When couples realize that they are having marital difficulties they often (1) seek assistance from mental health professionals; (2) discuss divorce; or (3) sometimes decide to physically separate to enable them to consider the future. They contemplate whether to work on their marriage or whether to divorce. While this time may be very difficult for one or both spouses, they must consider certain options to ensure that if a divorce is the end result, they are prepared.
Finances are often handled solely by one spouse in a marriage, leaving the other one blind to their expenses, their assets, and their liabilities. It is important that the “blind” spouse learn about the finances.
a) Learn what the expenses are such as the housing expenses, the food expenses, the children’s expenses, the car expenses, insurance expenses.
b) Learn what debt you have, credit cards (are they being paid off each month or are minimum payments being made), how much is the outstanding mortgage, is there a home equity line of credit outstanding, taxes due?
c) Learn how much your spouse earns, look at the tax returns, call the accountant and request copies of the last 3 years returns if you can’t find them.
d) Learn what assets you and your spouse own, jointly and separately.
Start making lists or spreadsheets regarding expenses, assets and liabilities (debt) so if a divorce is the end result, at least you will be in a position to understand the finances and assist your attorney.
2. Credit Cards:
Many spouses have joint credit cards, but it is important to have your own credit cards in your own name as well. If a divorce occurs many spouses find that they cannot obtain credit cards in their own names because they have no credit history. It is never too soon to apply for your own card in your own name. You may want to start with a small local card, perhaps a store card and begin to build credit if you cannot be approved for a Visa or MasterCard, but either way try to establish your own credit with your own card.
On the other hand, you may want to cancel joint credit cards if you feel that the other spouse will be intentionally incurring debt as the debt could still be considered marital debt and you may be responsible to pay for the debt. There is a drawback to this as canceling credit cards will change the financial status quo and could cause the other spouse to immediately file a divorce action to seek support, as without a credit card, their spending ability has been diminished.
If the couple decides to legally separate, it is suggested that they consult attorneys so that an agreement could be prepared which sets forth the “rules” of conduct during this separation. This agreement will address various issues which could be similar to those if the parties were to divorce.
Some of these issues may be:
Who is responsible to pay the expenses related to the marital residence?
Who is responsible to pay the debts incurred by each party for their
Where will the expenses for the spouse’s new residence be paid from, assets
How will each of their expenses be paid, from assets or earnings?
How much maintenance and child support will a parent pay?
Which parent will the children live with?
When will the children visit with the parent who is not residing in the house?
These are just a few of the issues that could be included.
Separation and Divorce are major steps in your life and much thought should be given to taking these steps. Think carefully and be sure that you are prepared for this major life altering event.