Divorce & Money

How to Make the Best Financial Decisions During Divorce

Divorce & Money

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Divorce & Money

The practical guide

and , CFP

, 12th Edition

Make savvy, informed financial decisions during divorce. Learn about dividing debts, setting alimony, negotiating a fair settlement and more. With Divorce & Money, you'll find out how to:

  • avoid tax problems
  • handle alimony and child support
  • reduce risks to your investments

See below for a full product description.

Available as part of the Nolo's Divorce Bundle

All the information you need to split assets, easily and fairly

Major financial decisions are often overwhelming, but they can feel downright impossible when you’re in the midst of a divorce. Turn to Divorce & Money, the acclaimed guide that translates complex financial concepts into plain language. Learn to divide assets during your divorce and avoid making financial mistakes that could affect you for the rest of your life.

  • Create a cash flow statement using your income and expenses.
  • Learn how to uncover your spouse's financial information.
  • Determine the value of real estate, retirement accounts, and other assets.
  • Decide whether to keep or sell the house.
  • Understand how child support and alimony are calculated.
  • Divide your property and debts fairly.
  • Negotiate a comprehensive settlement.
  • Achieve financial stability after divorce.
  • Learn when and how to talk to a professional (attorney, tax adviser, or appraiser).  

Divorce & Money shows you how to take control of your financial life during and after divorce—and avoid costly court fights.  The 12th edition is updated with the latest tax figures and information about retirement benefits.

“Reduces the financial complications of divorce into comprehensible strategies.”-Newsday

“Precisely the right book to read to keep your property, your rights, plus your sanity.”-Steve Crowley, host of “American Scene”
and author of
Money for Life

“An essential purchase for anyone contemplating a split...”-Los Angeles Times

“At the very least, you should read Divorce & Money so that you better understand your legal rights.”-Newark Star-Ledger

ISBN
9781413323290
Number of Pages
536
Included Forms

Financial Fact-Finding
Financial Facts Checklist

What Must I Plan For?
Worksheet: Where I Do / Don't Want to be in the Future
Worksheet: What's Happening in My Life

Property and Expenses
Net Worth Statement: Assets and Liabilities Worksheet
Net Worth: Balance Sheet Summary
Cash Flow: Income and Expenses

What Will Happen to the House?
Monthly Housing Costs Chart
Find the Equity Value of Your House

Dividing Retirement Benefits

Calculating the Financial Value of Plans
Sample Letter to Spouse's Employer

Dividing Financial Investments
Investment Chart
Real Estate Values
Value of Insurance Policy

Dividing Debts

Spousal Debt Chart

Alimony and Child Support
How Much Do You Need to Live On?
How Much Child Support Do You Need -- Or Can You Afford To Pay?
What Does It Cost to Rear Your Children?
How Much Alimony Do You Need -- Or Can You Afford To Pay?
 

Negotiating and Finalizing the Best Possible Settlement
Marital Balance Sheet

After the Divorce
Finishing the Business of Divorce
Worksheet: How Can I Move Beyond the Divorce?
Goal Setting Worksheet

  • Violet Woodhouse

    Violet P. Woodhouse, noted author, lecturer, seminar presenter and consultant to the media in the areas of family law and personal finance, is a foremost authority on the financial and tax aspects of divorce. A practicing family law attorney as well as a Certified Financial Planner and Registered Investment Advisor, she pioneered the development of financial analysis of property settlements for financial planners, and often acts as a consultant to divorcing spouses and their mediator during mediation. Ms. Woodhouse is in private practice in Newport Beach, California, and has authored articles for the state and local bar associations and legal newspapers. Co-author of Nolo's Divorce & Money, she has also written articles for or has been quoted in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Working Woman, Lear's, Money Magazine and Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine. Worth Magazine has named her one of the top 60 financial advisors in the nation.
  • Matthew J. Perry

    Matthew J. Perry is a writer who has edited, ghostwritten and collaborated on many books, primarily in the genre of money and finance. He lives with his wife and son in New York City.

Introduction: Your Financial Companion During Divorce

  • If You Are Feeling Overwhelmed…
  • Managing Your Divorce in Troubled Financial Times
  • How to Use This Book
  • A Note on Same-Sex Marriage and This Book

1. Legal vs. Financial Realities of Divorce

  • Lessons in Legal Reality
  • Your Best Strategy: Think Financially—Act Legally
  • Legal vs. Financial Stages of Divorce

2. Financial Realities No One Talks About

  • In Divorce, Everything Takes Longer and Costs More
  • You're at Risk When You’re Financially Connected to Another Person
  • The IRS Is Watching Your Divorce
  • Cash Is King
  • You’re Playing for Keeps

3. Emotional Divorce: Managing the “Money Crazies”

  • Reduce Stress Whenever You Can
  • Safeguard Your Sanity
  • Watch Out for Sore Spots
  • Be Prepared for the Worst
  • Develop a Financially Focused Mental Attitude
  • Avoid the “All at Once” Syndrome
  • Manage the Ebb and Flow of Emotions
  • Don’t Let Financial Tasks Overwhelm You

4. The Hardest Part: Is My Marriage Really Over?

5. The Separation: What Happens When One Spouse Moves Out?

  • The Separation Date
  • Building a Better Credit Report and Credit Score
  • Social Security Benefits After Divorce
  • Questions to Ask an Attorney

6. Closing the Books: What Do We Do With Joint Property?

  • Joint Account Checklist
  • Questions to Ask an Attorney

7. Getting Help: Who Can I Turn To?

  • Questions to Consider When Seeking Outside Help
  • Selecting Professionals to Assist You

8. Financial Fact-Finding: What Must I Know and When Must I Know It?

  • Advice to the Terminally Disorganized
  • If You Think Your Spouse May Be Hiding Assets
  • Don’t Forget the “Easy-to-Forget” Assets
  • The W-2 and the Tax Return
  • What About the Gifts You Gave Me?
  • Financial Facts Checklist
  • Questions to Ask an Attorney

9. Facing the Future: What Must I Plan For?

  • Major Upcoming Life Events
  • Anticipated Financial Commitments
  • Major Goals That Will Cost Money
  • Where Does the Money Come From?

10. Protecting Against Risks to Life, Health, and Property

  • Insurance
  • Property and Estate Protection
  • Questions to Ask an Attorney

11. Taxes: How Do I File and Pay?

  • Get a Rough Estimate of Your Tax Bill
  • What Status Is Better to Use When Filing Tax Returns?
  • When in Doubt, File Separately
  • What to Know If You File Jointly
  • Dividing the Joint Tax Liability—Or the Refund
  • Tax Issues Involving Temporary Alimony or Child Support
  • Get Your Tax Agreement in Writing
  • Questions to Ask a Tax Adviser

12. Property and Expenses: Who Owns and Who Owes What?

  • Who Owns What—Marital Property and the Laws of Your State
  • Who Knows What—Using Legal Discovery
  • Net Worth—What Do You Own and What Do You Owe?
  • The Difference Between Assets and Income
  • Cash Flow—Where Does the Money Go?
  • Questions to Ask an Attorney

13. What Will Happen to the House?

  • Financial Versus Legal Realities
  • The House—Keep It, Transfer It, or Sell It? Now or Later?
  • Steps Toward Settling the House
  • Questions to Ask an Attorney or Financial Adviser

14. Retirement Benefits: Who Gets What?

  • Understanding Retirement Plans
  • Qualified Domestic Relations Orders
  • The Legal Value of Your Retirement Plans
  • The Financial Value of Your Retirement Plans
  • Calculating the Financial Value of Plans
  • Additional Financial Factors Affecting Retirement Plan Divisions
  • The Division Decision: Now or in the Future
  • Questions to Ask an Attorney

15. Financial Investments: How Do We Divide the Portfolio Pie?

  • Concepts to Consider
  • Steps to a Settlement

16. Evaluating Employee Benefits and Stock Options

  • Employee Benefits
  • Stock Options and Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Plans
  • Questions to Ask an Attorney or Tax Specialist

17. How Will We Divide Debts?

  • General Rules on Who’s Responsible for Debt
  • If You Live in a Community Property State
  • Listing Your Debts
  • Marital Debts and Bankruptcy
  • Dividing Debts at Divorce
  • Dividing Debts When There’s Nothing to Fight Over
  • Questions to Ask a Divorce Attorney
  • Questions to Ask a Bankruptcy Attorney

18. Child Support and Alimony: What Might I Pay or Receive?

  • Child Support—Legal, Financial, and Emotional Realities
  • Steps to a Settlement
  • Alimony—Legal, Financial, and Emotional Realities
  • Steps to a Settlement
  • Questions to Ask an Attorney

19. Negotiating and Finalizing the Best Possible Settlement

  • Have You Done Your Financial Homework?
  • Tallying Your Marital Balance Sheet
  • How Are the Offers and Counteroffers Made?
  • How Do You Finalize the Settlement?
  • Divorce Ceremonies

20. After the Divorce: How Do I Get From “We” to “Me”?

  • How Do I Finish the Business of Divorce?
  • Can I—Or My Ex-Spouse—Change the Settlement?
  • What Do I Want to Do With My Life?
  • If You Find a New Love, Protect Your Old Assets…and Your Alimony
  • How Can I Move Beyond the Divorce?

Appendix

Index

Chapter 1
Legal vs. Financial Realities of Divorce

Lessons in Legal Reality

Most Divorces Are Settled Out of Court

Divorce Law Is Local

Don’t Expect the Legal System to Take Care of You

It’s Easier to Write Laws Than to Enforce Them

Your Best Strategy: Think Financially—Act Legally

Legal vs. Financial Stages of Divorce

 

Sooner or later during your divorce, you will discover one insight that is central to this book and to the successful outcome of your settlement:

Legal reality and financial reality are fundamentally different.

A seemingly simple idea—but you’d be surprised how long it takes to sink in. To help you understand why this concept is so important, take a few moments to consider the following real-life divorce stories. In each, read the Legal Reality first. Then, see the true outcome in the Financial Reality side.

 

Legal Reality

Financial Reality

Jonathan and Penny were married for five years before they divorced. During that time, Penny fre­quently ran their credit cards to the limit buying clothing and had trouble balancing their checkbook.

When they reached the final settlement hearing, Jonathan was greatly relieved when the court made Penny solely responsible for paying the $10,000 in credit card debts she had accumulated during their marriage. The settlement was included in the final divorce judgment, which made Jonathan feel safe.

After the divorce, Penny didn’t pay off the credit cards, and creditors began hounding Jonathan for the money. Jonathan ended up footing the bills, because a divorce settlement assigning debts—even one included in a divorce judgment—cannot change a couple’s original joint obligation to their creditors.

Had Jonathan raised the issue before their settlement was finalized, he could have demand­ed more property in exchange for paying Penny’s debts or insisted that they sell some jointly held property to pay off their creditors.

 

Moral of the story:
Getting something “in writing” from the court
doesn’t always mean you’ll get it for real.

Legal Reality

Financial Reality

During their 15-year marriage, Sharon and Bill were committed to building up a good portfolio of stocks and mutual funds for their retirement.

Because Sharon avidly followed the market, she wanted to keep a batch of stocks she had recently purchased and asked Bill to take stocks of equal value, which they had purchased early in their marriage. After negotiating over a few other assets, Bill and Sharon reached an agreement in which each of them would receive the exact same dollar amount in cash or assets at the end of the divorce. The court accepted the terms of their settlement, and the books on their marriage were quickly closed.

Sharon paid attention to basic financial facts that Bill ignored: costs and taxes that decrease the value of an asset.

Sharon wisely picked the stocks most recently purchased. Because these stocks had not increased substantially in value, the taxable capital gains were low. Bill, however, blithely accepted the older stocks, which had gone up a lot in value since the time of purchase. Even at a capital gains rate of 20%, he owed substantial taxes when he sold the stocks. Had he taken the time to calculate his potential tax burden before agreeing to the settlement, he could have suggested splitting the stocks so that each spouse took half of the older stocks and half of the newer stocks.

 

Moral of the story: A 50-50 settlement isn’t always equal.

Lessons in Legal Reality

The legal and financial perspectives on divorce are two distinct views of the same event. Ending your marriage with no assets or huge debts is the hard way to learn about the difference between these two realities. But if you are proactive from the get-go, your lessons don’t have to be so costly.

If you intended to master Chinese cooking, you wouldn’t begin by picking up Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, even though it covers the same general topic of cooking. Similarly, you must take the time to consider the crucial differences between the legal and financial perspectives on divorce.

These four basic guidelines help define the legal perspective of divorce:

Most divorces are settled out of court.

Generally, divorce law is local.

Don’t expect the legal system (or a lawyer) to take care of you.

It’s easier to write laws than to enforce them.

Most Divorces Are Settled Out of Court

You may imagine that your divorce will be capped by a courtroom trial in which your “good guy” lawyers win the day and settle everything in an hour. Perhaps you’re eagerly anticipating that your day in court will be an opportunity to explain to a wise, kindly judge exactly how your spouse wronged you.

Don’t count on it. L.A. Law and other legal TV scripts do not reflect reality.

An estimated 90% of divorce cases are settled without a court trial. Most of your settling will be done through meetings between you and your spouse or between your lawyers, often on the courthouse steps. As the trial date nears, you will quite likely be rushed into conferences in the courtroom hall or coffee shop. In these frantic meetings, your spouse and/or the attorneys may confront you, demanding instant decisions on issues that will affect the rest of your life.

Most divorce courts today are pri­marily concerned with money, not morals. The main job of the legal system is to resolve property disputes and to ensure the welfare of children. Spousal misconduct, of course, could affect custody, and economic mischief (such as hiding assets) can change the outcome of the final settlement. But judges don’t have time to allow you to vent in open court about your mate, when numerous other cases, with more urgent problems, also need to be heard that day. Emotional pain is not part of the legal or financial reality of divorce.

The impersonal atmosphere of the legal world may baffle or intimidate you, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A divorce that ends up in court is a protracted, expensive affair that many couples are wise to avoid. Often, it is to your advantage to stay out of the courtroom.

As long as you and your spouse work toward a settlement without involving the court, you can trade property, negotiate terms, and still maintain some measure of control over your destiny. If you cannot reach a settlement and must have a trial, however, you put your fate into the hands of a judge—a stranger who knows nothing about your children or property. Yet, you’ll have to live with whatever that judge decides.

Even in cases that are resolved before trial, there often are numerous court hearings, such as those for temporary orders, child custody, child or spousal support, and attorney or expert fees and costs, to mention a few. These hearings alone can be incredibly expensive, yet many could be settled beforehand, with a little more effort at compromise.

Divorce Law Is Local

Divorce laws not only differ from state to state, but interpretations of divorce law can vary from judge to judge. Whether you ultimately hire an attor­ney and whether or not you have a court trial, you should ask a local lawyer to assess the most likely outcome of a divorce like yours. Ask about the types of settlements local judges tend to approve. Find out how the local courts and individual judges view mediation. Also ask about judges’ attitudes and the prevailing mood regarding, for example, joint custody, moving away with the children, or alimony.

Divorce courts are unlike other courts. They are called “courts of equity,” which means that the judge has wide discretion in making decisions. While a lawyer can educate you on the law, a lawyer cannot ethically or realistically promise what the judge will do in your case.

You may not like what you hear when you see a lawyer, who may tell you that the things you want in your divorce are impossible to get. Another attorney may promise you everything, but ultimately deliver nothing. Interviewing several people for a cross section of opinion can give you a more accurate picture of your situation. (See Chapter 7 for information on hiring an attorney.)

If you know how individual judges normally rule in your locale, your expectations will be more realistic. Even if you don’t have a trial (remember, 90% of cases are resolved before a trial), divorce lawyers tend to give advice that is consistent with local court rulings. Granted, it’s hard to ignore sensational news­paper stories about big-dollar divorces in other parts of the country. But those cases are irrele­vant. You must concentrate on what happens in your backyard, because that is where your divorce and your financial future will be decided.

Affording Attorneys

Throughout this book, we may tell you to “check with an attorney” on various questions. We say this because the individual circumstances of your divorce may require legal information beyond the scope of this book.

But who is going to pay for this costly legal advice?

Attending a brief consultation with a lawyer should not bankrupt you. Organize your thoughts and ques­tions before you seek legal advice so you can save time when the attorney’s meter is running. At an initial visit, spend an hour—not a day. Then go home and think about how much more you may have to spend on an attorney.

In some cases, your spouse may be required to pay all or some of your lawyer’s fee. The lawyer should be able to advise you about this at the initial consultation.

If you have very little money and feel you truly need advice from an attorney, consider borrowing money, holding a garage sale, or talking a short-term second job to help pay for legal fees. Check with local law schools or bar associations, which may run divorce clinics where students assist low-income clients. Some law firms will provide pro bono services to clients who fall below certain income levels. Check with your local court, and visit its website, which may provide help in filling out paperwork. Many will also provide valuable explanations of different aspects of the divorce process.

No matter what other decisions you make, here’s an important rule: Do not let your spouse’s attorney or anyone else chosen by your spouse be the one to represent you. If your spouse is represented by an attorney, you should be also. Except in very limited circumstances, one attorney cannot represent both parties in a divorce action. For more information on finding—and working with—lawyers, see Chapter 7.

 

Don’t Expect the Legal System to Take Care of You

Always remember that the professionals you hire to represent you in a divorce are simply working for you: They are not living your life, and they expect you to be an active advocate for your own interests. Even if you have the money to hire expert negotiators, don’t fall into a passive attitude. You should be thinking like an entrepreneur during a divorce, not like a victim.

If you were starting a business, you would first sit down with accountants and financial professionals to crunch the numbers and determine whether your new venture has a good chance of turning a profit. Only then, after the financial aspects have been examined, would you consult an attorney about potential legal problems. Likewise, when you know you’re heading towards divorce, you should determine the value of all separate and marital assets and try to reconstruct a paper trail of financial information before you consult a divorce attorney.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

Don’t be intimidated or afraid to ask questions if something is unclear. One divorcing woman admitted that some of her troubles resulted from her own unwill­ingness to appear ignorant. In an interview with sociol­ogist Terry Arendell in the book Mothers and Divorce, the woman recalled her divorce and commented, “Part of the problem was my own fault. I gave the appear­ance of being knowledgeable. I knew more about buying pro­perty and bank accounts than my lawyer did, but I didn’t understand all the tax things. And so I was reluctant to ask some of the things I should have asked.”

 

However, becoming your own financial expert may be a very tall order—especially for spouses who aren’t accustomed to managing finances and are starting out from a position of no control. If your spouse has held the financial reins tightly, don’t despair. You can get up to speed with some expert assistance. If you’re a financial neophyte, you should immediately seek legal help to understand your rights and begin preparing for the negotiations to come.

Use the checklists and forms in this book to learn the basics of documenting your separate and joint assets. As you assemble documents, find a safe place (not in your home) to store them. Never underestimate the value of financial statements in a divorce.

You must also accept from the beginning that your future is in your hands, not the court’s. The legal system is not designed to help you with your finances once the divorce is granted. For example, you may legally and fairly split the benefits of a pension plan in a divorce settlement, but when the time comes to retire, you may have less income than you need to live on. The court cannot anticipate or resolve that problem for you.

Further, the implications of future taxes on property are not taken into account in settlement agreements in most states. Generally, only existing—or impending—taxes can be factored into a division of assets. Anything beyond these taxes is considered speculation—and speculation is not normally welcome in the courtroom.

For example, if, as part of the divorce settlement, you and your spouse will sell $40,000 of stock at a profit, you could agree that the taxes owed on the profit will be factored into the settlement and split between the two of you. But, if you decide instead to keep all of the stocks and your spouse gets another asset of the same value in exchange for his or her portion of the stocks, the court will not award you more at the time of trial to cover whatever amount of taxes you may owe in the future.

You will need to call the shots today to keep a grip on your future. You can’t leave complex, speculative questions about your financial future to the one-dimensional perspective of divorce law.  

Don’t expect the legal system to make the best financial decisions for you. Only you can do this.

Definition: Settlement Agreement

Throughout this book, we refer to marital settle­ment agreements, property settlement agree­ments, settlement agreements, or simply agree­ments. They all mean the same thing. A settle­ment agreement is a written contract between you and your spouse outlining how you will divide your property and debts, the amount of alimony and child support and who will pay it and who will receive it, who will have custody of or visita­tion with the children, and other major issues. If you and your spouse are unable to reach an agreement on these issues (on your own or with the help of a mediator), you will have to go to court to have a judge resolve them. Once these issues are finalized, they are incorporated into the final divorce decree.

 

It’s Easier to Write Laws Than to Enforce Them

Laws concerning child support payments are among the most stringent on the books. Yet every year, millions of parents don’t receive the money to which they are legally entitled. Nonenforcement of court orders is one aspect of legal reality for which you must prepare yourself. As you go through each step of your negotia­tions, ask, “How will I handle this if my ex refuses to abide by the agreement or the judge’s orders? What options do I have to enforce this agreement?” And most important, “How much will enforcement cost me?”

When you recognize these risks ahead of time, you can take steps to minimize them.

To enforce your divorce agree­ment, you will probably have to go to court. The process is expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally draining. If at all possible, keep animosity to a minimum after the divorce so that both parents’ custodial or visitation time with the children goes smoothly. In turn, that may make it more likely that your ex will make alimony and child support payments on time.

Covenant Marriages

Three states (Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana) provide marrying couples with the option of entering into “covenant” marriages. A covenant marriage makes it more difficult to get a divorce and is an alternative to a traditional marriage permitting divorce without restrictions. In addition to undergoing premarital counseling prior to their wedding, a couple wanting to end a covenant marriage must wait a full two years before proceeding, and may divorce only for reasons such as adultery or alcoholism. Parties in states offering covenant marriage are free to enter into a traditional marriage if they prefer. Opponents claim covenant marriages will force some women to stay in an abusive relationship.

Arkansas was the last state to adopt covenant marriage in 2001. Since then, many other states have considered covenant marriage laws; legislation was pending in Oklahoma as recently as February 2013. Most estimates indicate that a small number of couples—between 1 and 3 percent—have opted for covenant marriages in the states where they’re legal.

 

Your Best Strategy: Think Financially—Act Legally

Make your financial concerns the centerpiece of your divorce, and work within the framework of the law. That is the most powerful position you can take. If you think financially and act legally, you will be able to anticipate risks and assess your needs, before a financial disaster hits.

No one wants to negotiate for an asset in a divorce and then be unable to sell it because they’d owe too much in taxes. Why should you go through the nightmare of settlement negotia­tions only to end up losing everything you fought for six months after the divorce is over?

Remember: The legal process of divorce is something you will live through—but the financial reality is what you will have to live with for the rest of your life.

In a divorce, it’s not what you get that counts—it’s what you keep.

Legal vs. Financial Stages of Divorce

Use the following table to help understand the rela­tionship between the legal and financial stages of divorce. These stages will be explored in more detail throughout the book. Keep in mind that few divorces will follow the steps in this exact order.

 

web Resource

Nolo’s website, www.nolo.com and www.divorcenet.com, contain legal information and resources that will help you through your divorce. In addition, several sites specialize in divorce information. Typically, these sites include forums, message centers, and chat rooms on topics such as custody, mediation, parenting, child support, debt, grandparent issues, and divorce in the military. Some can also help you find professionals—lawyers, therapists, mediators, or financial advisers—to assist you in your divorce. Divorce information online has exploded in recent years. You will need to be discriminating when you search. Information available on the sites of private firms, for example, may be technically accurate, but this content is often more of a marketing tool than a reliable legal source. Government or nonprofit sites (which typically end in .gov or .org) such as those belonging to states, local courts, state bar associations, and law schools tend to be more reliable. These sites often offer online self-help centers, links to law libraries, clinics, and general information about the law in your county or district:

www.aaml.org

www.divorceasfriends.com

www.divorcecare.com

www.divorcecentral.com

www.divorcedirectory.com

www.divorceinfo.com

www.divorcesource.com

www.divorcesupport.com

www.divorcewithoutwar.com, and

www.lifemanagement.com/flyingsolo.

 

 

 

Legal Stages

Financial Stages

Consult an attorney or do some research at a law library to learn about your legal rights and respon­sibilities. In particular, investigate how your state’s laws regarding separation affect custody, alimony, child support, debts incurred after separa­tion, and changes in the value of marital assets after separation.

Gather together your financial papers. Investigate the financial impact of separation and complete a cost–benefit analysis of your options. Make copies of all documents relating to assets, liabilities, income, and expenses whether or not you believe they’re important. Use the Financial Facts Checklist (Chapter 8) as a tool (but not a limitation) to what you copy. Close or freeze access to joint accounts. (See Chapter 6.) Open accounts in your own name before filing for divorce. Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website to begin the process of obtaining a free copy of your credit report (www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0155-free-credit-reports).

Physically separate. For some couples, this means moving apart. For others, it’s living in different parts of the house and no longer sleeping together. Additionally, your state law may use its own criteria to define the date of marital separation. Consult with an attorney to determine the rules in your state.

Keep track of debts incurred before and after separation, joint bills paid, and improve­ments made to property during separation. Keep receipts for moving and other expenses. Update insurance as necessary. Think about whether you will file taxes jointly or separately.

One spouse files a complaint or petition requesting a divorce. This begins the formal divorce proceedings. The other spouse must file an answer or response.

 

One spouse files a request for temporary orders regarding custody, visitation, alimony, or child support. The request may also ask that the other spouse pay both partners’ attorneys’ fees.

Document all temporary alimony payments made, and write down your agreements about alimony. These payments may be tax deductible as long as there is an agree­ment in writing or a court order concerning the payments.

Conduct legal discovery (the procedures used to obtain information during a lawsuit) or win spouse’s cooperation to share documents. Determine the amount of alimony, child support, and attorneys’ fees you will pay or receive, if applicable.

Conduct financial fact finding. Complete the net worth and cash flow statements in Chapter 12. Hire a forensic accountant if necessary to search for hidden assets. Analyze your assets and debts—use appraisers, accountants, tax advisers, actuaries, and others to help you assess values, tax con­sequences, and other risks of keeping or giving up prop­erty.

Begin settlement negotiations, using one of these possible scenarios:

Use mediation to negotiate the settlement.

Negotiate between yourselves.

Negotiate through your attorneys.

If you are unable to settle certain issues, bring those issues to a judge.

Before settlement negotiations, make a list of all items you want the agreement to cover. Be sure to carefully analyze the tax ramifications and other financial pitfalls of each offer and counteroffer. Reduce attorneys’ fees by doing much of the legwork on your own, settling without an attorney, keeping anger out of your negotiations, and avoiding a trial. Remember that a trial can be very expensive. You’ll have to pay lawyers’ fees as well as the fees of the experts (accountants, actuaries, and the like) whom you bring in to testify.

Draft your marital settlement agreement to incorporate terms of the settlement or the court order. The agree­ment is incorporated into the final judgment of divorce.

If you settle by agreement, carefully check it against your wish list.

 We hope you enjoyed reading this sample chapter. The rest of the book is available after purchase.

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