If you believe that your marriage is on the rocks, or that your spouse is planning a divorce, it is essential to have a plan to protect yourself and make sure your family and your future will be secure. First, get your emotions in check, and curb your impulsive reactions so that you can properly prepare for and secure your financial future. Below are some steps that you should take as soon as you believe divorce may be a reality:
1. Prepare a comprehensive inventory of marital property.
Gather and make copies of information on all your assets, debts, sources of income, expenses, tax information, real estate holdings, and employee benefits. Make a list of the contents of your home and take photos of valuables, such as tools, machinery, coins, guns, artwork, and jewelry. For any photos that you take, you may want to substantiate the date the photos were taken so your spouse can’t claim that they are not recent and that the property in question no longer exists.
Best practice is to keep these copies in a location that your spouse cannot access, perhaps with a trusted friend or family member, in your file cabinet at work, or by establishing an electronic drop box and scanning all copies into a file.
2. Get a handle on your cash flow.
It will be critical to know how much money you require each month to cover your expenses. That means determining how much money is coming into your household each month, and how much is being spent. Certainly, you want to have more money coming in vs. going out. Begin tracking and recording all expenses so that you can develop a realistic monthly budget. Tighten your belt on unnecessary spending.
Divorce can be expensive, especially if one or both parties want to engage in an adversarial battle. And now you have to stretch your income across two households instead of one. Really take a hard look at all of your expenses and determine which you could eliminate. Some ideas would include: canceling premium cable and newspaper/magazine subscriptions, packing your lunch, avoiding trips to the coffee shop (make and bring your own), clip coupons, and buy sale items only vs. paying full price.
3. Establish personal financial accounts separate from your spouse.
If you don’t currently have a savings and checking account in your individual name, you need to open them; and don’t use the same bank that you and your spouse currently use. If you don’t want to alert your spouse that you have done this, make sure to get the account set up with online access; this way, hard-copy monthly statements and correspondence won’t arrive in your mailbox.
If you are “anti-online,” then have the mailing address set up to go to a trusted friend or relative’s address. The financial institution will still need to note your legal address, but the mailing address can be different. Also, create a confidential email account with a different provider from your spouse so you can receive banking statements online and also exchange confidential communication with your attorney, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, or other professionals you may need to consult.
4. Don’t rush into decisions.
Divorce is one of the biggest financial decisions that you will ever have to make. It should not be taken lightly or rushed into. Before you are able to make wise choices, you need to be armed with all of the details and understand all the specifics of the marital property accumulated during marriage. Try to avoid making impulsive financial decisions. If you make decisions based on emotions, they will no doubt be some of the worst you’ll ever make. Having a clear picture of how decisions will affect you – not just on the date of divorce, but into the future – is crucial.
You need to understand the ramifications of dividing all the marital property, and sometimes this means you take a “time out” before making financial decisions. Seek the services of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA™) to help with all of the financial decisions you face. Professional assistance can ensure you don’t make irreversible mistakes.
Donna Cheswick is a financial advisor, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and trained divorce mediator with Medallion Wealth Management located in Sewickley, PA.