You may be fortunate that your split with your spouse or partner is amicable, but there’s still no way around it: You’re going through a major life event, and it’s going to impact your work life, whether you like it or not. But while transitions like these can be difficult, there are a few steps you can take to get through them as smoothly as possible.
First things first, seek qualified legal advice about how best to proceed. Then adapt this checklist depending on your needs.
1. Tell Your Boss The Facts
Your boss needs to know you’re going through a divorce, just as she or he should know that your parent is ill or has passed away, or whether you’re expecting a new baby. This event will change your life, and you have every right to expect your manager to make reasonable accommodations for you when life happens–but you need to speak up about it. Divorce is definitely a “life happens” event, and whatever conversation you have with your boss can certainly be kept confidential.
The key is to skip the sordid details and stick to logistics: You are getting divorced or legally separated, you are committed to staying on track with your responsibilities as usual, but you may require some schedule flexibility as court dates, attorney meetings, and other obligations arise.
If you plan to tell colleagues about your breakup, that’s fine; just be sure to tell your boss first. This not only protects your relationship with your boss, it protects your colleagues from any awkward situations with your manager as well.
2. Get Ahold Of HR Early
As part of wise, early, divorce planning, you likely need information that only your human resources department can provide, including details on what your options may be for handling your retirement and pension plan, your health insurance premiums and coverage, and your life and disability insurance. And if it’s relevant to your situation, make sure to ask how any of those details may differ in your state if you’re dissolving a domestic partnership rather than a marriage.
Later on, as you near the end of your legal proceedings, you’ll likely need to change all your HR paperwork accordingly. You should be able to trust that requests for this information will be kept private, but if feel free to sort this out by email with your HR team if you uncomfortable meeting about it face-to-face. If you’re self-employed, you’ll have to work directly with your tax-preparer, various insurance agents (life, disability, health), and retirement accounts to get everything up to date–from your tax info and health insurance coverage to the beneficiaries named in your life insurance and retirement accounts, and even your emergency contacts.
3. Draw Up Your Plan To Earn
At least in the short term, both parties are poorer after splitting up. It’s twice as expensive to maintain two homes instead of one, and you may find yourself making alimony and child support payments, which can be steep. Your attorney can help you understand what to expect, but chances are you’ll need to find ways to earn more money, sooner than later. This may mean buckling down on your goals in your current job, discussing a plan for advancement with your boss, asking for an overdue raise, or strategizing to change companies, launch a side business, or return to school so you can switch careers altogether.
Contemplating dramatic work changes can feel overwhelming when your personal life is in flux already. But many people actually find they thrive professionally over the long term after a divorce or separation; sometimes the fear of financial instability proves just as powerful a motivator as the freedom to make career decisions outside of a toxic marriage. Since your home life is changing, now is probably a great time to reassess what you need from your career.
For instance, if you’ve traveled extensively for work and will now share custody and visitation of your children, you may want a career that keeps you home more often, or at least offers a more flexible schedule. Whatever the case may be, take advantage of the pressing need for these changes to seek out a career move that works for you.
If you work part time, it’s probably time to find full-time employment, even if there are small children at home whom you care for. Only rarely can ex-spouses expect to be fully supported financially by way of alimony and child support, and lifetime alimony is being phased out in most states. A career and income of your own is likely the best financial security for you, your family, and your relationship with your ex. No matter what, the sooner you take steps to improve your income, the more quickly you can move forward.
4. Avoid Making Sudden Moves
But even while you’re contemplating significant long-term changes, there are some moves you shouldn’t make hastily. Never quit your job or turn down a big promotion. Deliberately trying to minimize your income in order to reduce your alimony or child support payments, or so you can qualify for receiving more alimony or child support, never pays off. Not only can this be held against you in divorce proceedings, but the ramifications for your future career and income are potentially infinite. Likewise, you should never take large loans, or otherwise cash out on your retirement accounts or pension or life-insurance plans, until after all legal proceedings have been finalized.
5. Take Care Of Your Mental Health
This can be one of the most stressful times of your life. Build self-care into your routines, including your workday. This means committing to healthy eating (including work lunches), minimizing after-work happy hours, hitting the gym before going to the office or during your lunch break, and getting fresh air and a walk at least once a day. It’s the little habits like these that can matter the most.
Avoid at all costs taking calls with your lawyer or others during the workday, and try not to spent too much time discussing the details of your separation even with close colleagues. Your career can be a constant safe haven during the chaos of a breakup, so make sure you’re not sabotaging that crucial piece of stability in your life. You’ll protect your mental health this way and may even see unexpected career growth as a result.
Emma Johnson is the author of The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children, creator of the popular blog WealthySingleMommy.com, and host of the podcast, “Like a Mother,” where she explores issues facing professional moms like herself.