Getting divorced can be a harrowing experience.
Most people have never gone through one before, and they’re in the dark on the nitty-gritty details it can entail. Not to mention, emotions are likely running high if you find yourself exploring this option.
But the more you know ahead of time, the easier the already-sensitive process will be. Below, Business Insider highlighted seven behaviours that are best to steer clear of if you want to protect yourself, and your family, financially.
Don’t talk to a financial adviser you don’t understand
It’s important to have a trusted financial adviser in your corner — especially if your spouse was typically the one to handle the money. Find someone that you not only trust, but who is able to explain things to you in a way that you understand.
“If there’s a non-financially savvy spouse, and they’re not really understanding, they sit in these meetings and smile and nod, then they should probably go to somebody they truly understand and somebody they’re connecting with,” Jacqueline Newman, a managing partner at a top New York City divorce law firm, told Business Insider.
Even if you’re well-versed in finance, it’s still important to add an experienced family law attorney and a financial adviser to your team. Divorce is mired in emotion, so you’ll want non-biased parties to be able to speak on your behalf and ensure that you’re properly protected.
Don’t rely on electronic copies of your assets
Get everything in writing. Everything. While the court may not care about proof of your spouse’s affair, it will care about proof of your assets, so start compiling as much documentation as possible.
But don’t rely on electronic copies, warns Shelly Church, a certified financial planner and senior vice president of investments for Raymond James. You don’t want to risk getting locked out of your information if a vindictive spouse decides to change the passwords to all of the joint accounts, so print everything out.
This includes bank account statements, tax forms, brokerage firm statements, and any financial documents you’ve signed in the last few years.
Don’t let your emotions dictate your actions
“Sometimes people let their anger or other emotions get in the way,” Stanley Corey, a certified financial planner and managing director at United Capital in Great Falls, Virginia, told Business Insider. “Or they want to go to war — and if you go to war, you’re basically giving away your money.”
Whether it’s sadness, anger, pain, or even relief, divorces are riddled with emotions, and that’s ok. But it’s important to remember not to let those feelings steer the ship.
“The thing about being in a divorce is that it’s a very emotional time in life, it’s hard to make decisions,” Corey says. “You can be a very intelligent person and make silly decisions because they’re clouded by emotional issues going on.”
Instead, it’s better to rely on your lawyer and financial adviser, who can speak to your best interest from a clearer perspective.
Don’t try to be clever with money
Divorces can get ugly, fast. Don’t complicate yours further by being petty or trying to out-manoeuvre your spouse when it comes to money. That means no hidden bank accounts, $100,000 “gifts” to your best friend, or other tricks.
“People think they can hide money and people think they can play games — and some people can to some degree — but it’s really tricky,” Newman says. “So when you have someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing, but thinks they know what they’re doing, it leaves a bad taste in the court’s mouth, and a lot of times it can all be traced back anyway.”
Don’t neglect to get an attorney
Repeat after me: You need an attorney — period. Even if you’re ending things on friendly terms or your friend’s sister-in-law swears she didn’t need one, you do.
A lot the time, “one of the parties will try to out-manoeuvre the other and encourage them not to get an attorney, [and tell them] that this is something they can handle and work out on their own,” Church explains. “Next thing you know, it starts getting very slanted in one direction.”
In order to stay protected, you need someone in your corner with a firm understanding of various laws and potential loopholes. “In each state, there’s laws on the assets that [you’re] going to get, but [you] need to be made aware of that and not sign off those rights,” Church adds.
Don’t live the same lifestyle as before
The biggest mistake Corey sees clients make in the wake of a divorce is to continue to stick to the same spending habits they had beforehand. Not only are divorces themselves expensive — they typically cost between $15,000 and $20,000 — but you’re likely figuring out how to live on a lower income at the same time, so it’s better to downgrade your expenses wherever possible.
“You’ve got to live within your means until you resolve the matter and not spend down all of the assets because obviously you’re spending a lot — whether it be on legal fees or other expenses — and you’ll [soon] find out that you don’t have those assets available to provide for your needs in the future,” Corey says.
Don’t focus on your personal drama
For some people, it’s a hard pill to swallow, but remember this: The judge does not care about your personal drama.
“You have a lot of people who have been keeping every love note and taking pictures on everyone’s phones of all the sexy texts, and thinking that this is going to be this whole big thing,” Newman says. “They come into my office with all their proof of this affair, and they’re like, ‘Wait ’til the judge sees this!’ And I’m like, ‘Not only will the judge not see this, but if they did, they wouldn’t even blink.'”
For the parties involved, divorce proceedings are all about the tough, emotional details that caused their marriage to crumble. But to a judge, it’s business — another day on the job. The court doesn’t care if your husband slept with your best friend or if you caught your wife sneaking off to meet another man at motel.
“A judge is going to care more about a good financial statement than a picture of someone going out of a motel,” Corey says. “It all comes down to the basics of the dollars and cents.”
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