It’s well known that about half of all first marriages fail. What many people don’t realize – including most physicians – is that your profession has a divorce rate that is 10-percent to 20-percent higher than the general population. And the odds of a second or third marriage ending in divorce are even greater. This is according to North Carolina-based Wayne M. Sotile, PhD, an educator and consultant who studies medical marriages.
‘My first wife and I married when I was in med school, and we divorced a few years after I began practicing,” a fairly prominent psychiatrist told one of my colleagues not long ago. “I wasn’t home much and when I was, my nose was buried first in text books and then patient files. My ex-wife thought I wasn’t interested in her or our newborn daughter.
“It wasn’t true but my behavior kept telling her she was right,” he recalled sadly. “I could see the end coming almost from the beginning.”
The heightened divorce risks you face along with their consequences means that you need to understand the implications of divorce. If your marriage is collapsing, there are steps to take that can minimize the potential professional damage caused by the end of a failed marriage.
Many people going through a divorce see the legal system as the place to take out their hurt feelings brought on by years of emotional strain or the pain of a betrayal. Likewise, some people mistakenly believe that being overly generous in dividing marital assets will win back a disgruntled spouse. Neither is an appropriate strategy and will only prolong the process, keeping you from moving on to the next stage in your life.
As a practical matter, you have only one opportunity to resolve the financial and family issues raised by your divorce. You need to weigh carefully the long-term implications of every decision.
To help avoid turning your divorce into a soap opera, there are six important steps to take at the start of the process.
1 – Make an inventory of all of your assets
Be sure to include everything from bank accounts, investments and retirement funds to your practice, real estate such as a primary residence plus vacation homes and rental property, cars, art work and antiques, even loans to relatives. Also make a list of all marital debts including mortgages, lines of credit and other outstanding loans, credit cards and obligations taken on by your practice.
2 – Gather your W2 or 1099 forms and tax returns for the last five years
Both personal and practice tax information should be on hand. These may be needed when negotiating spousal and child support, and will help in appraising your practice. Also, if your spouse claims you are hiding income or assets, the documents can help prove that you aren’t.
3 – Obtain a third party assessment of the value of your practice
A qualified appraiser with experience valuing professional practices will enable you to determine what your spouse’s share is worth as a property settlement is reached. We can help you select an appraiser.
4 – Don’t disparage your spouse on social media
No matter how hurt or angry you are, Facebook and Twitter is not the place to attack your ex. Comments posted might make it impossible to reach agreement on anything, and can be used as evidence against you if your divorce goes to trial. Judges have little patience with inflammatory public comments made about a spouse. Plus, remember that if your children are on Facebook, they – and their friends – can see what you’re saying.
5 – Don’t pressure your children into taking sides
It’s not fair to the kids, who are dealing with their own emotional hurt from watching their parent’s split up. And doing so is likely to make it more difficult to reach an agreement with your spouse.
6 – Retain an attorney familiar with physician divorces
Some doctors believe that they can handle their own divorce because the separation is amicable, or ask the lawyer who handles the practice’s general legal work to draw up the papers. But few divorces end up as simple as they seem at the outset, even when the couple believe they’ve agreed on the details. Retaining a lawyer who understands the unique issues that arise when individuals with a substantial income and significant assets split up will ensure that your agreement meets Minnesota’s often-complex divorce laws. You’ll only have one chance to get it right.
Divorce isn’t easy for anyone. With some planning and care, it does not have to become a soap opera, making your life more complicated than it is right now.
Kathy Newman has more than 35 years of experience in high-asset divorce and family law issues faced by physicians throughout the Twin Cities area. Kathy and her team understand the applicable laws and legal nuances involved, and welcome the opportunity to support you through the process. Read more from our Divorce blog for physicians.