When you get married, you form a legal partnership as well as an emotional one. And chances are you will also have joint financial obligations as a married couple. You may even have shared property and shared children.
While no one ever plans on getting divorced, it happens. Divorce legally ends your marriage, and it requires you to untangle all of the aspects of your shared life. This can be very complicated, so it's important to understand what financial questions are raised when filing for divorce. You must also sort out how you'll manage your money during and after the process.
Ready to make the right money moves after filing for divorce? Here are the steps to determine how to deal with joint finances. You’ll also learn when and how to get professional help with financial issues resulting from your marriage ending.
Assess Your Finances After Filing for Divorce
The first step to getting a handle on your finances after filing for divorce is to consider the specifics of your current situation.
This involves determining what money issues you will need to manage during the divorce, such as debt, credit cards, loans, joint accounts, child support, and alimony. Some of these things may need to be resolved in court when your marriage is dissolved.
Key Questions to Ask Yourself
- Will you file for a contested divorce and ask the court to divide your property and assets? Or will you file for an uncontested divorce? An uncontested divorce is cheaper and gives you more control over your assets. However, it requires you to come to an agreement on key financial and family issues. This isn't always easy.
- How will you pay for legal fees when hiring a divorce attorney? In some cases, one spouse may be required to pay attorney fees for the other.
- Is mediation worth paying for? This could potentially help you negotiate financial issues outside of court.
- Will either partner be expected to pay child support and/or spousal support (also known as alimony)?
- What shared property do you have, and how will it be divided? If your state has community property rules, you’ll have to split your marital assets 50-50. If you’re in an equitable distribution state, you may be required to divide your property equitably, but not always equally.
- What shared debts do you have? Who will take responsibility for them? Is it possible to refinance debt?
- What property will you need to sell?
- What bills need to be paid during the divorce? Who will be responsible for covering them?
- Where will each spouse live during the divorce? How will those housing costs be paid?
- Who will be responsible for covering the cost of children's activities? How will the children’s care be divided during the divorce?
Ideally, you and your partner can work together on these issues. In some cases, you may need the court to step in and protect your rights. This may be your best option if your partner is hiding assets, withholding money necessary to pay bills, not disclosing debt, or not allowing access to shared property.
If you and your partner had joint debt, creditors can still try to collect from you even if your divorce decree says your partner is responsible for paying it. Aim to refinance debt out of your name if your spouse is responsible for paying it under the terms of your divorce agreement.
Seek Professional Guidance
Filing for divorce can be very complicated. You need to understand your state's laws to protect your rights and to go through multiple steps to dissolve your marriage.
Having a lawyer help you through the divorce process is almost always a good idea. If you worry about being able to afford the costs, a number of resources can help you find free or discounted legal services. USA.gov has links to many websites where you can find legal help that may be affordable to you.
An uncontested divorce (in which you and your partner agree on the key issues involved in dissolving your marriage) can cost far less than a contested divorce. You will typically not have to pay nearly as much money for a lawyer or filing fees if you work out issues on your own without going to court.
Take Steps Toward a Secure Financial Future
In many cases, you will be restricted in what you can do with shared property until a divorce is final. But you can take certain steps during the divorce process to help set yourself up for a more secure financial future after your marriage ends.
- Set up a new bank account for yourself and apply for new credit cards that are in your name only.
- Make a new budget based on your post-divorce income.
- Research places to live post-divorce.
- Change your last will and testament.
- Change advanced directives if you previously empowered your spouse to make health care decisions on your behalf.
- Remove your spouse as a beneficiary from life insurance policies and retirement accounts.
- Research health insurance options if you were previously insured through your spouse.
- Notify your auto insurer if you will be living in separate households.
- Notify companies you do business with if you have changed your address.
Moving swiftly to prepare for life after divorce can help to make the process of managing money less stressful after your marriage is dissolved.
The Bottom Line
Divorce can be a time-consuming process. It can affect every aspect of your life, including your finances. Work with a lawyer to understand your rights and prepare for a new financial life post-divorce. With the right steps, you can make the process easier and protect your financial future.