You’ll face many pivotal decisions throughout your divorce. Unfortunately, missteps often turn into larger mistakes that could jeopardize your financial security and well-being for years to come. So whether you think your spouse may be considering divorce, or you may be contemplating it yourself, it’s important to be proactive about your finances well in advance of divorce becoming reality.
This article, which focuses on mistakes made before a divorce, is the first in a series of three highlighting frequent financial mistakes made before, during and after a divorce and how to avoid them.
Mistake 1: Not being financially prepared. Some spouses see a divorce a mile away, but others are completely blindsided. Since the divorce process can be very expensive, it’s important to be financially ready so you have sufficient funds to get through the divorce, including the ability to hire a qualified divorce team. If you don’t have a checking account in your name only, set one up as soon as possible and add funds to it regularly. Also consider opening a credit card in your name since it may be harder to get one after your divorce. Additionally, try to establish or boost your credit score by making occasional purchases and paying your bills on time. Following your divorce, you’ll need a strong credit rating if you want to rent a house or a condo, refinance your mortgage, or finance a new car.
Mistake 2: Not having all your financial documents in order. Lawyers and financial experts need to review all your financial documents to negotiate the best terms of your settlement. The list of necessary documents is lengthy, but make sure to have these important ones handy before the divorce begins: three years of tax returns; at least one year of checking and savings account statements, brokerage statements and credit card statements; vehicle titles; and insurance policy declarations.
Mistake 3: Not monitoring and protecting your credit rating. As soon as divorce is unavoidable, immediately request a copy of your credit report (most are free). It will show all debts you share with your spouse and those belonging only to you. Ask your attorney whether it makes sense to close your joint accounts and credit cards you use infrequently with zero balance. Also review your report closely to see if there are accounts you are not aware of. If you are concerned your spouse may borrow money in your name, you may want to sign up for a credit monitoring service (many cost less than $20 per month).
Mistake 4: Failing to proactively monitor the mail. Make sure to be vigilant about the bank statements, credit card bills and investment account statements coming to your house. The more educated you are about the financials and what assets are held where, the more you’ll help your team gain better results on your behalf and lower your divorce-related costs.
Mistake 5: Taking on new debt to pay off other debt. If you’re having marital problems, do not refinance the mortgage on your house or get a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) with the thought of paying off the miscellaneous debt, like credit cards, family loans and business debt. Your spouse may suggest taking this route, but ultimately you are removing the equity you have accumulated in the house to pay off debt your spouse may very well be liable for. Generally speaking, avoid taking on any new debt with your spouse.
Mistake 6: Failure to hire a qualified divorce team. While it’s critical to hire a lawyer who specializes in divorce, it is also important to build a team of professionals to help you secure the most favorable results for you both financially and emotionally. By tapping specialists in different fields, you’ll ultimately get the best and most cost-effective advice. A lawyer is the best resource for legal advice and understanding Georgia divorce laws. A divorce financial planner will provide advice on the many financial aspects of your case. And a therapist will help you and your children through the transition and tough times. Additionally, if you have a privately held business, you may need to hire an accountant with a CVA or BCA designation to value it.
By anticipating and preparing before you enter a divorce, you can avoid the high cost of mistakes.
This article was published in the Savannah Morning News. To see this article click here.