Divorce is one of the major stressors in life. In fact, it’s usually ranked in the top ten right behind the other major life stressor, money.
According to the “Life Events Inventory” published in Occupational Medicine, divorce ranked number 10 in the list of life’s stressful events behind unemployment and being in debt beyond what you can pay.
So how are you supposed to survive the financial impact of a divorce while also dealing with the emotional impact of your marriage ending? We’re going to share with you tips to keep your finances on track even through the divorce process.
Know Your Finances
As a financial planner, I all too often see women taking a backseat when it comes to money management. In fact, a survey done by Prudential Insurance revealed that in 44% of households women are the breadwinners, and yet only 27% of married women say they take control of their retirement and financial planning.
As a single woman, you won’t have the luxury of letting someone else completely manage your money, but you are certainly smart enough and strong enough to manage on your own. The best place to start is by making a list of all your assets. Your assets are everything you and your spouse own including financial accounts and personal assets such as your home, vehicles, jewelry, etc.
If your spouse is secretive or even controlling, this will make the task harder but even more important because a controlling spouse will likely try to control the divorce process. You can get a good idea of your household finances by pulling copies of your tax returns. If needed, you can do this by going directly to the IRS website.
The Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts also provides several checklists which can help you makes sense of your financial situation.
Keep in mind that state law will dictate how assets are to be divided in your marriage. You aren’t always guaranteed to receive half of everything. It’s important to discuss this issue in depth with your attorney, but you can also do research on your own using this link to the Divorce & Property section on FindLaw.com.
Meet with a Financial Advisor
Going through a divorce is life altering and draining, and it’s not always easy to make the best decisions without involving your emotions. Just as you will rely on an attorney to guide you through the legal aspects of your divorce, let a financial advisor help you through the financial aspects.
A financial advisor should be able to help you understand your immediate cash flow needs along with the best way to survive the financial impact of a divorce.
You can find a financial advisor who specializes in divorce using the Association of Divorce Financial Planners’ website. You might also consider hiring a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. They can help you with the division of assets. You can learn more on their website.
Downsize Your Lifestyle
During your marriage you probably grew accustomed to a certain way of life. You may love the house you live in or the car you drive, but divorce represents a new beginning and that may include shedding your old lifestyle.
Women often try to stay in the same house after a divorce, but this doesn’t always make sense financially. Even if the equity in the home seems significant, the annual maintenance, property taxes, and other fees can make it an expensive asset to own. Picture yourself single. Would you buy this house all over again?
Be realistic about what you will be able to afford going forward. A big house isn’t likely to make up for the stress of being financially strained each month. You can use a website like Mint.com to help you create a budget. A financial advisor can also help you understand what you can afford.
Manage Joint Accounts Carefully
Determining how to separate joint accounts during the divorce process can be difficult. There are two major pitfalls you should avoid.
The first is making sure you are able to secure the funds you’ll need to pay for the divorce, but be careful when you withdraw money from a joint account. Legally you may not be able to touch joint accounts once divorce proceedings have begun. You may be able to take out funds prior to filing for a divorce but realize that doing so may anger your spouse, and the divorce may become contentious quickly. Many family law attorneys offer a free consultation, and you can ask them about the best way to secure funds prior to filing for divorce.
The second pitfall to avoid when it comes to managing joint accounts is protecting your credit. Realize that any joint debt needs to continue to be paid in order to avoid a negative mark on your credit report. Your credit score can be negatively impacted if a past due account is in both your names even if the debt is your spouse’s responsibility.
Work with your attorney and if possible, your spouse to make sure all joint accounts are separated and closed. Also, make sure to update your will and other estate planning documents along with the beneficiaries on any life insurance policies and retirement accounts.
Check Your Credit
Having good credit is vital to your finances. Everything from buying a home or car to applying for certain jobs can be affected by your credit. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the 3 credit bureaus once a year. Checking your report can also help you and your attorney determine which debts need to be dealt with during your divorce.
Go to a reputable Credit Report website to order your free report. Also, many banks and credit card companies have started providing customers their credit scores for free. Check your monthly statement for your score, or contact them to find out if that is a service they provide.
You can also learn more about your credit score and how to improve it on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.
Going through a divorce is not easy, but managing it well is crucial. One of the best ways to survive the financial impact of a divorce is to get involved in your financial life now. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Embrace this process as a new beginning and a chance to build your own financial future.