20 Tips for Maintaining Financial Sanity During a Divorce

Managing your finances is never simple, but a divorce can make it far more complex. In addition to the emotional turmoil a divorce can cause in a person’s life, it can also cause a lot of financial upheaval. By establishing a plan and relying on professional help where necessary, you can ensure your best possible financial outcome and avoid damage to your credit score during this tumultuous time.

If you are facing a divorce in your future, these 20 tips will help you to maintain some sanity when it comes to navigating the financial aspects of divorce.

1. Consider both parties.

This can seem impossible in the midst of the emotions of a divorce when tempers are high. Still, it’s important to remember that making the best financial decisions for both parties will benefit you in the long run.

2. Don’t heed unsolicited advice.

Whether it’s your best friend or a co-worker, there will be no shortage of unsolicited advice from people you know during a divorce. They’ll be all too happy to share a story of a nightmare divorce, or an amicable one and tell you what you should — or shouldn’t — do in your own situation. It’s best to heed only the advice of those you trust. Always remember that advice is just that, and ultimately the decisions you make are up to you.

3. Don’t tell everyone your business.

When emotions are high we often wear them on our sleeves. In these times, we may find ourselves blabbing about our divorce to everyone, including the grocery store clerk. But because there is so much personal information — financial and otherwise — tied up in the divorce process, it’s best to keep the details of your situation private and confidential.

4. Leave advice to the professionals.

It’s important to only take legal and financial advice from a lawyer and a trusted financial professional. They will be able to objectively help you through your particular situation with the most effective and beneficial advice and strategies.

5. Focus on finances.

A lawyer can help you through the legalities of things like separation agreements and child visitation, but when it comes to finances and managing joint debts, it’s best to work with someone who specializes in finances. If you don’t know where to start, ask your divorce lawyer or mediator to recommend a financial planner they trust or have worked with in the past.

6. Close joint credit accounts.

Once you have filed for divorce, it’s important to cease accruing debt in both of your names. By continuing to rack up joint debt you could end up doing more damage to your credit scores and credit reports and subsequently complicating the divorce process.

7. Open separate checking accounts.

It’s important to remove your spouse’s name not only from your joint credit accounts, but from checking and savings accounts as well. Once you’ve filed for divorce, joint bank accounts should be closed and new, individual accounts should be opened.

8. Keep track of income and expenses.

This is always a smart idea, but particularly during the stress and chaos of a divorce, it can be helpful to track and document financial details including child support and alimony payments, and shared medical and other expenses. There are many personal finance apps available that can help you keep track of these details.

9. Create a budget.

Going from a two-income household to a single income is a major transition. If you haven’t adhered to a budget in the past, a divorce is a compelling reason to start doing so immediately. Make sure to outline everything, including both daily and monthly expenses (groceries, utilities, mortgage and car payments, scheduled maintenance on appliances and vehicles), and long-term expenses including retirement and tuition funds. This will help you avoid overspending as you adjust to your new financial norm.

10. Update your records.

Once your divorce is final you will need to change your marital status on things including tax records, utility bills, health insurance, and property titles (homes and cars, etc.).

11. Secure your own health insurance coverage.

For many couples one spouse is the main policyholder on the health insurance coverage for the entire family. When you get divorced, there will be a grace period for one or both of you to find new coverage on separate policies. Make sure to talk to your employer to find out when the next open enrollment period is coming. If you do not have employer-sponsored health insurance available, you’ll need to research individual health insurance options.

12. Consider adding more health insurance coverage options.

Relative to the previous item, it’s important to carefully consider the potential coverage you will need on your health insurance policies. You may need to add things you didn’t have previously, such as counseling coverage for yourself or your children if they will need it during this difficult and transitional time.

13. Decide whether or not you will change your name.

If you legally assumed your spouse’s last name when you were married you will need to decide whether you’re going to keep it for legal purposes. No matter what you decide, it’s important to make sure your legal name matches the name on any credit and loan accounts. Otherwise you could end up with errors or multiple names or accounts on your credit report that you’ll have to dispute later. This can cause damage to your credit and ultimately even lower your credit score.

14. Begin establishing your own credit.

Once you’re divorced you may find that your credit score has taken a hit thanks to removing your name from accounts and losing some of your established credit history. While it’s not advisable to run up a bunch of new debt, you can benefit by establishing new credit and opening a new bank account and credit card in your own name.

15. Update wills, medical directives, and powers of attorney.

It’s not uncommon for a spouse to serve the role of power of attorney, medical power of attorney and beneficiary to a will. If you have designated your spouse as any of these things, it’s important to update all of these to reflect the new person or people you’d like to appoint to fulfill these roles.

16. Change beneficiaries on retirement accounts and life insurance policies.

Similar to the the previous tip, make sure that your life insurance policy, 401(k), IRA and other retirement accounts are updated to reflect the change in your marital status.

17. Ensure your children are covered.

If you have minor children that should benefit from your retirement accounts or life insurance policies, make sure any changes you put in place account for that. For example, if you have a $200,000 life insurance policy that you would like your now 6-year-old child to receive at age 25, make sure the person you appoint will fulfill your wishes pertaining to the amounts you designate and when. It’s a good idea to get these details in writing and notarized as well.

18. Get savvy in managing your finances.

In many marriages, one spouse acts as the financial manager. That means they handle things like paying the bills, setting the budget, balancing the checkbook, filing annual tax returns, etc. If you are not the spouse that handled these things then you may have little or no knowledge of how to manage these things day to day. It can be helpful to establish a relationship with a certified financial planner, a banker, and a professional tax preparer. It can also be helpful to sign up for an online course on basic financial management.

19. Establish a savings account.

It may seem counter intuitive to try to save money at a time when your financial situation may have significantly changed. However, when it comes to saving money, even small amounts add up. And you never know when an unexpected expense may arise and you’ll need a little extra.

20. Take it one day at a time.

Divorce is never something we plan for, and it can feel completely overwhelming when tending to all of the decisions and details that need to be worked out. But by slowing down and taking things one step and one day at a time, you will find that both you and your finances will adjust to this life change. And you may just make the transition a lot more seamlessly than you think you will.

If you’re concerned about your credit, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get two free credit scores updated every 14 days.

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Image credit iStock

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