You know it’s inevitable. Maybe you’ve just been unhappy for years. Maybe you’ve just realized that your spouse has been cheating. Maybe there’s something else just telling you that this is not the same person you married x-years ago, or better yet, you’re not the same person, who walked down that aisle believing that it would be forcver.
Whatever the reason is for your divorce, the reality is that it will happen… whether or not you want it to happen. Like the survivors of any disaster, the best thing you can do to help yourself survive, is prepare. If you can’t prevent it, at least prepare for the disaster that is coming down the road. You may not know the exact date, but at least you’ll be ready. Planning for your divorce may be challenging, especially if you are reluctant or want to be discreet. Below are a few self-help steps you can take today … these are some of the best practices to think about when planning (and preparing for) your exit strategy. Keep in mind that this need not be a sneaky, deceptive plan, and that it need not necessarily lead directly to a courtroom. Part of your exist strategy can also be to include finding a mediator, divorce coach, or collaborative attorney to help you and your spouse through the legal process.
Best Practices to Plan for Your Exit Strategy:
- Protect your assets, but don’t be deceptive.
- Being fair doesn’t mean you need to jeopardize your financial safety. Protecting what you own individually is easy. Problems arise when couples are required to split their joint assets … and equitable distribution is a challenging process. Start by making lists: what are your assets? what are your debts? what are the balances in your joint accounts? Identify what you own versus what you owe. While withdrawing 50% of those accounts all at once will raise red flags and will likely be interpreted negatively by your spouse (think about how you would feel if your spouse did that to you), there is nothing nefarious about identifying that bottom-line 50% number and then making minor withdrawals to fund a separate account (see below). This nest-egg will become necessary the closer you get to making the final decision to part ways and live on your own.
- Open a separate bank account and begin setting aside a small nest egg.
- The goal savings amount will be dependent upon your needs. Think about what your exit will mean … the need for a place to live, food to eat, utilities and other bills to pay. It’s probably a good idea to save enough money to “float” you for at least six months, while you and your soon-to-be-ex sort things out.
- Build your own credit.
- If you don’t already have your own separate credit cards, or if your credit scores are poor, think about applying for a low-limit credit card to build (or re-build) your own credit score. Make small purchases and pay them off monthly.
- Start discreetly making copies of and saving all bank and credit card account statements, and any other documentation that will be needed to prepare the financial affidavit.
- Whether you are litigating or mediating, it will eventually become necessary to complete a Financial Affidavit for the court. This task will be much easier to complete if you have access to copies of all of your financial records, including mortgage statements, loan statements, bank and credit card statements. etc. etc.
- Maintain detailed records for eventual reconciliation.
- The process of divorce is typically lengthy, and the bills don’t wait for your final judgment. To the extent you are able, stay on top of your individual and joint financial obligations, while maintaining detailed records of your payments for eventual reconciliation. Don’t purposefully amass joint debt just to be spiteful to your spouse, because in the end, creditors may come after you for full payment. Uncle Sam is only interested in receiving timely payment, and the bank doesn’t care that your spouse is responsible for the mortgage and owes you money because you paid the car insurance.
- Education/Professional Planning
- Will you be able to support yourself, independent of spousal support? Consider your employment options, and whether you may need to earn an additional certificate or licensure to make you more marketable. This may be the time to consult with a professional career counselor, who will be able to guide you to resources that may help you get on your feet.