NEW YORK (MainStreet) —Divorce is not just an emotional split; it's also a financial one. For many people, the emotional trauma is so great during divorce that finances often get pushed to the back burner. One of the most important things you can do is separate the emotional and think about divorce as a business transaction. Understand your legal and financial options so that you will be better equipped to protect your interests and take charge of your future.
Julie Arkush, a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley in New York, offers the following important financial guidelines for those going through a divorce:
1. Pay Attention to Credit
Paying attention to credit is particularly critical during and after divorce.
One of the first things you need to do is establish credit cards, savings and checking accounts in your own name. Eventually, you will want to close joint credit cards and accounts, but until that happens, you can contact any joint creditors and ask that any future charges by your ex or soon-to-be ex be stopped. As long as you have joint accounts, any actions by your former spouse can affect your credit rating.
You should also check your credit report. There are three primary credit reporting agencies that monitor your credit: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Each scores and reports your credit slightly differently, but you are entitled to a free credit report from each agency once a year. Simply go to the government approved website: www.annualcreditreport.com and check your credit report for errors. You have the right to correct them and you should do so as quickly as possible.
2. Create a Budget
Know your spending habits. Even if you did not have a formal budget while you were married, now is the time to get one together. Additionally, if you are in the middle of the divorce process, determining a detailed and accurate pre-budget can be an indispensable negotiating tool when reaching a settlement.
Start by looking at some historical records. For example, take your tax returns for the last three years and see how much income you had as a married couple; check the sources of income which may include wages, salary, bonuses, investment income, income from real estate, bank interest, etc. Additionally, look at your expenses over the past three years of your married life. Expenses generally fall into several broad categories: home, utilities, food, transportation, medical, child expenses, entertainment, insurance, tax related, business and professional and miscellaneous.
Understanding this vital information will educate you regarding how much money you will need in the future and where changes can be made.
3. Don't Go It Alone
Getting through divorce can be overwhelming. The good news is, you don't have to do it alone. There are many experienced professionals and advisors that can help provide guidance and support to help you make informed decisions so that you approach your new post-divorce life with confidence. For example, you will likely need a lawyer to guide you through the complex issues that divorce raises, whether you choose litigation, mediation, or a collaborative divorce. You will also likely need an accountant to advise you on your filing status changes, and income and capital gains taxes matters. Additionally, many people benefit from working with a therapist, counselor, or clergyperson that can help you deal with the private and emotional side of divorce.
Finally, a financial advisor can be indispensable in helping your plan and manage your assets. He or she can help you understand the assets that you own and can provide strategies to meet your short-term, mid-term and long-term objectives, such as saving for education or planning of retirement. A financial advisor can help you understand what you need in a divorce settlement and can help you manage lump sum settlements, alimony and child support payment in a prudent and sustainable way.
Susan Davis, divorced mother of two children, went through the divorce process 10 years ago. In hindsight, she wishes she had a financial advisor during her divorce. "Because I initiated divorce, I failed to consider financial aspects as I was overwhelmed by the emotion of my situation," she said. "A financial expert could have helped me plan for the future and I would advise other women to obtain financial advice during and after divorce."
The decisions you make during and right after your divorce can affect the rest of your life. Take comfort in the fact that there are qualified people who can help you through this process and help you get control over your financial future.