Critical Steps Women Must Take When Preparing For Divorce

I talk with women about divorce on a daily basis. While there is a broad spectrum of how women deal with the emotional side when facing divorce, I have found there is one commonality … the feeling of being overwhelmed. Whether she was the one who initiated or she was blindsided by the news, that one decision brings about tremendous change that shakes the core of women’s lives.

It is most damaging when women are so enthralled in emotion (grief, sadness, anger) they make hasty decisions that can have an extreme affect on their lives. One must gain control in order to get through the legal and the emotional process. There simply is no avoiding either one.

So where do you begin?  In order to gain control, I have found there are a few steps to take that will put you in the best possible position.  None of these are very exciting, but I promise if you do these steps you will save yourself a ton of time, money, and heartache on the back end.

1.    Collect your financial information.

This is so important it must be step one. Gather all of your bank account information, tax records for the last three to five years, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, deeds, titles, securities, bonds, notes, stocks, in short – anything that looks like it could mean money get the information related to that item. Do NOT keep these records in your home or your vehicle. Take copies to someone you trust (parent, relative, friend) or place them in a safety deposit box. Bottom line, you do not want your spouse to know you have this information or have access to your collected records.

2.    Open a mailbox at the post office and separate email.

This item brings such a relief of mind for my clients. Knowing that your mail is safe. Knowing that you can receive confidential mail during this process, in addition to your new bank and credit card statements.  You know you won’t miss something from the courts, your attorney, your doctor or even a card from a friend.  A small additional bonus of getting a post office box is that the mail gets there faster. I also encourage my clients to get a new email address, because often times these accounts are either shared or the spouse knows the password. Start fresh and that way everything related to this process is in one place.

3.    Start saving money.

I meet too many affluent women who cannot access funds because their husband controls the family accounts. This makes affording professional services and day-to-day expenses a real challenge. Additionally, men commonly use the tactic of financially squeezing women into an undesirable settlement. One thing is guaranteed – the process will take longer and cost more than you anticipate. Get ahead of it and have your own money.

4.    Open a new checking and savings account.

You must immediately open your own accounts at a different bank than all of your marital accounts.  Take half of the funds out of the joint accounts and place that into your new checking and savings account. This is perfectly legal when preparing for divorce because half of that money is yours. Keep your money liquid; do not place it into any time accounts because you need to have access to your money.

5.    Open a new credit card in your name only.

This will not only help cushion your living expenses, but it will also assist you in building your own credit.  If you rely on your husband’s income, or make substantially less, do this before filing for divorce because you may need his credit to qualify for the credit card.

6.    Get a copy of your credit report.

Immediately get copies of your credit report so you can monitor and make sure your husband isn’t using marital assets to supply gifts to his girlfriend or dissipating other marital assets. Additionally, this will give you the opportunity to resolve any credit disputes. If you think your husband may try and borrow money in your name, you may want to consider a credit monitoring system.

7.    Change beneficiary designations.

On life insurance policies, IRA’s, etc. Most 401K plans will not remove a spouse without their consent so do a little homework before acting. You must be careful when changing the beneficiary designations, contact your insurance or brokerage company so they do not automatically send your spouse notifications.

8.    Change your will, medical directives, and living will.

While it is unlikely you would die before the divorce is final, you certainly want to make that change to ensure your soon-to-be ex doesn’t inherit all of your assets if something were to happen. Additionally, you do not want him in charge of your health care decisions or financial decisions if you were ever in an accident.

9.    Take inventory of all personal property (non-marital).

This is property that was yours before the marriage, including any inheritance. There are some exceptions; if you have “co-mingled” the separate property with the marital property then it will be considered a part of the marital property.

Taking these steps will bring about peace of mind, direction, and empowerment.
You can do this. It looks like a lot but it is minimal in comparison to what you will go through if you do not take these steps. Remember, “planning is as natural to the process of success, as its absence is to the process of failure” – Robin Sieger.

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