Help! I’m getting a divorce. What happens to our money?

The beginning of 2020 started off with a bang! The economy was purring, and the stock market was reaching all-time highs. In March, our lives quickly changed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Businesses closed their doors, laying off or furloughing their employees. The stock market quickly dropped, and stores sold out daily of essentials. Stress, anxiety, and fear were emotions we felt continuously. In some manner, the rug was pulled out from all of us, changing the course of our lives forever.

Stress, anxiety, and fear can compound or accelerate underlying issues. In some cases, this means marriages that were struggling before the pandemic, may have completely collapsed during this period of duress. Thoughts of divorcing your spouse begin to become a reality.

When you go through a divorce, it often means your lifelong plans, hopes, and dreams are no longer your reality. Your childhood vision of a wedding, a marriage, and a happy family will be altered. The thought of a divorce was not part of this plan, and it surely was not the intention when you joined as a couple to share your matrimonial vows.

Not surprisingly, when a divorce does happen, it can have a shattering effect on your life, both emotionally and financially. In addition to experiencing a full array of emotions, you will be burdened with managing the household finances. This is possibly a new task for you; what do you do?

From the start of a divorce until it is final:

–Document ALL conversations related to your divorce.

–Invest in a few binders to organize your financial data, so it is readily available as you transition through this phase.

–Change the passwords on your e-mail, social media, and financial accounts. Select a password that is independent of your life with your soon-to-be ex-spouse.

–Call the credit card companies of joint accounts and ask to have your name removed from the account. It’s likely you will have to close the account.

–Gather and review your tax returns. If you are not familiar with your tax returns, ask your certified public accountant (CPA) or financial advisor to review the tax returns with you. (Make sure your advisor is not your spouse’s advisor.) Understand your income sources, especially if your spouse is self-employed. This information is key in settling your temporary and permanent spousal support.

–Identify your income and all your monthly expenses. Start tracking this information so you can implement a new household budget in the future.

–Gather all your statements reporting assets or liabilities, such as your bank, mortgage, credit card, retirement, and investment accounts.

–Continue paying your debts in a timely manner.

–Write a letter to the credit bureaus, informing them of the divorce. Have a fraud alert placed on your credit reports if you are concerned that your spouse may try to open new accounts under your identity.

–Ask people in your life for referrals to attorneys who specialize in mediation and divorce.

–Don’t be afraid to interview attorneys prior to engaging. What is their experience, who is their target client, what are their fees, and whom will you have contact with at their firm?

Spouses have both emotional and financial investments from their shared home. Despite the challenges, amicably navigating through a breakup does have benefits, one of which could be saving money in the long run. Consider some form of mediation as a substitute for lengthy court battles. Mediation is a private process facilitated by a trained neutral third party (a mediator), with the aim of helping spousal partners resolve the dispute. The mediator does not make any decisions for the parties but can help to find a mutually acceptable outcome.

Do not agree to split any of the assets without the counsel of a professional who understands your unique situation.

Should you take a brokerage account versus a retirement account? Does your spouse have a pension, and if so, what is your share? Who will pay for your health insurance? Is your spouse paying for your children’s future college expenses? Should you keep or sell the house? Who is responsible for paying the mortgage, insurance, and property tax prior to selling the home? How long will your alimony last?

Don’t be a passive observer when you are settling your divorce. Ask questions. If you don’t understand an explanation, ask for clarification.

Following your divorce:

Implement and follow a budget based on your new circumstances.

Close all joint accounts and open new individual accounts.

Refinance your home in your name.

Remove your former spouse as the beneficiary on your retirement accounts, annuities, and life insurance policies.

Update your personal insurance coverage.

Check your credit score.

If you change your name, contact the Social Security Administration to update your information with it.

Create an emergency reserve. Keep six months to a year of expenses in a cash reserve account.

Meet with your CPA to understand the tax implications of filing as a single or head of household filer.

Meet with your financial advisor to review your investment holdings to run new retirement plan projections.

Meet with your estate planning attorney to update your trust, will, power of attorney, and health care directive.

During a divorce, put together your team of advisers to help you navigate through to the next phase. Your advisers will be aware of solutions to problems that you have not considered.

Financial insecurity following a divorce is real. By taking control of your finances, you will begin to rebuild your new future. You are slowly empowering yourself as you enter this new phase of independence.