at what you think they’re valued at ever. Yep, you’re right. And speaking of material possessions, you’re going to want to go room to room in the house making a detailed list in writing, and photos is even better. Of every material possession, especially all collections or other valuables such as jewelry, or sports collectibles or what have you. And with this inventory list completed, you want to divide it into your proposal for what you keep and what he can keep. You will have to negotiate this list at some point. It’s not saying this is set in stone, you know, you got to be fair, you don’t want to give up personal or sentimental items that you procured or that were given to you that are extremely important to you. Ultimately, if a mediator or a judge has to intervene, you want to be viewed as being fair and reasonable. You want to work towards sharing this list as soon as possible after filing with your soon to be ex and begin a conversation about coming to an agreement on the division of these possessions and prepare for conflict and insist on equal given take. And if you’re moving out of the house, as time alone there at the home permits, you may want to begin to pack and slowly move your personal and sentimental belongings from your side of the list to a storage unit or a friend’s basement. Whenever it makes sense in your case to do that, and if finances allow, you may want to supplement some things to furnish a new residence, and keeping it all in storage just kind of separates the whole situation of moving day being emotionally volatile and stressful, which it’s going to be anyway. But if you’re moving directly out of the marital house, it’s more so. So it’s kind of an emotional protection for you. Yeah, so one thing that I want to add to that, if I can here is that if you’ve got some significant assets that are tangible like gold, or silver, coin collections, gun collections, significant jewelry, or gemstones, things like that, that are easily transported and easily hidden. Yeah, I should say it that way, you can do one of two things, you can either split those things in half. And you know, go put your half in either a safe deposit box, or you know, in a safe or somewhere that secure with somebody else that you can trust. But it has to be someone you really trust. Or if your attorney will take those items, my office does, we actually have a safe that we will keep those things off-site, and we will hold those items in trust. We’re fiduciaries for the state. So we can’t, you know, take your stuff and convert it if we wanted to. We would but we can’t. And so we put those things in trust. And that way, you can’t your spouse doesn’t have the opportunity to dissipate those assets. If there’s you know, 20 gold bars in your in your safe at home. And you know, they’re there and you leave without half of those. They’re never going to be there again, and he gave them away a long time ago. That’s what happens every dadgum time. So if you have opportunity to get access to those things. Don’t sell them. Don’t use them. Don’t give them away. Just put them somewhere that safe and secure so that you’ve secured half of those assets just like the cash. Right. Great, great point. And you know, we talked earlier about some record keeping and some more that I want to talk about is creating a divorce file. We talked earlier about the divorce notebook, which is great, but you’re going to have papers coming to you and you want to have a file even if it’s just a simple plastic, you know, accordion type thing. Paper is good if you’re certain you can maintain privacy and access to it all at all times, and you want to consider a locking file folder if that’s an option, but an online password protected file may also be preferable, if only you can access it and that way you can access it from anywhere. And then I want to run through a list of documents, I guess physical electronic documents, anything that you have. You may want to password protect any of these things, but you want to get access to these things before you need it or, you know, work on compiling these things, because at some point you’re going to need the marriage certificate, birth certificates for yourself and your kids, documentation of all important information such as dates of birth, social security numbers, passwords and logins, bank statements, how far do they need to go back? Three years?
MaKenzi Higgins 45:41
Usually three years, okay,
Annie Allen 45:43
….account numbers, your own login information, government benefit documentation, whether that’s SSI, SSDI, Medicare, Medicaid, health, life and car insurance policies, agent contact information and account numbers, individual login information for those things. Your mortgage lender to send all documents to the new address if you’re moving, all joint account numbers and contact information, important information about your kids, their schools, their medical records, your doctors (and while you’re at it, you should probably schedule a checkup to monitor your stress!) tax accounting records, two to three years of tax returns, any important home or business records, powers of attorney, Social Security statements, I may have already said that, and any real estate or monetary investment statements or login information. Can you think of anything else that we need to add to that list? Uh, for sure credit card statements or loan statements. If you have applied for a loan, or if you have refinanced anything, any of the applications or documents relating to that will be requested. Most likely, that’s very standard. And when we say bank statements or credit card statements, there is a meme that went around recently with Divorce Attorneys were Baby Yoda and Kylo Ren are going back and forth. And Kylo Ren said I need copies of your bank statements. And then Baby Yoda would say first page, no copies of your bank statements, screenshot of the login page. No, I need all of the bank statements. Even if you just get them online. That doesn’t mean that you can just send us screenshots or download the CSV file. We need files that are PDFs that cannot be altered, and they have to go back… if you only do yours online, most banks will only go back 12 to 18 months. Just because your bank only goes back 12 months online does not mean that you only have to provide 12 months worth of statements. You have to call your bank and request the copies of the other ones, and it will take a while so you might as well get it done and have it sent to your PO Box instead of your house. Yeah, yes, if you’re not ready to do it yet, but you need to start getting those things together, because it’s going to be requested anyway. And it’s a big, big pain to do it all at one time. Yeah, that’s for sure. Well, we’re gonna look forward now at recovery. But before we do that, is there any other preparedness tasks that you can think of that we have not covered today, any of the major ones? I really recommend that you get a therapist before you start the divorce process. If you’re getting ready to get a divorce, you already have some issues that you will need to deal with in the breakdown of a relationship that was important enough to call it a marriage and to put that down on paper. Right.
MaKenzi Higgins 48:43
So there’s, there’s very little chance even if they did everything wrong, and you did everything, right, there’s very little chance that there’s not some emotional fallout from that. And one of the best things you can do is work with a therapist, work with a divorce coach, put people in place “key men/women” …people in place that will help guide and direct you through this. These people can be your lifelines, and can really help you move through this with as much grace as possible because if you don’t have those outlets, you will have those emotions come out somewhere. And it’ll usually end up being in a way that is bad for my case. I would rather you have an emotionally appropriate outlets. And complaining to your best friend might feel good in the moment. But those are people that will just agree with you and commiserate and understand. What you need is somebody is to help you work on tools to understand the processes, to be able to help you work through these things. I always ask if there are children involved that are over the age of six, that the parents also engage them with some sort of a therapist even just go and get them assessment. For kids having a safe place to talk about how they feel, it’s really important. And as much, especially when you’re dealing with narcissists… as hard as it is, everybody has the right to screw up their kids. That is a God given and constitutional right in this country, you get to screw them up. And as hard as it is to appreciate and to accept, one of the harshest things that I have to say to my clients, and one of the hardest things to understand from a judge’s perspective… is that you picked them. And that sounds so mean, and it’s really not meant to, but you made a life with that person, whether you knew who they were at the time or not, you picked them. And because you picked them, now everybody else who’s a professional: judges, attorneys, counselors, divorce coaches, we all have to come in now and try and help you navigate how to unpick that person. But if you have children with them, you’re always going to have some interaction, at least until they’re 18. So be very mindful that even if they’re the worst parent, ever, those are still when you talk about them. Remember, if you have children, that those children are hearing, you say that a piece of me is bad. Because that’s a part of them. And it’s as hard, and it’s even harder when you’re dealing with somebody who is a narcissist, who has treated you super poorly, who has forced you into a position where you are being disadvantaged and being blamed for everything, which happens all the time in these cases. The best piece of advice that I can give your listeners is “you cannot dim someone else’s candle to make yours shine brighter.” It doesn’t work that way. And where you get into trouble, especially in a court process, is that thing that teenagers do. When your son says, Well, I did this and you’re upset with them. And you say, why are you doing that? Well, she did this first. That’s never an excuse. That’s not how that works. Anybody who’s parented children says yeah, I don’t, that’s not a reason to do i. One bad decision does not behest another. It doesn’t work that way. So pointing out how awful they are is our gut reaction as people. And it’s counterintuitive in a court of law, it works against you more than it helps. If you have a good attorney, they will try and guide you away from doing that. And try and stick to the facts and the focus on the case as much as possible. That’s the best thing you can do for yourself.
Annie Allen 52:39
Yeah. And the reason why it’s the best thing you can do for yourself is because not only all of the things that you just mentioned, but the exact empowerment and feeling of healing and strength that you want right now comes from stopping the focus on what they are doing wrong, and shifting it to that personal responsibility that you talked about where the reality is, you picked them, you stayed there, you had kids with them, you built a life with them. Why did you do that? Why did… Can you see now how that didn’t serve you and why you made those choices, expend your energy there. And that’s where you will find strength and empowerment to change your life. If you continue to focus on him and everything he’s doing to you, you stay in a victim mentality, and you are completely powerless to accomplish all the things that you want.
MaKenzi Higgins 53:36
And you’re likely to repeat your pattern. If you don’t find a way to figure out how you got here, you’re very likely to do it again. And you don’t want to go through this again. It’s not fun. Now, it’s not a good time. No one wants to do that. And you don’t want to put your children through that.
Annie Allen 53:52
That’s right. So as we look forward in your recovery, there are steps that need to be taken like deciding where you want to live. That might be a temporary here and a permanent something different here. A lot of people rent for a time and there’s no shame in that at all. But if obviously if you have questions about homeownership during or after your divorce, you can give me a call. Don’t automatically assume it’s not a possibility. I can counsel you on how to make the best housing decision that’s possible for you bear in mind for the foreseeable future. And really from now on, how your soon to be ex reacts is on them, not you. Take away the power that they have had over you by focusing on your ability to filter out all their judgments and criticisms and opinions and communicate only through your attorneys. If he’s willing to respect that. And if he’s not, then you know, you need to set different boundaries and if you need help setting those you want to reach out, we would be glad to help you with that and you know, most importantly, just learn to trust your gut. You’ve probably been dismissing it for far too long. You want to begin to get reacquainted with that internal monitor that’s always working for your good, it works better than you think it does. But somehow it just keeps working, even when you keep ignoring it. And so you know, consider another thing is if you would want to change your last name that may be possible to include in your divorce proceedings. So you want to definitely think about whether that’s something you’re going to want to do. What are your thoughts on that? There are different camps of people who believe different things, there’s really no one right answer. About half of people change their name back to their maiden name, about half of people do not. I will say more people don’t, when they have children, because their last name then remains the same as their children. But it is entirely up to you and there is no right or wrong way. You can change your name to you know, whatever you want, really, at that time, you can restore your maiden name, or you could hyphenate your maiden name and your married name, if you want to do that, to take some of yourself back, but still maintain that connection to your children. Some people choose to do that. And I think that that’s kind of cool. Yeah, absolutely. And another important thing is to connect with a group of women who are or have been where you are, and only spend time with and give your phone and social media access to people who are good for you. It would be you know, if you’re interested, there’s groups of women in churches, and I even organize some support groups through the Starting Over Stronger business that I do, and you know, you need a place that you are surrounded by people who get what you’re going through, where you can let yourself fall apart. You’re grieving the death of a marriage and the dreams that you had for a life that are not going to happen. Now you’re on an emotional roller coaster, it’s going to be up and down. You have to write it out. And you have to let yourself “feel all the feelings that you need to feel until you feel better.” Yes, yes, that’s my fun saying. And learn how to relax, make a list of things you love to do, and make yourself do them if you have to. Because there’s only one person that’s going to take care of you. And that’s you. So put yourself first, you may not have done this in a long time. And I’m sure that you’re gonna think it’s selfish, but it’s not. You have to be your own first priority, especially if you have littles because they need you to be strong. Who’s going to help and support them if you’re not strong enough to do so? So you want to let go and focus on your priorities, reduce the noise as much as possible with all of the emotional upheaval that’s happening and just do what you feel is best for you and for your kids and who knows that you can trust. And that’s really all you can control. And other than that reaching out, not doing it alone. You can get support from a therapist, from your attorney, from a divorce coach, from a lot of other people. I work with a whole team of collaborative professionals that all come together to support one person because you need that help in so many different ways. And so, one way that I do this is this podcast that you’re listening to right now. You want to check in here as often as you can. We have new episodes every Wednesday, but you definitely will find a lot of great information here. I interview amazing people like Kenzi Higgins who have all kinds of wisdom and experience that you need right now. And I also interview women who’ve been through what you’re going through and they tell their story of recovery and survival so you can find that hope that you need to get through. That I think is about all we have for today. What other thoughts do you have? If people want to reach out to me, if they have questions or they want to schedule a consult. My law firm is called juris j-u-r-i-s as in Sam, kind of like jury or jurist. It’s the base word of jurists, which is all things law. So we’re at Juris KC, like Kansas City .com or you can call my office, which is 913-764-8844. We have two full time attorneys to contract attorneys, two full time paralegals and we also have a mental health professional and a master teacher that are consultants for our office. So depending on what kind of case we’re dealing with, we will reach out to those internal consultants to make sure that we’re giving the very best advice possible to our clients and to their family for going forward. As I said, we do a $50 half hour consult, you can ask us anything you want. We are licensed in Kansas and Missouri both and if you need another attorney or you want to have somebody in a different state, and obviously you’re going to want to interview a few different people. I know that Annie’s got some great recommendations and other attorneys to talk to you. So do I. You want to definitely talk to them before you choose. Changing attorneys midstream is hard and if you get to attorney three or four, it makes it look like you might be the problem. So you need to be very, very careful… even if you’re not, but it still looks like that to the judge. So you need to very deliberate about choosing the right attorney for you. And you know, I have amazing clients and I have amazing reviews online. That does not mean that I’m the right attorney for you. I may not have the right conversation, I’m very direct, you may need somebody that’s a little softer handed, and that is okay. It’s not personal. It’s not meant to be. You must make the choices that are best for you, especially right now. Awesome. Well, thank you again for being here and for sharing your wisdom with us listeners. I hope this has helped you. It is my pleasure to meet you here each Wednesday with a new survivor or professional to share stories and explore what is important to you. I’m excited to share that the Starting Over Stronger show surpassed 3200 downloads in over 30 countries in February. That statistic just blew my mind! I couldn’t believe 30 countries! What? I thought we were just doing this in America! I am humbled and hopeful that there are people out there hearing exactly what they need to hear. I’m getting great feedback from listeners. So if you would please take the time now to follow Starting Over Stronger on Facebook, @SOSDivorceCoachAnnie on Instagram and where you are listening now, you can rate and review the show and share it with any woman that you know who’s going through divorce. And again, email me at Annie at starting over stronger.com if you have any questions if you want to explore divorce coaching and how it might help you and I would also love to make a personal introduction to Kenzi for you, so I would be happy to do that as well as to hear any topics that you would like to hear on the show. So until we meet again… remember you do not have to do divorce alone. There is help as you divorce and hope as you are starting over stronger.
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Annie Allen, MaKenzi Higgins