For this article, we brought in single mama & legal expert Bree. And by "legal expert" we mean she's highly skilled at avoiding attorneys' inappropriate passes as she works as a legal assistant & researcher at a high-falutin' firm. Yeah, that's all the street cred we needed to listen to her, too. Hark and hear her brilliant advice. -Gwen & Lark
You only need to have basic math skills to understand the equation of divorce is one of division. Both the wife and husband are left with less than they had together. Multiply the expense of operating one household by two. Now for a story:
Once Upon a Time
Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a magical kingdom. In the mornings, men went off to work. They came home in the evening to a meal, clean clothes, and a wife. Sometimes the man decided he didn’t want to live in the kingdom anymore, or he wished to explore other kingdoms. Sadly, the man had the right to reclaim his freedom.
Under the law of the land, the man’s freedom came at a cost. If the man decided to leave, the wife usually got to keep the kingdom. The man was also required under law to pay monthly tribute to the wife. This tribute had a magical name: alimony. This tribute usually lasted until the wife found a new Prince Charming.
All Fairy Tales Have to End, And Not with Happily Ever After
Then came the 1960’s, 1970’s, and the women’s movement, and with equality came – well, equality. These days, when a couple decides to divorce, gender is irrelevant. Alimony, spousal support, and child support are calculated the same regardless of which spouse has the greater income. Many high-earning women can thank God that most men’s egos won’t let them seek support.
Alimony is in most states now considered rehabilitative and is not common. Alimony is awarded to allow an economically disadvantaged spouse the opportunity to retrain to re-enter the workforce. Most women are already in the work force, so you don’t see many alimony awards anymore.
As for everything else, in most cases, the parties, a mediator, or a court divide up the couple’s assets and debts. A marital settlement agreement is signed, or a judge enters an order specifying who gets what. After this process is complete, all financial ties are cut, and the formerly married couple moves on with their separate lives.
So what should you know to be financially prepared if you see a split in your future?
10 FINANCIAL TIPS FOR DIVORCED, SEPARATED, OR SOON-TO-BE-SEPARATED MAMAS
1. Open your own bank account
- If you smell the possibility of separation in the air, go immediately to a new bank and open a checking account.
- You don’t want your paycheck to become a parting gift for your husband. Be ready to change your direct deposit immediately if you separate.
- If you set up online access, don’t use a username and password your husband knows.
2. Get your own credit card, and consider canceling current accounts
If you have been married for a long time, you may not know who the primary account holder is on your credit cards. Turn the card over, call the 800 number, and find out now.
If your husband is the primary on all of your credit card accounts, you need to get an account in your own name. If you have always run your credit through your husband, this many mean finding a co-signer, or starting off with a secured credit card, or obtaining a department store card.
If you are the primary on the accounts and your husband is an authorized signer, you need to be ready to remove him immediately upon separation.
3. Sign up for a credit monitoring service or check your credit periodically
- Pull your credit report. If you are not familiar with how to read a credit report, seek the assistance of a banker. You need to know what is out there that could possible come back to bite you.
- Many banks and credit unions offer credit monitoring services. If your bank does, take advantage of it and sign up.
- If your bank doesn’t offer this service, consider using one of the online services.
4. Bankruptcy is not a four letter word
Dan Sullivan of The Strategic Coach is noted for his quote, “Divorce and Bankruptcy are just extreme examples of market testing.” Assess your situation; will filing a bankruptcy eliminate many of your problems? If so, go for it!
While you are divorcing or immediately after a divorce are perfect times to file. When you seek credit in the future, you will be able to blame the bankruptcy on your divorce. Many loan officers accept this explanation.
5. Keep a copy of all statements from the month you separate
- It may take a while to get everything sorted out. The value of your assets on the date of separation is extremely important in that process. Make sure you have the statements from that month or a copy. Going back later to get them can be expensive and time consuming.
6. Consult with an attorney about your rights
- I am no fan of divorce lawyers, but you need to fully understand your rights. Even if you decide not to retain counsel, you should at least consult with an attorney.
7. Don’t be pushed into a quick settlement
- Again, before you agree to anything or sign anything, have an attorney look it over for you.
8. Think twice before agreeing not to seek child support
- Many people opt to handle child support privately. At the consult, have your attorney run the numbers and at least give you an estimate as to what you are entitled to receive.
- If you do handle it outside the courts, the first time he doesn’t pay you on time, you should file an action with the courts. The courts have powers you don’t. They can garnish his wages or put him in jail if he decides to play
9. Children have extra value on April 15
- Having the ability to list children as dependents on your tax return has value. Don’t give this up easily. If you are unable to agree, under IRS rules, the person who has majority custody is entitled to the deduction.
- Also, consult with your accountant. You may be able to file as the head of the household and perhaps claim an Earned Income Tax Credit.
10. Understand how pensions and divorce work
- If your husband has a pension, don’t forget about it when you are dividing assets. Neither of you may be entitled to touch it now, but you may be entitled to receive part of the monthly payments when he begins to draw in the future.