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Preparing for Divorce: Step 4 – Prepare a budget (or two)

The next step in preparing for divorce is to make two budgets (one that shows the situation in the house before the divorce filing, and one that is your estimated budget for after the divorce).

Most folks don’t like to prepare one monthly budget, so I know I’m asking a lot to suggest that it is helpful two prepare two of them. There is a method to the madness though. It is important to know what it costs to run your household currently. Equally important is to have an understanding of what your costs of living will be after the divorce. Let’s take each in turn.

A. Know your current monthly budget

Knowing the monthly budget is important for the following:

  1. In an alimony case, it is critical to show the standard of living and the financial need.
  2. It is helpful in assessing specific needs of the children that may not be covered in basic child support (e.g. particular medical needs or private school expenses).
  3. It will help you in planning your post-divorce budget.
  4. If your spouse is self employed and under reporting his income, showing that monthly expenses exceed what they claim they make can show they are attempting to hide their true income.
  5. A judge may utilize this information to determine temporary support while the case is pending.
  6. You should know this stuff in order to properly manage your finances whether you are getting a divorce or not!

B. Make an estimated budget of post-divorce expenses.

This is important for your personal planning and will likley influence your objectives in the divorce negotiations. You need to know what you will need financially in order to evaluate your settlement options or what you will ask the judge for in a trial.

This will undoubtedly take some estimating on your part. But, that is why it is called an estimated budget. It will be a work in progress. The point is to give some forethought to what your living expenses will be as you start the new chapter in your life.

C. How to make your monthly budgets.

If you already maintain your checking account records on a software program like Quicken then the process is easy. You can simply print out a monthly budget report. If you don’t then you will need to sit down and look through your check register and/or your spouse’s check register for the past three months. This will reveal the expenses you may monthly and quarterly (divide the quarterly expenses by three and enter them in the budget as a monthly expense).

You will then want to think about any annual or semi-annual expenses you may have such as for life insurance, homeowner’s insurance, etc. and convert those to a monthly figure and enter it on the budgets also.

In setting out your budget, try to be as realistic as possible. You should be conservative in your budget (meaning don’t understate the expenses and end up stating a budget that doesn’t realistically meet your needs) without grossly overstating the budget (which a judge would frown on should the case go to court). It is admittedly a fine line. The best advice is to base it on as real numbers as possible.

Divorce Preparation: Step 5 – Document & Safeguard Personal Property

The fifth step in our series on preparing for divorce: Document and Safeguard Personal Property.

Inventory and photograph your household furniture, art, jewelry and other items of value. Inventory and photograph the contents of any safe deposit box or family safe your family may own. Also, photocopy any important documents in the safe or safe deposit box (if you did not already do so when collecting the financial records).

It is unfortunate, but often these documents and property will “disappear” once the divorce process starts so get your proof in place now.
Additionally, you may want to consider safeguarding any items of particular value (either monetary or sentimental) which are small in size. I am referring primarily to things like the jewelry your mother passed down to you, your father’s fountain pen, your high school year book, your childhood photo albums, etc. Your spouse may not share your desire to divorce with dignity. Better to safeguard those items that are particularly difficult to replace.

Note that I am not suggesting you empty the house of its contents. That is a sure way to escalate the divorce and guarantee that you will not have a civilized divorce. Things like dvd players, camcorders and laptops can be replaced. Just document those on your inventory and photograph them for proof in the event it is ever needed.

Divorce Preparation: Step 6 – Establish your own credit

We are now on to the sixth step in our series on preparing for divorce. The sixth step is: Make sure you have your own credit established.
If you do not have your own credit history, you should begin the process of establishing it now. Obtain a gas card and a credit card. You will need to have your own credit established after the divorce. And, the sooner you begin the process the better. So, don’t wait until after the divorce. You can start this immediately.

Once you’ve obtained the accounts, you can imrpove your credit by using the cards and then paying them off each month. At this point, it is important that you use these cards only to the degree that you can pay them off each month. Your goal is to establish a favorable credit history, not to run up a bunch of debt.

Divorce Preparation: Step 7 – Assess the Financial Accounts

We continue with our series on steps to take when divorce is imminent. We are on to Step 7 which is Assess the Financial Accounts.
If you’ve completed the prior steps in this series, then you already know what accounts exist and what the balances are. You need to make a decision about what to do with them.

It is an unfortunate reality that one of the first things that some spouses do when they learn/decide a divorce is imminent is to raid the accounts. This is typically done after receiving particularly bad advice from an adversarial lawyer or a well meaning, but poorly informed friend.

In a perfect world neither party would touch the financial accounts except to pay normal household bills until after the divorce is over. However, if this was a perfect world, you would not be reading this blog, and I would be in another line of work because divorce lawyers would be unnecessary.

That being said I do not recommend that you clean out the accounts. Doing so immediately escalates the conflict and stress of divorce. It also will not be well received by the divorce judge.

So, you don’t want to clean out the accounts, but you want to be protected from your spouse cleaning them out. If you have a reasonable fear that your spouse will raid the accounts, the only reasonable solution that I know is to remove one half of the funds from the accounts and put them in a new account in your own name. Do not hide, dispose, or waste the money. Document carefully where every penny is spent because you will likely need to make an accounting of it later in negotiations or at trial. Additionally, you should not do this for the regular checking account out of which the household expenses are paid unless there is a substantial balance in the account over and above the amount needed for paying the current month’s bills. You do not want to take action that would cause checks to bounce.

I don’t make this as a blanket suggestion. If the money can be kept there and neither party remove it, that is preferred. Another option for certain types of accounts is to put a freeze on the account. Obviously that is only practical for accounts that are not regularly needed to pay bills and regular expenses.

Before you decide how to handle your financial accounts, consult with your lawyer. If they are suggesting you go take all of the money out without a good reason, I would seriously reevaluate the whether that lawyer shares your desire for a civilized divorce.

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