By: Gary M. DellaPosta, CPA
If you are considering divorce, it is vital to plan for the dissolution of the financial partnership in your marriage. Such dissolution involves dividing financial assets accumulated during the marriage. Further, if children are involved, future financial support for the custodial parent must be planned for.
While it may not be at the top of your to-do list, taking time to prepare financially during divorce pays off in the long run. Here are some steps you can take to get started.
Take Stock Of Your Situation
Assessing your financial situation helps you in two ways:
Related Guide: For a system that makes it easy to organize and locate your records, please see the Financial Guide:DOCUMENT LOCATOR SYSTEM: A Handy Aid For Keeping Track Of Your Records
Estimate Your Post-Divorce Living Expenses
Figure out how much it will cost you to live after the divorce. This is especially important for the spouse who is planning to remain in the family home with the children; it may be determined that the estimated living expenses are not manageable.
To estimate these expenses, add up all of your monthly debts and living expenses, including rent or mortgage. Then total your after-tax monthly income from all sources. The amount left over is your disposable income.
Related Guide: Please see the Financial Guide: BUDGETING: How To Prepare A Workable Plan
Cancel All Joint Accounts
It is important to cancel all joint accounts immediately once you know you are going to obtain a divorce because creditors have the right to seek payment from either party on a joint credit card or other credit account, no matter which party actually incurred the bill. If you allow your name to remain on joint accounts with your ex-spouse, you are also responsible for the bills.
Your divorce agreement may specify which one of you pays the bills. However, as far as the creditor is concerned both you and your spouse remain responsible if joint accounts remain open. The creditor will try to collect the bill from whoever it thinks may be able to pay while at the same time reporting the late payments to credit bureaus under both names. Your credit history could be damaged because of the co-signer's irresponsibility.
Some credit contracts require that you immediately pay the outstanding balance in full if you close an account. If this is the case, then try to get the creditor to have the balance transferred to separate accounts.
If Your Spouse's Poor Credit Affects You
If your spouse's poor credit hurts your credit record, you may be able to separate yourself from the spouse's information on your credit report. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act requires a creditor to take into account any information showing that the credit history being considered does not reflect your own. If for instance, you can show that accounts you shared with your spouse were opened by him or her before your marriage, and that he or she paid the bills, you may be able to convince the creditor that the harmful information relates to your spouse's credit record, not yours.
In practice, it is difficult to prove that the credit history under consideration does not reflect your own, and you may have to be persistent.
For Women: Maintain Your Own Credit Before You Need It
If a woman divorces, and changes her name on an account, lenders may review her application or credit file to see whether her qualifications alone meet their credit standards. They may ask her to reapply even though the account remains open.
Maintaining credit in your own name is the best way to avoid this inconvenience. It also makes it easier to preserve your own, separate, credit history. Further, should you need credit in an emergency it will be available when you need it.
Do not use only your husband's name (for example, Mrs. John Wilson) for credit purposes.
Tip: Check your credit report if you have not done so recently. Make sure the accounts you share are reported in your name as well as your spouse's name. If not, and you want to use your spouse's credit history to build your own credit, write to the creditor and request that the account be reported in both names.
Also, carefully review your credit report to determine whether there is any inaccurate or incomplete information. If there is, write to the credit bureau and ask them to correct it. The credit bureau must confirm the data within a reasonable time period, and let you know when they have corrected the mistake.
Related Guide: Please see the Financial Guide: CREDIT REPORTS: What You Should Know-And Do-About Yours.
If you have been sharing your husband's accounts, building a credit history in your name should be fairly easy. Call a major credit bureau and request a copy of your report. Contact the issuers of the cards you share with your husband and ask them to report the accounts in your name as well.
If you used the accounts, but never co-signed for them, ask to be added on as jointly liable for some of the major credit cards. Once you have several accounts listed as references on your credit record, apply for a department store card, or even a Visa or MasterCard, in your own name.
If you held accounts jointly and they were opened before 1977 (in which case they may have been reported only in your husband's name), point them out and tell the creditor to consider them as your credit history also. The creditor cannot require your spouse's or former spouse's signature to access his credit file if you are using his information to qualify for credit.
Tip: If you do not have a credit history, a secured credit card is a fairly quick and easy way to get a major credit card. Secured credit cards look and are used like regular Visa or MasterCard's, but they require a savings or money market deposit of several hundred dollars that the lender holds in case you default. In most cases, the creditor will report your payment record on these accounts just like a regular bankcard, allowing you to build a good credit record if you pay your bills promptly.
Consider the Legal Issues
The best way to plan for the legal issues involved in a divorce including child custody, division of property, and alimony or support payments is to come to an agreement with your spouse. If you can reach an agreement, the time and money you will have to expend in coming up with a legal solution--either one worked out between the two attorneys or one worked out by a court--will be drastically reduced.
Here are some general tips for handling the legal aspects of a divorce:
Division of Property
The laws governing division of property between ex-spouses vary from state to state. Further, matrimonial judges have a great deal of latitude in applying those laws.
Here is a list of items you should be sure to take care of, regardless of whether you are represented by an attorney.
How To Prepare Financially For Re-Marriage When considering remarriage, it is important to plan for the following:
As for the estate planning aspects of providing for children from a previous marriage, trusts and/or life insurance are the vehicles most often used to do this.
Tip: Be sure to update your will before you remarry to ensure that your assets will be divided among your heirs after your death in the manner and proportions you desire.
Government and Non-Profit Agencies
Gary DellaPosta is a CPA and founder of the firm: Gary M DellaPosta, CPA's & Business Advisors. A graduate of Bryant University, he is a member of the American Institute of CPA's as well as the Massachusetts Society of CPA's. In addition to providing accounting, tax and advisory services to individuals and businesses, he also provides litigation support to attorneys and has been recognized as an expert in numerous Massachusetts' courts. Mr. DellaPosta serves on the Board of the Barnstable County Mutual Insurance Co., where he serves on the audit, investment and employee benefit committees. He also serves as the Treasurer of the Community Health Center of Cape Cod, is a Director at The Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod and is a former director of Eastern Bank and Plymouth Savings Bank.
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