You probably never thought you'd be in a position to need advice about divorce. None of us ever do. Unfortunately, sometimes no amount of marriage counseling is enough to avoid divorce. It's a challenging process emotionally and financially.
Unraveling two people's finances is messy. Long before child support or alimony is awarded, you'll need to prepare your finances for the work ahead.
Every divorce is different and unique, and advice should only come from experts familiar with your specific situation. However, the following suggestions should help point you in the right direction.
Don't take advice from just anyone. Divorce laws vary by state. Make sure you consult with a divorce attorney who is licensed in your state. Be cautious of advice that seems to be a one size fits all that you've read about or heard from a friend.
Start tracking expenses. This is the first step in building a budget post-divorce. It's also a way to help your attorney, and later the judge, decide how to split assets and liabilities and whether to award child support or alimony. If you've already been doing this . . . even better. You should include the following items when tracking expenses; household bills, food, clothing, entertainment, home maintenance, transportation, child-care, and anything else you spend money on. Your next step is to project future expenses. Think outside the regular monthly expenses and include vacations and one-time expenditures like replacing the AC unit.
Gather documents. This can be time-consuming, so start as early as possible. These records will tell the story of your marriage's financial health. Start with the following:
- Bank statements – checking and savings for the past year.
- Retirement account statements – IRA's and 401k's
- Brokerage account statements for the past year
- Loan documents for your mortgage, auto loans, or personal loans
- Credit card statements for the past year
- Recent pay stubs
- List of assets and liabilities brought into the marriage and those accumulated since marriage.
- Income tax returns for the past three years
Prepare for the worst. In amicable divorces, there is usually a free exchange of information. But in less agreeable situations, one spouse may not release documents unless forced to by law. This is more likely to happen if one spouse controls the household expenses. One way to decrease the likelihood of this happening is by collecting the important paperwork before filing. Even if things seem friendly, there are most likely going to be some rough patches.
Don't make any significant financial changes. The divorce proceedings will decide all your important financial changes, such as changing beneficiaries, wills, and retirement accounts. In fact, making some of these changes too early could result in the judge awarding your spouse.
Be extra careful with spending and saving. There is nothing beneficial about being the first one to the bank and could even be detrimental to you. Separating joint finances is a sticky situation, and a lot of it depends on state laws. Continue to use your accounts as usual. If you don't already have the funds set aside to hire a divorce attorney, try to settle on an amount you both can agree on. If your relationship isn't amicable, ask your attorney about a legal separation. A legal separation would dictate how you would use your money until the divorce is final.
Know when to get help. Whether amicable or not, a divorce lawyer will help you sort through the separation of your lives and finances. Obtaining a lawyer should not be seen as an act of aggression. The bottom line is that specifics of a divorce are usually too much to handle on your own so definitely seek help from an experienced professional. We understand this is a tough time, and our entire team at David Adams Wealth group is here to help. We have helped hundreds of clients get to the other side of this transition.
Raymond James and its advisors do not offer tax or legal advice. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional.