Half of all marriages end in divorce. And while hiring a lawyer is commonly an instinctive first move, seeking guidance from a financial adviser isn't — and it should be. Severing ties with a spouse means cutting the cord on matters both emotional and financial. And it's smart to discuss each and every one of them with a professional if you're not equipped to handle them yourself. Read on for our roundup of the important money moves to make the moment you say, "I don't."
1. Know Your Assets
It's imperative that you understand your assets — what you have as a couple, as well as what you're entitled to after the split. This includes what you want, what you need, and what you lawfully ought to get. You should know, for instance, that assets acquired during marriage are divided in accordance to laws that vary by state. Learn those laws and how they'll apply to you.
Start a file and fill it with photocopies of your financial records. Seek out professional help if you come across something you don't understand. And, if you don't already know the role your spouse has played in handling your shared finances, find out. Then, educate yourself on those duties so that, post-divorce, you'll be able to pick up his or her slack when you're on your own. Taking the time to develop this level of fluency in your financial state of affairs is the best preparation for life after divorce. And it's a great way to begin to position yourself for good financial health once the divorce process is over and done with.
2. Know Your Child Custody Strategy
If you have children, there are important questions you need to be able to answer. Which parent will live with the children? How will you coordinate visitation rights? What are the child support payment requirements in your state, and who will enforce them when the divorce is finalized? How will you and your soon-to-be ex approach saving for your child's higher education? Child custody mediation is one way of processing all of this. With the help of a neutral third party, parents can sometimes work together to chart a plan for parenting after the split.
Another option is arbitration, in which the arbitrator acts like a mediator but also has authority to make legally binding decisions. Mediators, on the other hand, simply guide parents through the process of coming to an agreement about custody matters on their own.
3. Terminate Joint Accounts
In your journey to protect yourself from any possible financial liabilities, one of the first actions you should take is to inform your bank of the pending change in your marital situation. Consider canceling any bank accounts or credit cards you share jointly with your spouse and opening new ones exclusively for yourself. You should also terminate or change the password on any online accounts you jointly held: email, social media, Apple ID, and so on.
However, you should discuss these moves with your spouse before your make them, and invite his or her input on how to go about handling them. Be amicable whenever possible. And most importantly, keep track of whose money is in each account — this will be important information during the division of assets.
4. Pinpoint the "Date of Separation"
In some states, the date of separation is the day on which one spouse informed the other of their intent to file for divorce. In others, it's the date on which a married couple physically separates — for instance, the day one spouse moves out of the house. Then there are those states that mark the date of separation as the day on which the divorce is finalized in court. Find out the guidelines for your state and use them to determine your own date of separation.
This date is important because it draws the dividing line between all of the assets and income that the court will deem as marital property and everything that you and your spouse own separately. The implications can be enormous. For example, a big bonus, salary raise, or any debt acquired by one spouse before the date of separation would likely be considered marital property that will be divided between the couple. Income and assets acquired after the date of separation do not need to be divided.
5. Determine Whether You Need a Lawyer, Financial Adviser, or Both
An attorney isn't required in order to process a divorce — but one can be helpful. If you and your spouse can trust one another to negotiate fairly, then you might not need to involve any attorneys, which will help keep down costs. But if you can't agree to play fair and square, then it might be smart to lawyer up. Determine where you stand.
When it comes to deciding whether you need a financial adviser, the litmus test is actually quite simple: Do you thoroughly understand your current financial situation and how it will change once you are divorced? Do you understand all of the options available to you in your quest to limit your financial liabilities? If you answered a confident "Yes" to these questions, you probably don't need to seek the help of a financial adviser, though you may want to anyway. If you answered "No," then the financial benefits you'll attain through hiring a financial adviser will likely outweigh the cost.
This article first appeared at Wise Bread.