Cash & Coupling: How To Cover Your Ass-ets During A Breakup
You’ve discovered your union is more Ben and J. Lo than Ben and J-Gar. Some things just weren’t meant to be. Luckily for you, making a few dumb decisions on love doesn’t mean you — or your finances — are doomed for all eternity. As long as you’re smart enough to avoid a major financial setback during your breakup (and, of course, avoid making “Gigli 2”), you’ll emerge a little heartbroken but with a bank account as strong as ever. Here’s how to cover your “ass-ets” when you’re breaking up.
Gather your financial information immediately.
Generally, one partner in a marriage handles the bulk of the financial responsibilities, which often results in the other being completely ignorant about the particulars of the couple’s financial status. If this sounds like you and you’re headed for splitsville, start educating yourself pronto, advises Atlanta-based family attorney Paul Oeland of LaMalva & Oeland. Begin opening the mail — especially those bills and financial forms, gathering up tax returns, going through file cabinets, finding your retirement and investment account statements and running your credit report to see what you owe. This will clarify your financial picture for you and your lawyer, and also make it difficult for your partner to hide assets if the proceedings take an ugly turn, he says.
Avoid the temptation to hide assets.
Yay! You’ve just received an unexpected work-related performance bonus at the same time that you filed for divorce! Before you stash it away in a bank account bearing your name only, think again. “Divorce law is crystal clear: both sides must disclose everything,” says Oleand. “Hiding assets will cost you much more in the long run when they are discovered, because the party attempting to deceive the other will likely be punished in some fashion.” And if you discover your partner has a secret account in the Cayman Islands, run, don’t walk … right to your friendly neighborhood divorce attorney.
Make modest alterations to start lowering your spending.
You’ll soon be bunking by yourself, which will certainly have its pros (all the closet space to yourself, a toilet seat that’s perpetually down), but also its cons (no one to take out the trash, the responsibility of footing all the bills by yourself). In order to prevent yourself from relocating directly into the poorhouse, try to avoid living a lavish lifestyle immediately post-split. “It does not help at all to increase spending in an attempt to show a ‘lifestyle’ that should be maintained,” says Oeland. “To the contrary — jockeying for position is a bad idea, and is never rewarded.” His caveat to this rule: if you have kids, try to avoid major changes to their lives during the separation and divorce process. “Private school, soccer, swim team and tutoring should all continue. The goal of every judge is to ensure that children come through the process as unscathed as possible.”
The good news: the vast majority of divorces end with both parties agreeing to the terms. However, it will likely take a while to reach a conclusion, so in the meantime, let a professional (read: a family and/or divorce lawyer, preferably one who can drive a hard bargain) protect your interests and be the pit bull. “You wouldn’t go to a podiatrist for heart surgery, so don’t hire a real estate closing attorney to do your divorce,” Oleand says. “This can be a traumatic experience during which you will have to make huge decisions. You need someone advising you who understands the terrain so that you can trust the advice you’re getting and keep your head as clear as possible during this rough patch.”
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