How to prepare financially for a divorce?
September 10, 2005 3:17 AM   Subscribe

I am considering divorce & need advice on how to prepare my personal finances, as we are sharing everything right now. I'd like to get things in motion before taking legal action or notifying my spouse.

We have been in counseling. It's just not working & I'm coming around to accepting the fact that we just weren't meant to be. Here's how we stand: we have no kids, we bought a house 2 years ago. My name is not on the mortgage, but it is on the house title. We share a bank account - 100% of our pay is deposited in that & our bills are paid from that account. I pay 50% of our expenses. We have some stocks, the portfolio is in his name, but I contribute to that out of that shared bank account. I have nothing but a small 401k on the side. I moved here from another city, so my support network isn't all that great - I'll be making this move as independently as possible. I don't want a bitter seperation, just as easy a way out as possible. I do need to be able to afford moving & relocating though. How do I go about preparing to do that without having to explain putting money away on the side? I fear once I bring up seperating, things will rapidly progress & I'll be left high & dry. He's got a great support network of friends and family that are very well-off. I don't. I'm 30 & this is my first marriage, we've been together 3 years. Any advice, especially from women, will be greatly appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
lawyer, lawyer, lawyer.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 4:19 AM on September 10, 2005

Your finances look pretty simple. The court will divide everything in half, which sounds like it's equitable in your case.

Are you asking how to get more than that by hiding some money? Don't. Open a separate bank account, and on the day you tell your husband you want a divorce, move half the money in the joint account into your new one. Do not do this if his paycheck has just deposited, but yours hasn't. Make copies of bank statements to show you aren't taking more than half.

Play it straight, and your divorce will go more smoothly. If it turns ugly, your efforts to play fair will weigh heavily in your favor. The reverse is also true; if it looks like you've tried to hide money, your credibility will suffer.

At the first sign that the divorce may get nasty, hire a lawyer.

Sorry I'm not a woman, but I did go through a divorce where my spouse hid a lot of money, and demanded alimony (even though she made more than I did) and played other games. When we got to court, she got none of the extra stuff she'd been angling for, and I got what I expected.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:26 AM on September 10, 2005

You need a lawyer. Now.

If you have any credit cards in both names, cancel them before you discuss it.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 6:09 AM on September 10, 2005

Been there. In addition to Kirth's suggestion to open a bank account in your sole name and move only one half of the monies the day you announce your intentions, preferably before you actually make the announcement, here's what I can add:

First, Do No Harm. Nothing I'm suggesting is in any way retaliatory or punitive. Play very fair, but be prepared.

There are a ton of websites that have state divorce laws. It couldn't hurt to do some browsing to see what constitutes a legal separation, and to know your rights ahead of time. You probably have done that already, though. If you decide it is valuable, you can purchase do-it-yourself kit, and have a separation agreement already to sign.

Before you make the announcement, take some time and make copies of each and every piece of financial information you can find; tax returns for every year, bank statements, investment records, payroll records - his and yours - credit card statements, insurance records, mortgage statements, house title... everything. You need this stuff for your own records. If you end up needing a lawyer, you won't have to supoena records that may no longer exist.

Get a credit card in your name alone right away. Make a list of all credit card numbers and contact information for existing cards. If your name is on them as a jointly responsible person, you'll need to decide quickly how to deal with the cards; will you cancel them right away (best option), or have his or your name removed? Think carefully about cancelling all of them if your husband doesn't have at least one card in his name alone. He'll need access to credit, too, and you don't want to be punitive.

Be ready to immediately change the address on any cards you have in your single name, and to request that duplicate statements be sent to your new address for joint cards! Contact the card companies to request that they send an authorization form to remove a joint party - have these forms ready when you need them. (It took almost a month to get these forms when I needed them.)

Prepare a letter that states you will not be responsible for any debts incurred after 'fill-in-the-blank-separation-date' and be ready to have it notarized. Check with your local paper to see if they have a Notices section. Check with websites specializing in state divorce laws to see if this is allowable in your state, and for specific language. The library might help, too.

Make sure you have all of your medical records and any other extremely personal information out of the house. Dental records, prescriptions - all that stuff.

Under no circumstances leave anything in the house that could blow back on you later. Don't even keep that stuff, if there is anything.

Make an inventory, with pictures, of all your possessions. Make notes about what was yours before the marriage, what was purchased after, and with whose funds. If you save receipts for major purchases, make copies of those. Decide what you want from the house, and make a list.

Put a suitcase together with anything you'll need for a week's 'vacation from home' if it should come to that. If things go really downhill, you'll need to be prepared. Tuck it in the back of your closet, just in case, or have a friend store it for you.

Make copies of house keys, car keys, etc. Make copies of titles to vehicles, insurance cards for the car(s). Spare car and house keys should be tucked someplace you can get to in a hurry, not in the getaway suitcase, either.

Check your cell phone agreement. If it is in his name, ask that you be notified if he decides to cancel it, so you can switch service to yourself. Most companies can put a flag on the account for you, especially if you are concerned for your physical safety.

Are any of the utilities in your name? Be ready to make changes by having the telephone numbers handy. Most utility companies will allow a telephone switch. Call them in advance to make sure.

The stock portfolio... is it in joint name? If so, be ready to contact the financial advisor on Day One to freeze the account. You should call in advance to find out what the requirements are for doing that. Just be ready. If the account is in his name alone, find out what your state law says about splitting assets. Do you want a portion? You will need to freeze his account as well. (IANAL, but I worked for 25 years in this business. You need a lawyer to really get your arms around this one.)

Scout around to decide where you want to live. Get info on places beforehand. Go so far as to get applications and have them ready. Know where the closest truck rental places are. Know where public storage places are, too. You might have to move your possessions into storage prior to renting a place for yourself, or store some things afterwards.

If you think it might be necessary to have a storage unit, start collecting boxes and moving supplies now and put them in the unit. This would be a safe place to cache all of those records you'll be copying, too.

Pets? Decide how to handle this issue. You don't have kids, but some people get almost as emotional about their pets.

There's probably more, but I can't think of anything right now. It sucks beyond words to go through this. If the separation / divorce is smooth, you'll be counting your blessings. If it doesn't go well, you'll be glad you tried to think of everything ahead of time. Good luck.
posted by Corky at 7:04 AM on September 10, 2005 [3 favorites]

To prepare for an equitable settlement, make copies of the last statements for all bank and credit card accounts, stocks, etc. You'll need to have all the account #s. Be prepared to change your direct deposit. Be prepared to end all joint credit. He gets 1/2 of your pension accounts; you get 1/2 of his, so ask your employer for a statement. He'll need time to figure out how to compensate you for your 1/2 of equity in the house. It may need to be sold.

We used a mediator, and it went well. He did a good job of ensuring fairness.

on preview, whay corky said. Be Prepared. If you're worried that it'll get ugly, buy a few hundred dollars worth of traveller's checks and store tham at work. They're safe, replaceable and can only be used by you.
posted by theora55 at 7:13 AM on September 10, 2005

Corky gives some good advice. But it is crititical to get a lawyer. Divorce laws differ wildly from state to state, so it depends very much on where you live. Making copies of all the records is a very good idea.

One of the things that I did that worked very well for me was getting a P.O. box at one of those Mailbox etc-type places. I had a secure address to have all my financial stuff mailed to, and a mailing address that didn't have to change even as I moved around from sublet to sublet until I got settled. As an added plus, it made me that much harder to find, as I didn't want my ex showing up drunk on my doorstep at 2am. You could set that up now, open your own bank account, maybe get a credit card that is just in your name (if you don't have one already, most people do these days.)

But if you really want to protect your interests, find a lawyer. Since you don't have kids, it shouldn't be as nasty and protracted as some divorces can get, but a lawyer in your state will be best able to advise you on the steps to take before you leave, and that will vary from state to state.
posted by ambrosia at 9:12 AM on September 10, 2005

One piece of information does not compute. You said that the house is in your name (perhaps as joint owners) but that you are not "on the mortgage". I assume that that means that you did not sign the promissory note. But you have to have done so if you have an interest in the house. The bank would not have lent the money without a valid mortgage based on a promissory note signed by all owners of record. Not something to figure out right away, but eventually.
posted by yclipse at 5:01 PM on September 10, 2005

My parents got divorced several years ago. Since I had already moved out I didn't get a very close look at the mechanics of the situation. However, it appeared that lawyer fees and pettiness were strongly correlated. Towards the end, I got the impression that $1 of lawyer yielded less than $1 of property. YMMV.

In any case, it's very important you hire a lawyer. But try to split the community property in halves, not thirds.
posted by ryanrs at 5:14 PM on September 10, 2005

It's true about the lawyer fees. My ex cost me a lot by continuing to ask for more ridiculous stuff. She didn't get any of that lot, my lawyer did. Her lawyer got a lot from her. Keep it simple, and the lawyers will get less rich from your misfortune.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:24 AM on September 11, 2005

1st rule of divorce: if you serve the papers, you leave (at least temporarily). My dad suddenly divorced my mom and then wouldn't move out! My mom was frantically trying to find a lawyer, get her finances in order and find somewhere to live, while stuck in the same house as the man that had dumped her.
posted by radioamy at 12:40 AM on September 12, 2005

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