A new year brings new beginnings, so perhaps it’s not surprising that most divorces are filed right after the new year begins. If you were thinking about divorce in 2011, now may be a good time to take those crucial first steps towards your new future. But for many women, getting started is the hardest part.
My advice is to begin by organizing your thoughts and preparing your personal finances. Here are a few steps to help get you moving in the right direction.
1. Collect financial documents. As I outline in this Divorce Financial Checklist, preparing for divorce requires gathering all the relevant documents related to your bank and brokerage accounts, credit cards, mortgages, tax returns, etc. For instance, you need to make copies of year-end statements from banks, credit card companies, etc. so you can start to keep track of all expenses, should you decide to proceed with your divorce. Take these copies to a trusted friend/family member, or store them in a safe deposit box that your husband can’t access.
2. Check your credit report. Keep a sharp eye on your credit card statements, and if you haven’t already done so, request a copy of your credit report. Once you have the report, monitor your score carefully so you’ll be the first to know of any unusual activity. (Is your husband using your joint credit cards to take his girlfriend on a getaway vacation? Are there other ways your husband is dissipating marital assets?) See my post, How To Protect Your Credit Score During Your Divorce, for more tips.
3. Research divorce professionals in your area. A divorce is not something you should tackle on your own. To ensure the best possible outcome, take the time to build a qualified divorce team. I recommend you start with these three players: a matrimonial/family law attorney, a divorce financial planner and a therapist/counselor. Research the divorce professionals in your area, and create a short list of candidates for each position. Schedule interviews with each top contender, and make sure you are comfortable with both their qualifications and “bedside manner.” I have had several clients who had to fire their attorneys because those attorneys, believe it or not, did not respect women.
4. Open new accounts in your name. As a single woman, it will be essential for you have your own bank accounts and credit cards in your name (this needs to be done while you are still married and way before you are single again). So, go to a bank where you don’t have joint accounts with your husband, and open both a savings and a checking account. Of course, you’ll need your own credit cards, as well, and starting that process now while you are still married is extremely important. New federal regulations are making it harder than ever for women with little or no income to establish credit on their own, so prepare yourself for the possibility that securing credit will be more complicated than just filling out an application or making a single phone call.
5. Remain vigilant. Is your husband explaining away mysterious purchases or time away from home --and dissipating family assets in the process? What about his business or professional practice? Be attentive, and if you are concerned at all about financial shenanigans by your husband, you may want to think twice about filing joint tax returns with him.
Don’t forget, you deserve that new beginning, and with each small step taken, you are that much closer to having one. I know it may seem daunting at first, but if you work through this checklist, you’ll be able to start the new year confident that you are on the way to a more stable, secure and independent financial future.