As much as getting a divorce is an emotional decision, it is also a financial decision. Once someone has made the decision to pursue a divorce, he or she should immediately take steps to safeguard his financial and legal interests.
While an individual has access to records, he or she should gather anything that may be important. This includes a prenuptial agreement, will, insurance policies, proof of income, financial statements for accounts, identifying documents, mortgage documents and tax returns. This information should be kept away from the marital home and stored in a safe location.
Talk to a Lawyer
Begin the process of knowing what to expect by talking to a lawyer before announcing your plans to a spouse. He or she can give you a list of information that you will need, as well as advice about how to enter the next stage of your life.
Open a Post Office Box
You will need a confidential place to receive your communications with your lawyer and other entities. Open a post office box that is different than one you share with your spouse.
Open New Financial Accounts
You will need to open up new accounts to keep your money separate and secure. Your lawyer may tell you to withdraw half of the joint funds, depending on your state laws. You will need funds to pay a divorce lawyer, as well as other expenses related to the divorce. Depending on your state laws, your new account may still be considered marital property if you are not legally separated or if your state does not recognize legal separation.
Establish Your Own Credit
If you have not established credit because everything was in your spouse’s name, take the steps necessary to establish or improve your credit. Start by pulling your credit report to see where you stand and to note any indiscrepancies. You may have legal grounds to object to charges that were not part of the marital estate, such as gifts for a spouse’s illicit affair partners. Monitor your credit to ensure that your spouse does not open any new accounts to add to your personal debt load.
Set up a credit card in your own name so that you can establish credit outside of the marital relationship. Close any joint cards to avoid any additional debt.
Inventory Your Estate
Go through your physical, real and investment property. Identify those items that are not part of the marital estate, which are usually property items that were acquired before the marriage, received as a gift or inheritance or were kept separate per a legal agreement. Take time-stamped pictures of any items of significant value.
Gather records that prove the value of certain items, such as insurance policies, deeds and financial records.
Stay in the Family Home
Before leaving the family home, discuss any potential legal ramifications with your divorce lawyer. Doing so may prevent you from reclaiming the property in the future.
Secure Your Digital Information
In many family homes, couples share computers. It is easy on computers and mobile devices to store login information, which another party can use to log into an account. This can lead to a spouse finding out information about your plans or any behavior on your part that is leading to the divorce. Spouses may find incriminating information on email accounts, text message logs or online profiles.
Change Your Estate Plan
If you have listed your spouse as a beneficiary on certain accounts, or if he or she is the primary heir in your will, make the necessary changes to these legal documents. Likewise, appoint a new personal representative, power of attorney and healthcare proxy. You will probably not want someone with whom you are embroiled in litigation to make decisions about your health and finances.
Remove your spouse as your beneficiary of your life insurance, retirement accounts and other financial accounts, if your lawyer advises you to do so. Some states will issue temporary restraining orders to prevent such action. Sever any joint tenancy arrangements you have with your spouse for any property.
Consider Your Children
If you have children together, keep your children as a priority during this process. Any inappropriate behavior may be used against the spouse in a child custody matter. For example, if the spouses have separated, they may want to keep any romantic partners away from their children at this time. If a spouse moves out of the marital home, his or her new accommodations should be suitable for the children. Parents should not argue in front of the children or involve them in the divorce process.