Starting Over—Divorce

Page 7 of 10

Photo of upset couple ripped in two pieces

Despite all the planning and preparation for a marriage, sometimes things don’t end in a “happily ever after” fashion. If you’re going through a divorce, there are steps you can take to detangle your financial life and protect the assets you brought into or accumulated during your marriage. Don’t assume your spouse will work nicely with you; divorce can be ugly. Here are some general tips to consider.

Get help.

First and foremost, seek legal counsel from a reputable divorce attorney. Divorce can be a messy and emotional time. It’s important to have someone who’s not emotionally involved help you through the process.

Educate yourself.

Even with the assistance of an attorney, you need to educate yourself about the process of divorce. Know the divorce and property division laws in your state. No one looks after your best interests better than you.

Make a list.

Pull together a file with copies of important documents, including:

  • Past tax returns
  • Retirement account information for you and your spouse
  • Copies of health, life and property insurance policies
  • Bank and investment account statements
  • Property deeds
  • Automobile titles
  • Credit card and loan statements
  • Copies of wills and trusts
  • Receipts for major purchases
  • Your estate plan
  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage licenses
  • Prenuptial agreement, if applicable

Meet with experts.

Consult a financial planner or CPA to talk about the financial and tax implications of decisions you’ll need to make.

Pull your credit report.

Get a copy of your report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax—by visiting This is the quickest way to get an overview of debt, including credit cards, car loans and mortgages, in your name. Also notify them that further debt is not joint debt.

Open an individual account.

If you’re currently sharing an account, open your own checking and savings account. Remember to notify your employer of the new account if you take advantage of direct deposit. Open a new credit account in your name only.

Close all joint accounts.

Work with your spouse to determine who’ll pay for your joint debt. If you’re separated, notify your spouse in writing at least 10 days before you intend to close the account. Credit card companies don’t honor divorce decrees. If your spouse is deemed responsible for that debt and doesn’t pay, the company can come after you and any late payments will still affect your credit. Work with your creditors to transfer your joint debt to the person you deem responsible for paying it back.

Know what it’s worth.

Get appraisals of assets like jewelry and antiques. If you have valuables in a safety deposit box, verify the contents.

Update your documents.

Change your will, trust and power of attorney documents.

Change beneficiaries.

Update all your insurance and investment policies, removing your spouse as beneficiary.

Decide who gets the house.

Work with your attorneys to decide who keeps the house and other assets. If you plan to keep the home, you’ll probably want to refinance the property in your name only. Home equity may need to be distributed to both parties.

Change your name.

If you change back to your maiden name after a divorce, you’ll need to contact the Social Security Administration. You’ll also need to update your driver’s license, vehicle registration, voter registration, passport, employee records, insurance policies, savings and investment accounts, etc.

Talk support.

If you have children, discuss child support and try to work out something that’s reasonable to both parties. Decide who’ll take the dependent tax exemptions for the children.

If you’re divorcing a spouse who has a history of domestic violence, protect your physical well-being first, then do all you can to protect your identity and assets. Call the following groups for additional support and resources:

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