The first thing to do is to gather up all of your financial information. Sit down and develop two financial snapshots. Firstly, look at what you and your spouse own and owe and what income you have together. Secondly, look at the same picture separating out what things would theoretically look like if you split up. Typically, you each own half the house but there is probably a mortgage on it and it will have to be decided if one of you will stay in it and buy out the others interest or you will sell it and split any profits. RRSPs are split equally as well, as are most other assets except inheritances.
You should plan your divorce; if you don’t have your own credit cards in your name, you should apply and establish your own credit rating. A huge mistake many people make is getting angry with their spouse and running up huge credit card bills; all this does is mess up both of your credit histories. Don’t get caught in this vendetta trap. If you see your spouse starting to make a mess of your mutual credit ratings, call each and every company to notify them that you may be separating. Get your name off the cards, ask them to decrease the limits, notify them in writing that you are not authorizing any more purchases, and do whatever else it takes to document that you are trying to be credit-responsible.
You will want to look at your life insurance and your spouse’s insurance and make sure it is adequate. If you do divorce, you want to make sure you own the policy on your ex, as it will be the only way to ensure the payments are made and the policy is kept. You need to ensure that if your ex dies, the money you would have been receiving will continue. You should also make sure that benefits such as health insurance are continued as part of the divorce settlement. Make sure to talk with a lawyer as well, as separation does not invalidate your will while divorce does.
The most important thing is to take time in advance. Develop a financial plan, and don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Get good financial advice. It would be a great idea to sit down with a financial planner and/or accountant — other than the one you and your spouse are currently using — and review the information you have pulled together. Your planner will be able to help you identify any gaps and understand the financial ramifications of the divorce.
Mitzy Harnick-Pollock is a financial planner with Wealth Creation Concepts in Thornhill, ON. Helping Canadian families ensure their financial security through sound financial planning.