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December 7, 2011 8:24 PM   Subscribe

What do you wish you had known before you separated from your spouse?

My wife and I are separating after four years of dating and three of marriage. The why isn't terribly important; nobody wronged the other, people just change I guess, and things are mostly amicable. In fact, we still live in the same house (but with our own space) even though we made the decision several months ago. However, I just signed a lease and am moving out within the next week or two. She's moving in with friends at the end of the month. Hence my question.

No kids, no house, few assets. Some serious school debt on her side, about 2/3rds of which she acquired during the marriage. I've briefly talked to a lawyer, and don't believe I'm on the hook for her debt.

We're in Maryland. One consequence of this is that we have to wait a year to file for an uncontested divorce.

So, what should I be thinking about, planning for, as I get ready to move out? For example, are there documents I should make sure I have (or, since I manage all our documents anyway, are there things I should make copies of for my wife)? What should I be thinking about over the next year?
posted by postel's law to Human Relations (20 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
When my ex and I split up, I let him do all the paperwork, but it was uncontested and all I had to do was sign some forms. I don't know Maryland's laws, but for mine we would have had to go to court to claim alimony or for any kind of financial issues. Have you talked about finances? It sounds like you guys are planning on not getting into money issues, but if there's any concern, perhaps just get a notarized document agreeing that your money and debt are in a certain state of affairs.

In my case, my ex owed me a few thousand dollars (long story) and had agreed to give it to me when he had it, but since I had nothing documented and went through an uncontested divorce, he was able to say "never mind."
posted by DoubleLune at 8:31 PM on December 7, 2011

Well, I was more in the situation of your ex at the time of my separation. Lived in MD, had a ton of student debt (my own) acquired during the marriage, no kids or house or major assets to split... yet, years after the fact I found out I would have been entitled to quite a bit of alimony if I had gotten a lawyer and really walked through it with them rather than file uncontested.

So, I suspect your ex-wife should/may lawyer up, in which case you should too.

Aside from that I'd recommend tying up all financial loose ends so that you two are completely separate, like removing her from your bank accounts, credit cards, retirement accounts, etc. Things may be amicable now, but that may not always be the case.
posted by joan_holloway at 8:46 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get copies (physical or digital) of photographs that document your seven years together: trips, fun with friends, etc. You'll be glad for the memories (and the evidence of your youth) down the road, especially since you may lose touch with some of those people following your divorce. Good luck.
posted by carmicha at 9:07 PM on December 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

Make sure none of the credit cards are in your name. If you're the primary on any accounts where she is responsible for the balance, if the two of you request that they be transferred to her name this is what will happen: The credit card companies will first assess her creditworthiness. If her debt-to-income ratio is too high, they will deny the switchover.
posted by thelastcamel at 9:56 PM on December 7, 2011

My court hearing to finish up my divorce is on Friday morning (Virginia), so I've just been through this. Here is what I wish I would have known/done:

- If applicable, make sure both of you have copies of your joint tax return for last year. That includes the numeric code you used to "sign" your return, the social security number of the person who filed it, and the final total of your joint income. You will both have to have that information to file taxes under "married filing separately" while you wait for your one-year separation.
- Make sure both of you have copies of the marriage certificate
- Write an informal separation agreement about assets now, before you move out and it's still convenient to get together and talk about it. Draft a written agreement about who will get which assets, including any funds from joint bank accounts. Notarizing it is not a bad idea. Agreeing to close out any joint accounts and dispersing the money equitably before you go your separate ways might not be a bad idea either. Having no joint assets at all will make things easier and cheaper during the final legal process.
- Decide what will happen with online accounts that belong to both of you, such as online banking logins, "householded" accounts with a financial adviser, the wireless provider account with both your phones on it, who will get the Netflix account, etc.
- Remove your spouse as beneficiary on any IRA:s, pension plans, etc.
- Make changes to your "emergency contact" info with work/schools/hospitals, etc.
- Monitor your credit report carefully through the year, and ask for a copy of hers before filing for divorce. You don't want any surprises.
- If you have any utilities that you want to transfer from your old place to your new (electricity/cable/etc.) don't do it if it's in your spouse's name - get a new one instead. (Two years later I'm still trying to get my cable company to put the bill in my name.)

Those were the big things for me, anyway. Mostly it's just good to have made final decisions on things together, so you don't have to worry (about things like unexpected withdrawals from previously joint accounts, for example.) It's a tiresome and draining process, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Best of luck!
posted by gemmy at 10:05 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Just a thought, likely meaningless. If part of the student loan funds went for living expenses while you were together and your wife would have borrowed less had you not been in the picture, one could make a case for helping her out with that portion. At the same time she probably delighted in being able to contribute to your mutual maintenance. Still, it might be worth a discussion.
posted by R2WeTwo at 11:29 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

You say "separation" so I'll just add a word on the Big Life Decisions side. Something made you commit once in a big way, and that's not so easy to find again in a lifetime. So really consider this year as a separation with at least some thought to reconciliation, not just the inevitable first step to the big D. In retrospect, I would.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:21 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

My ex-husband and I went through an amicable, uncontested divorce 5 years ago in NJ. We split things down the middle, paid off the credit cards and didn't lawyer up. I had a job and although he made more, I could easily support myself. We got all of the documents from an online legal site.

You would NOT believe the pushback I received from almost every woman I talked to that I should have laywered up and "taken him" for alimony. So don't be surprised if she changes her position and manage your finances with that in the back of your mind.
posted by ladygypsy at 4:33 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

How much I would miss my house.
posted by vitabellosi at 4:43 AM on December 8, 2011

I had a young divorce in California.... it took just 6 months....but a lot can change in a year... so what i'm thinking about you having to wait a year is to consider a formal separation so that if she goes heavy into credit cards you won't be saddled with it.

But what I wish i'd known is how much of a shock it was to be divorced, how much I would miss the everyday together-someone in your corner- commitment. How hard it was for both of us to move on... Dating again was so weird... there was no more "our" stuff... new places didn't feel like "home" for a long time and I've missed him a lot.
posted by misspony at 4:51 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

oh- and also he made less money when he had to start filing as single and he wasn't prepared for that.
posted by misspony at 4:53 AM on December 8, 2011

Assume good faith on her part. If you truly feel like she's trying to screw you over in a malicious manner, step back and think about it for a few seconds. Odds are pretty good that she isn't. However, if she starts taking longer to answer your emails/calls/texts about substantive dissolution-of-marriage-related issues, ask her if she's talking to a lawyer. Regardless of her answer, tell her that you're talking to one. And talk to one.

You will cry, if you haven't already. Whether it's in the comfort of your own home around your best friend after you've just drunk ninety beers or it's in the middle of the mall because you just heard that song she loves and oh god why am I tearing up I don't even like this song OH GOD WHY... Either way, it'll hit you. At least once, probably more. Let it. This is a major life event, and acting like it's Just A Thing isn't healthy.

Keep your friends. Make a particular effort, not because you need to steal them away from her, but just because it's good to have someone to lean on.
posted by Etrigan at 5:14 AM on December 8, 2011

Gemmy said what I would have said.

I was your wife (no house, no kids, my school debt). We had a separation agreement (Va.), which let us get divorced within 6months, and which basically said we'd take our own stuff and debt, divide the joint stuff on our own, etc.

If we hadn't had that agreement, I know my ex would have trusted me to not go after him for my school debt, spousal support, etc (I even gave him back my engagement and wedding rings) and to not lawyer up, but it's something to consider, as school debt can be crushing (and more so once you are single).
posted by Pax at 5:37 AM on December 8, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everybody. I'm curious about the alimony issue, because from what I can tell under Maryland law the only scenario in which I would owe her support is if she permanently couldn't support herself, or needed temporary help to get back on her feet. Barring a mental (not out of the question) or physical health issue, she's going to be a dentist in the next year or so. As such, her income is going to be double mine (though with the aforementioned debt to pay off). But, because I can support myself, I don't think I can ask for alimony from her either.
posted by postel's law at 7:00 AM on December 8, 2011

If things are amicable, a few sessions with an experienced mediator might be useful and could help prevent the need for either side bringing in lawyers.
posted by doctord at 7:16 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Change the beneficiary on your life insurance and registered retirement savings and pension if you have any of those things. And write a new will. My brother died very recently and suddenly, and his life insurance was still in his ex-wife's name.
posted by orange swan at 8:09 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you truly are doing that amicably consider hiring a lawyer as a mediator, he/she will not represent either of you but will guide you through the process and make sure you file all the right paperwork so things don't get delayed. It's also considerably less costly than both of you lawyering up. Also cancel all joint accounts now and split the money amicably.
posted by boobjob at 8:32 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds like things are going well, for as well as marriages end. But if I wish I'd done one thing differently at my separation, it is 100% to wish that I had gotten a lawyer.

My ex didn't try to screw me over, but he did sit back quietly while I screwed myself over by taking all of our joint debt "because he had student loans." Of course -- I was living off student loans too, but sometimes stress distorts our vision. A neutral third party would never have let me do that and would have insisted that he take his share. Now that I'm still paying for crap he's still using all these years later, I sure wish I'd had a lawyer.

In some states, one lawyer may be able to counsel both parties to a divorce. Check on that for Maryland. Even if it's not the case, a session or two with a lawyer of your own to review your work could be invaluable as he or she will check for the many document modifications that have been mentioned above. He or she will also be able to explain whether, under Maryland law, you will be held liable for any debts she accrues after the date of your separation.

Also, don't date for a while, even if you're separated. It can make "amicable" morph into ungodly ugliness faster than you can say "but we're separated."
posted by motsque at 9:02 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

You may not be responsible for her student loan debt, but I'd be sure to check your credit reports after the divorce - some of my ex's debts showed up on my reports and it took some work to get the errors fixed.

Aside from important documents, maybe copies of photos? If it's an amicable split, you or she may well like to have them in the future.

Good luck. Now and for the next year things will be very odd and unsettled. It gets better.
posted by noxetlux at 10:07 AM on December 8, 2011

I'd get a head start on all the practical stuff --- separate all joint accounts (from banking down to things like Netflix) -- this can be annoying (at least for us, they wouldn't let us actually "separate" a joint account, we had to each open a new individual account and then close the joint one, and remember to move any automatic payments to the appropriate new accounts, etc).

If money is not super tight, I recommend a lawyer even in an amicable divorce. I paid $1000 for total lawyer's fees on my uncontested divorce because I wanted to make sure everything was thought of. The big thing I might have missed: while my wife and I agreed to no alimony for her (even though she was technically entitled), I wouldn't have thought to have her actually waive it... had she not, she could have changed her mind within some number of years. Doubtful she would have done it, but this way everything was more "final". Considering the theoretical maximum alimony I could have owed her in California this could have been a costly oversight.

(I was never "separated" --- no requirement for that in CA, but we took about 2 months after deciding to file and then had a 6 month legal "waiting period" before it became official)

The other big advice from my lawyer --- be nice! Once you start separating all sorts of thoughts and emotions can come up. Even if it is amicable. But even if you do start getting angry or upset, wait until the legal stuff is over --- once everything is final it's pretty much settled, but before that things can go bad suddenly, he saw it happen a lot.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:11 PM on December 8, 2011

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