Going through a divorce is never easy and no amount of preparation can change that. However, a tactical approach to the process, especially in regards to your finances, can help mitigate some of the damage and keep you on your feet.
Before the petition for dissolution is signed, you can start taking steps towards financial independence. Phoenix divorce attorney DeeAn Gillespie offers these tips to prepare financially for a divorce.
1. Set up your own bank account.
Open a new bank account in your name only. This will be an account that your spouse cannot access. Under Arizona’s marital property laws, you may take your half of the marital community’s cash and direct deposit that amount into your new bank account.
2. Open your own credit card account.
Open a new credit card account in your name only. Use the new card with restraint and pay off charges every month to help establish and raise your personal credit score. Next, consider canceling any credit cards or charge cards that are no longer in use, but are in both your names.
3. Prepare your complete financial picture.
You must provide a complete family financial picture for the divorce, so make copies of documents going back at least 12 months. When going through them, if you are unsure about whether it is important, copy it anyway. It is far better to have too much info than not enough. Also, if you play to leave the marital residence, be sure to make copies of everything BEFORE you leave the home. You may not have an opportunity to do it once you have left.
Here is a (general, not comprehensive) checklist of the financial documents you should copy for your case:
- Pay stubs and income verifications
- State and federal tax returns for the prior three reporting years
- Vehicle certificates of title and any loans thereon
- Real property and any mortgages, deeds of trust, or land contracts thereon
- Credit card and charge card accounts
- Insurance policies (note beneficiary designations)
- Investment accounts
- Pension and retirement accounts
- Bank and credit union accounts
- Business operations records
Prepare a new budget that accurately reflects your new living costs and – if you have children – your anticipated child related expenditures. Be sure to keep all this information secure and safe.
4. Take precautions to protect your privacy and security.
Change the passwords on all of your financial accounts. Change all of your existing email account passwords, too. (But save any emails from your spouse or from others that are relevant to your divorce.) For privileged communications with your attorney, and there will be many as email is an extremely important method of communication during a divorce, open a new secure email account in your name only. If at any time you suspect your spouse of having acquired your password, then change it immediately and notify your attorney of the possible privacy breach.
Be extremely wary of your social media activity. Anything that you say can be used against you. In fact, one third of divorce cases mention the word Facebook at some point. If you can’t trust yourself on social media channels, just stay off them.
5. Prepare for custody of your children.
Both spouses need to create a detailed parenting plan for you and your children. Create a journal that chronicles your kids and your parenting activity on a daily weekly, and monthly basis. You need to decide who the kids will live with. Will you share custody with their mother? How often will they be visited by the non-custodial parent? How will the children’s expenses be paid? Decisions must also be made over their healthcare, education, religion, and welfare.
If you do not plan to seek primary custody, then focus on maximizing your parenting time and staying involved with your children.
6. Prepare an inventory of all your personal property.
When going through a divorce, you must take inventory of all your personal property. The easiest way to do this is to go room by room and take photos and create a list. Be sure to mark whether the property is community or separate. Sometimes people do irrational things to others property during divorce, so take items you deem as irreplaceable – i.e. family photos, heirlooms, or keepsakes – with you and put them in a secure location. Be sure to take photos and make notes of where they are.
7. Prepare your contact list of important people.
Get involved – if you aren’t already – in your children’s lives. Create a list of people involved in their day to day lives such as friends and their parents, teachers, advisors, coaches, babysitters, ect. Make a list of their names, roles, and contact information. While you are at it, do the same for all the people involved in your family and financial life like accountants, family members, neighbors, and insurance agents.
Taking these steps can greatly reduce the financial impact of a divorce. Couple these strategies with asking the right questions when hiring an attorney and you will put yourself ahead of the proverbial curve in your divorce.