With “new year, new you” resolutions in full swing and the holidays finally over, January is one of the hottest months for divorce filings.
“Last year I saw a 10 to 15% increase in consultations in January, peaking at a more than 40% increase in March,” says Lisa Decker, a certified divorce financial analyst in Kennesaw, Ga. “I refer to January as the beginning of ‘Divorce Season.'”
If you’re among those who’ve decided that 2015 is the year you’ll go from married to single, make sure you’re ready for the financial toll that the divorce process can take by making these key move before announcing you want out.
Gather Key Docs
“Once a divorce has been initiated, financial information can disappear or become difficult to access,” says Carl Palatnik, a divorce financial analyst in Melville, NY.
With that in mind, begin gathering copies of any documents that verify assets, liabilities, income and expenses, including recent bank, brokerage and retirement statements, tax returns, and real estate deeds—and the prenup, if you have one. This step can take three to six months, depending on how accessible the documents are, adds Decker.
Having a paper trail saves stress, time and money. “You won’t be captive to your spouse, hoping he or she will provide things to you,” says Decker. Nor will you have to pay your lawyer to go after this information.
Stash Some Cash
Ideally you want to have a year’s worth of basic living expenses in a personal account prior to filing.
If all your money’s co-mingled and you have no way of opening your own account and making deposits without raising red flags, open a credit card with a low or introductory 0% interest rate, says Decker.
This step is important because divorce proceedings could take six months or more, during which time you may lose access to spousal support. Plus, you’ll need to lay out another $10,000 to $20,000 for an initial retainer if you plan to work with an attorney and/or financial advisor, says Decker. (If you earn significantly less than your partner or have no income a retainer could get a lawyer to petition to have your spouse pay ongoing legal fees.)
Sever Credit Ties
Finally, to prevent what my friend experienced, try to separate shared credit card accounts, says Palatnik.
If your spouse is an authorized user on one of your cards, ask the issuer to remove your spouse’s name. If you’re joint users, freezing the cards may be your best bet.
But wait to do this until right before making the big announcement. Otherwise, jig’s up as soon as your spouse swipes.
Farnoosh Torabi is a contributing editor at Money magazine and author of the book, When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women.
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