There are few life transitions more difficult than navigating a divorce. According to Nicole Mayer, AIF, CDFA of RPG Life Transition Specialists, a wealth management firm in Chicago, both parties must arm themselves with knowledge and understanding to avoid unnecessary complications, especially as they relate to their finances.

“The number of people who jump into a divorce without realizing the kind of financial implications it has is disheartening,” says Mayer. “It’s like having a baby without ever reading a parenting book. Our goal is to make sure folks know what to expect, and are prepared for the unexpected.”

On the following pages are RPG Life Transition Specialists’ top five tips for navigating divorce as unscathed as possible.

upfront costsAnticipate Up Front Costs: A divorce typically costs no less than $20,000, and understanding that up front will make for a smoother transition.

“When you factor in lawyers, tax advisors, time off work, the cost of a divorce is greater than it may appear at the outset,” warns Mayer. “Do your research so there are fewer surprises. Also, consider mediation as part of your divorce, which significantly reduce the costs.”

survivalUnderstand Your Immediate Needs.

Over the short term, your number one goal should be survival.

“If you’re concerned about making ends meet during and after the divorce, that should inform your negotiation strategy,” says Mayer.

Stocks and bonds, which can be easily liquidated, should be a priority above retirement accounts or other long-term investments.”

tax returnsReview Past Tax Returns.

Sit down with your spouse and review the past five years of jointly-filed tax returns to determine income and future tax advantages. “Oftentimes, there are tax benefits accrued during a marriage that come to fruition years in the future,” says Kadish. “Those are negotiable assets to consider.”

beneficiaryConsider Beneficiary Information.

Take some time to review and adjust the beneficiaries on your retirement accounts and insurance policies.

“Amidst all the paperwork and meetings, this is often overlooked,” says Mayer.

“If you have to name a minor child as a beneficiary, you’ll have to determine a guardian who is not your soon-to-be-ex.”

debtCheck Your Debt.

Any debt realized jointly during the course of a marriage stays with a married couple indefinitely. “Regardless of what settlement terms you secure, if one spouse does not pay a debt you both incurred as agreed, the other is responsible,” cautions Mayer.