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The holidays might be the perfect backdrop for marriage proposals and romantic getaways, but they may also serve to magnify everything wrong with a relationship.
January is reportedly the month with the most divorce filings, although the reason for marriage breakups can vary. Some couples may break under the stress of the season, while other couples might be waiting to clear all the family parties before they split. It could be they don’t want to have to answer an onslaught of questions or endure pitying stares from distant relatives.
Perhaps they’re hoping to spare their children from associating the divorce with the holiday season.
Whatever the reason, if your spouse is walking out the door, here’s some advice on what to do next.
1. Get legal advice right away
The best advice I can give you is to not rely solely on advice you receive from an online article. Even online writers with legal and financial credentials can’t possibly speak to the uniqueness of your situation. Each divorce and separation is impacted by a number of variables including, but not limited to:
- State laws.
- Family assets.
- Presence of children.
- Prenuptial agreements.
Any advice you read online, including that in this article, should be considered general guidelines that may or may not be applicable to your situation and should not be taken as specific legal counsel for your case.
Seek out a competent attorney and financial adviser to help you navigate the particulars of your situation. Don’t wait either. There may be action you need to take immediately to protect your finances and family. If you don’t think you can afford an attorney, at least go in for the free consultation and ask about possible payment plans.
2. Protect your current finances
If all of your assets are jointly held, it is probably time to open your own checking and savings accounts. Then, change your direct deposit to your account. If you are a stay-at-home spouse with no independent income and live in a state with joint ownership, you may want to consider pulling money from your joint account.
The purpose isn’t to be vindictive but to preserve money to pay the bills in the event your soon-to-be ex decides to wipe out the balance and leave you with nothing. Again, a legal or financial professional can provide more guidance on what is allowed in your state.
If you have a credit card with your spouse as an authorized user, call and have your spouse’s name removed. Otherwise, they can go on spending and leave you footing the bill. Talk to a legal or financial professional for more information regarding how to handle joint credit cards and other lines of credit.
In the event your spouse handled all the finances and you’re feeling a little fuzzy on the details, go to AnnualCreditReport.com and request your three free credit reports. These will show exactly what accounts are open with your name on them.
3. File for child support
I spent 13 years working in the Michigan Legislature as a constituent case manager, and child support cases were one of my main specialties for many years.
It was always sad – but never shocking – to hear from women who thought they had an independent child support arrangement set up with their ex-husband only to have them fail to follow through. Typically, these men appeared to be caring and compassionate fathers, and they almost always promised to pay more than what the court would order. However, the payments would then stop weeks or months later. At that point, these women filed with the court, but by then they’d lost out on hundreds and even thousands of dollars in support.
Moral of the story: If your state has a child support enforcement agency, file with them. If your ex says he’ll pay you more in exchange for keeping it out of the system, tell him you’ll still be filing but he is welcome to send you a check for the extra amount each month.
4. Update your beneficiaries and power of attorney
Make sure you update all your beneficiary information, such as that on the following types of accounts:
- Certificates of deposit.
- Retirement funds including IRAs and 401(k)’s.
- Life insurance.
- Safe deposit boxes.
In addition, make it a priority to update your power of attorney and will as quickly as possible.
5. Secure valuables
Divorce makes people do strange things. If you have sentimental or valuable items in your house, move them to a safe deposit box or otherwise place them in a secure location. If you are staying in your house, consider changing the locks. If you are the one leaving, make sure you pack up anything of personal value and take it with you.
Don’t plan on being able to come back and retrieve items later.
6. Don’t make rash decisions
Finally, you are on a roller coaster ride of emotions right now. Take a deep breath, acknowledge the horribleness of it all and then promise yourself you won’t do anything to make it worse. Now is not the time to book a cruise with your last bit of savings or move in with the guy you met twice but really know nothing about.
Also, no matter how rotten your spouse is, avoid stooping to their level. Don’t run out and pawn the heirloom ring or the power tools you find in the basement. Even if you don’t feel like being the better person, be aware you could find yourself in hot water if you sell something that is not legally yours.
Plus, when it comes time for the judge to make a ruling, looking like the angry, irrational one isn’t going to help your case.
Even if you are hoping to reconcile with your spouse, the best course of action is to hope for the best while preparing for the worst.
Above all, be sure you have a competent professional helping you wade through the legal and financial issues surrounding your separation or divorce. While articles like this can provide some general guidelines, they are no substitute for having a pro in your corner advocating for you.