When your spouse asks you for a divorce, there are things you should do immediately to protect your personal and financial interests.
It’s difficult to focus on money when your marriage is ending. And yet, it’s up to you to make sure that you reach a fair and equitable divorce settlement.
You wouldn’t end a business partnership without first determining that all assets were divided fairly. The same holds true for dissolving a marriage.
Focus on the following things immediately if you learn that your spouse is planning to end your union.
1. Hire a good attorney
This is crucial. Your goal: Find an experienced advocate who will put your personal and financial interests first. Do not use an attorney you share with your spouse.
Make sure you feel comfortable with the attorney, says Elysa Greenblatt, a matrimonial law attorney in New York City.
Learn the attorney’s detailed fees for services, Greenblatt adds.
Your divorce attorney should know how to safeguard your assets, says Gregg A. Greenstein, an attorney in Boulder, Colorado. Ideally, your attorney also should have contacts in tax law, real estate law and business law.
Greenstein recommends getting referrals for attorneys from your trusted friends, family members and business associates.
2. Monitor your credit reports
Protect yourself by preventing your spouse from running up large or unnecessary bills at this time. For now, at least, you may be responsible for half of any joint expenses.
“You know your spouse better than anyone else,” says Massachusetts attorney Gabriel Cheong. “If you know they’re not trustworthy, or they have a gambling problem, or you both are in a lot of debt, that tells you there are financial warning signs.”
Monitoring your credit score and credit reports before, during and after a divorce will ensure that your credit is safe and that no one else is using your name to borrow, Cheong tells Money Talks News.
Checking your credit report is easy and costs nothing — see “How to Get Your Free Credit Report in 6 Easy Steps.”
3. Close joint accounts
To protect your credit rating, you should consider closing credit accounts that your spouse has access to. The idea is to prevent your spouse from incurring large debts before the divorce is final.
With joint credit cards, you are liable for any debts taken on by your spouse, says Sarah Carlson, a certified financial planner in Spokane, Washington.
If your spouse can’t pay the debts he or she runs up on your joint accounts, you may be held responsible.
Contact your credit card issuers. They may differ in their methods for closing accounts, says Massachusetts attorney John Shea. Some allow the primary card holder to transfer the balance to a new account that your spouse cannot access.
4. Determine how much money you’re entitled to
When people divorce, many financial issues are tied to the size of the marital estate, Greenstein says. To help you determine which assets you’ll be entitled to in a divorce, you’ll need to understand how much you and your spouse are worth, separately.
“For example, identification of an income-producing asset may be helpful for determination of child support and maintenance issues, while also affecting the division of the marital estate,” Greenstein tells Money Talks News.
Your job: Find out which assets are in your name and which belong to your spouse.
5. Protect your savings
Protect your money, Greenblatt says. Your cash can be consumed quickly in a divorce. Safeguard your joint assets by asking your financial institutions to require two signatures for withdrawals.
“We generally don’t advise doing this with a regular joint checking account that is continuing to be used for household expenses, because that can become cumbersome,” she tells Money Talks News. “But we do advise dual signatures for any savings or investment accounts.”
6. Keep things as friendly as possible
Starting your divorce on an amicable note will make the proceedings easier and less time-consuming.
From the beginning, work to keep things civil. When you spend time bickering over minor issues, the only people who benefit are attorneys billing you by the hour.
“If ever there was a time to pick your battles, this is it,” Greenblatt says. “If you fight over every detail of your divorce, the fights will be never-ending, and that will impact your emotional state and your wallet.”
7. Talk with your children
The needs of children sometimes can be overlooked when parents divorce.
The best way to break the news of a divorce to children is for both parents to explain that their relationship is changing, making it clear that both of you love them and that you respect each other, says David T. Pisarra, a family law attorney in Santa Monica, California.
The Mayo Clinic advises parents to spend time explaining to children what is happening. Let them know that the separation isn’t their fault and that you will continue to care for them.
Have you ever had to protect your assets during a divorce? Share your experiences with us in a comment below or on our Facebook page.