There are a few steps to take before telling your spouse you want a divorce to ensure you’re prepared to start the process.
Be Proactive: Start collecting all financial statements and records, including tax returns from previous years. Make sure you have access information (i.e. login and passwords) to all accounts. Start watching bank and credit card transactions in order to spot any red flags once you tell your spouse. If any red flags appear, you may need to bring in a forensic accountant.
Create a Budget: Start by looking at your spending habits over the previous 3-6 months. This will give you a baseline for what goes out each month and line items for your budget. Once you’ve got this, make a budget for post-divorce. You can estimate future expenses based on past expenses and be sure to add any additional expenses of splitting the marital property and responsibilities. However, understand that the budget you create is never set in stone; it is a living, breathing document that should reflect your current needs.
List Assets and Liabilities: Start a list of all financial accounts, assets, and liabilities. Don’t forget retirement accounts and any tax liabilities. From this list, you will gain perspective of what your post-divorce financial situation could look like. You can also start thinking of property division and have some ideas going into the divorce process. It helps to list what items are individual and which are joint, marital, and separate.
Pull Your Credit Report: A large majority of financial decisions, as well as access to credit, is based on your FICO score. Once you pull your free annual credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com, I recommend that you pay the small fee to reveal your score. If you find your score is low, start taking steps to repair your credit.
Hire Help: Hire a CFDP® (Certified Financial Divorce Practitioner) to help with assess your current and post-divorce financial situation, and a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) to assess the tax implications. Each can help you minimize the total taxes you and your spouse will have to pay during separation and after the divorce.
Consider Mediation: Mediation gives you the space to have your voice heard and provides more flexibility than a typical adversarial divorce. You have more control over the process and issues, creating a divorce settlement that reflects your specific family and needs. Also, mediation can save you thousands of dollars in fees. Just know that both spouses need to agree to this route, as mediation requires the input of each party and a willingness to participate in decision-making.