The decision to end your marriage is not an easy one. Concerns over finances and the well-being of your children figure prominently. Ultimately, when divorce is the only solution, it is important to come up with a plan to protect your interests.
A good place to start is by finding experienced legal representation. Look for an attorney specializing in family/divorce law who has been actively practicing for at least 10 years. Ideally, you and your spouse will be able to work out an amicable divorce settlement, but if there are issues that cannot be resolved, having an attorney that can litigate your case before a judge is crucial.
Documentation is king. One of the primary goals of the divorce process is to make an equitable distribution of marital assets and debts. It is important to know what is owned and what is owed. Make a list of assets and gather supporting documents to show the purchase history and present value. Secure a recent copy of your home’s appraisal.
To get a clear picture of outstanding debt, obtain copies of your, and your spouse’s, credit reports. Follow up by securing statements of open accounts displaying balances due.
You will also need documentation of your income and the income of your spouse such as recent pay stubs and recent income tax returns. If your spouse is self-employed, you will likely have to obtain bank account statements and financial business statements in order to establish income.
Think ahead and prepare an after-divorce budget. Incomes can drop drastically following divorce, so you will want to have some idea of what you will need to stay afloat. Having this information will help you to negotiate a feasible settlement or will serve as valuable information if you have to go court. If you have been sharing credit with your spouse, it is time to establish credit in your own name. Obtain a credit card, use it sparingly and make sure you are able to pay it off each month. The goal is to establish good credit so you are on your way to financial independence.
You may need to protect yourself from your spouse raiding shared financial accounts. Consider opening an account in your own name and removing half of the funds from the joint account and putting them into the solo account. Document every penny you spend for the purpose of a settlement hearing. If you fear your spouse will tamper with your investment accounts, talk to your attorney about freezing the accounts until a legal divorce settlement has been realized.
Make sure that you contact creditors and let them know you are going through a divorce. Keep creditors notified of changes in address and make sure that all bills continue to get paid during the proceedings to avoid negative impacts on credit.
Stay put! Do not move out of the family home before discussing it with your attorney. Moving could impact your rights to hold onto the family home. If there is a history of domestic violence, your attorney may be able to legally have your spouse removed.
It is tempting to move on with your life during the divorce proceedings, but divorce can often lead to being put under the microscope. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Be supportive to your kids. Keep your focus on a good outcome so that you can begin to build a brighter future.