by Jeff Landers, LTD Contributor, www.forbes.com
For most women, going through divorce is like riding an emotional rollercoaster. One day they’re up. But then, the next day, they’re down.
Of course, that’s completely understandable. If you’re in the early stages of divorce, you’re probably experiencing anger, distress, betrayal, loss, shock, numbness –or a combination of them all. Feelings like these are powerful, and it’s only natural that some days are going to be more difficult than others.
Unfortunately, though, there are big downsides to going through divorce while riding an emotional rollercoaster. It can be draining on you both physically and emotionally –and it can cloud your judgment, especially with regard to your personal finances.
In fact, here’s the awful truth: People tend to make absolutely terrible financial decisions when their emotions are erratic, up one minute and then down the next. Of course, that means that at precisely the time when you most need to focus your attention and thoughtfully plan for your financial future, you may be least able to do so. It’s a terrible paradox, but one that you simply must do your best to solve if you want to achieve the divorce settlement agreement you deserve.
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Is there anything you can do to get off the roller coaster? What can you do to regain a measure of control so you can Think Financially, Not Emotionally®?
Women ask me those two questions all the time, and I always give the same fundamental advice. The first step toward getting the divorce settlement you deserve is to:
I have seen time and time again how the most organized spouse often fares better in a divorce settlement. Why? Because someone who’s organized has many of the facts, figures and documents ready to hand over to his/her divorce team on Day One.
Let’s assume for a minute that you’re the one who’s organized, and it’s easy for you to give your divorce team most of the information they need at the very start of the process. As a result, your divorce financial advisor can quickly, efficiently and cost effectively prepare a Lifestyle Analysis, Financial Affidavit and other needed analyses and projections. Then, based on these documents, your divorce attorney can get to work maximizing the amount of your temporary alimony and child support, and he/she can easily assess what additional information is needed during the discovery process.
In short, being as prepared and organized as possible from the get-go often results in a less costly and better outcome. Plus, when you’re intimately familiar with all the details in your case, you’re likely to give much better and more credible testimony should your divorce end up in court.
Have I convinced you that it pays (in more ways than one!) to be organized? I hope so. And, to get you started down that path, here are a few simple steps you can take to become more strategic in your approach:
Collect your financial documents. As I outline in this Divorce Financial Checklist, you need to gather all the relevant documents related to your bank and brokerage accounts, credit cards, mortgages, tax returns, etc. Year-end statements are particularly important. Make copies and take the copies to a trusted friend/family member, or store them in a safe deposit box that your husband can’t access.
Have a Lifestyle Analysis Prepared. For many women, a comprehensive Lifestyle Analysis is the key to assuming control of their personal finances. Essentially, a Lifestyle Analysis establishes what your standard of living was during the marriage. It reconstructs: 1) the day-to-day living expenses incurred during your marriage and 2) the spending habits of both you and your husband.
Once the Lifestyle Analysis is completed, you’ll have a more accurate picture of what funds are required to maintain your standard of living. The analysis will help determine how much you and your husband spent on an average basis month-to-month and year-to-year, and you can use these calculations as a guide to help you develop a budget for yourself as a single woman/mother. Of course, maintaining two households are more expensive than maintaining one, so it may not be possible to completely maintain your marital standard of living, but ideally, you’d like to get as close as possible.
Perhaps most important of all, the details in the Lifestyle Analysis serve as verification of the net worth and income and expense statements submitted by both spouses, and it can help a judge determine the amount of your divorce financial judgment including the amount and duration of alimony. Please note: In many divorces, the Court might require a Lifestyle Analysis.
Start to monitor spending. Your Lifestyle Analysis will show you what funds came into the marriage (income) and what funds went out (expenses). Use this information to better plan your spending and to catch any red flags that may appear. Remember: Husbands hide assets (or at least, try to hide assets) much more frequently than most wives expect.
Open new bank and credit card accounts in your name. As a single woman, you’ll need your own bank accounts and credit cards in your name –but opening these accounts is best accomplished while you are still married. Go to a bank where you don’t have joint accounts with your husband, and open both a savings and a checking account. 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 more difficult than ever for women with little or no income to establish credit on their own, so prepare yourself for the possibility that securing credit could be somewhat time-consuming and is likely to require more than simply filling out an application or making a single phone call.
Establish ways to communicate privately. From the onset of your divorce proceedings, you’ll need to correspond regularly with financial institutions, your divorce team and others, and you’ll want that communication to be private. Many women find it beneficial to secure their own post office box for mail. (Just make sure you –and perhaps a trusted friend or relative –are the only one(s) with a key.) It’s likely you’ll also want a new, private email account and perhaps a new mobile phone, as well. (Please remember to reset the PINs/passwords on any of your old digital devices and accounts.)
Once you have taken these five steps, you will start to feel more in control of your finances, and you’ll have positioned yourself to achieve the divorce settlement agreement you deserve. Everyone on your divorce team recognizes that this is a tremendously difficult time for you, and it’s no surprise to anyone that you may not be able to think clearly about matters like the division of your assets and their tax implications or what your living expenses might be ten or twenty years from now. But if you’re well organized, all the members of your team will be able to do their jobs faster, better and more cost effectively.
There’s no doubt about it: You’re going to get off that emotional rollercoaster eventually. And when you do, you’ll want to begin your single life knowing that you have made the thoughtful decisions required to help establish your long-term financial security.
Jeffrey A. Landers, CDFA™ is a Divorce Financial Strategist™ and the founder of Bedrock Divorce Advisors, LLC (http://www.BedrockDivorce.com ), a firm which exclusively advises affluent women throughout the United States before, during and after divorce. He assists women and their divorce attorneys with deciding on the most advantageous way to divide marital assets and enable them to negotiate more favorable settlements, especially when there are complicated financial and tax issues.
Jeff also advises happily married women who have seen their friends blindsided by a divorce initiated by their husbands and wonder (wisely) how financially vulnerable they’d be in that situation. Jeff developed the nation’s first Just in Case(TM): Secure Your Financial Future, a one-hour program, which quickly shows married women how to be prepared in the event of a future divorce with immediate, practical steps. He can be reached at Landers@BedrockDivorce.com.
All articles/blog posts are for informational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice. If you require legal advice, retain a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author, who is not an attorney.
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