Keeping Your Family Strong--Even Through Divorce

7 Practical Divorce Tips

by Kristen Wright

Are you thinking about getting a divorce? If you are, you've probably got some pretty strong emotions right now. However, before you go any further, it's time to put your emotions on hold, get practical, and make some plans. Use these 7 tips to make your divorce, if you decide to get one, easier.

1) Separate your finances now.

If you haven't completely decided on a divorce, you may not want to fully separate your finances right now. All the same, you should open a bank account in your name alone and keep the information on hand so that you can quickly redirect any paychecks that currently direct deposit into a joint account that you have with your spouse. Open at least one credit card that has just your name on it. This way, you're already establishing credit in your own name. After you divorce, that could be harder to do, because credit card companies take your spouse's income into account when they offer you credit.

2) Copy all important documents or get certified copies.

If you decide to leave, you don't want to have to keep coming back to pick up (or fight over) copies of things that you may need. Start a file, make sure that you put it where your spouse can't access it, and include everything you'll need to navigate through things like getting a new apartment or the divorce settlement itself, including:

  • Birth certificates
  • Tax returns for the last 2 years (at least)
  • Current pay stubs or income statements, including bonuses
  • Car registrations and titles
  • Insurance policies and information
  • Bank account records
  • Copies of loan applications 
  • Copies of any investments
  • Records of stock options and pensions
  • Deeds to any property you own with your spouse
  • Records of any debts, including credit card statements
  • Record of valuable personal property, like appraisals on jewelry or fine art

3) Copy all the digital records.

In this day and age, you probably have an online account with the majority of your family photos on them. Or these photos may largely exist on hard drives or USB drives. Unless those are unimportant to you, make copies to your own USB drive or online account so that you don't have to fight for access later if your spouse tries to withhold them out of spite. Make sure that you also copy any digital financial records that are on the computer or online. 

4) Start spending less.

The reality is that your expenses will probably go up after you divorce; in fact, your standard of living could go down by nearly 30%. The sooner you adjust to spending less, the better. If you start putting your savings into your separate account, you'll not only prepare yourself emotionally for the changes in lifestyle, but you'll also have access to funds that you may need to get an apartment and pay your divorce attorney.

5) Get disability insurance.

The average age of someone getting his or her first divorce is right around 30 years. If you're in that category, you may think that you don't have to worry about disability at your age. However, your chances of becoming disabled before retirement is about 1 in 4. If that happens, you won't have your spouse's income to rely on. This makes disability insurance potentially more important than life insurance.

6) Get a financial adviser.

Divorce attorneys try to be as financially savvy as they can in order to protect their clients' interests. However, divorce attorneys aren't financial advisers and they don't know how every investment is likely to play out. They also may not be able to tell you the specific tax regulations that you'll have to follow once you accept a certain type of asset in a divorce settlement.

For example, you and your spouse may have two investments that look to be the same in current value. One of them, however, may be showing a higher return on the initial investment than the other, which would mean more capital gains taxes. While equally valued, the two investments would have drastically different net worths. You don't want to make a mistake and accept something that turns out to be less than it appeared.

7) Get a consultation with an attorney.

Consulting with an attorney doesn't mean committing to a divorce. It does mean that you're committing to your own well-being by making sure that you are prepared and ready to proceed if you do decide on a divorce. If you end up divorcing, it'll get harder to keep your emotions out of the situation and address every issue from a pragmatic point of view. That's your lawyer's job. A consultation can also provide you with information on other steps that you should take -- prior to calling it quits -- that are unique to your situation. Get in touch with a divorce lawyer in your area soon.