It’s only natural to put off something you know is going to be unpleasant, and I’ve seen that tendency play out in countless ways when it comes to filing for divorce. Women who know in every fiber of their being that their marriages are over — nothing left but to divide assets and debts, and then move on — can still find reasons to delay the start the legal proceedings.
Every woman has her own rationale for what seems to be the “right time” to file. Some want to wait until their children are out of school for the summer; others insist the timing will be better after their kids go back to school in the fall. Some want to file before the holiday mayhem kicks in at the end of the year; others want all that behind them before they divorce. I’ve seen the timing of filing affected by birthdays, travel, illness of a family member and other significant events in personal and professional lives. (Running for office? By all means, wait until after the election.)
Ultimately, you’re the only one who knows whether you’re holding off out of necessity, or if you’re really just reluctant to take that definitive next step. But whatever your circumstances, I can tell you from a professional and financial perspective that being “ready” to file for divorce boils down to four things:
It’s dull. It’s dry. But it’s definitely more important than any date on the calendar. Before you file for divorce, you should have your financial paperwork in order. You’re about to undergo an intensive, detailed examination of your finances, and you need to be prepared.
Check out my Financial Information Checklist to see what you’ll need. It’s a long list, and it’s only a starting point — you may have items to add to it. Some of these documents may concern assets you haven’t even thought about, let alone laid eyes on, in years. There will be a lot to copy, and it will take time to get it all together, so start now.
Having financial documents on hand when you begin your divorce saves untold time, expense and potential unpleasantness trying to obtain them later. Once you’ve filed, don’t count on any help from your husband; indeed, he might actively thwart your efforts. With that in mind, keep copies of documents with a trusted friend or relative, or use a safe deposit box that he can’t access.
When was the last time you checked your individual credit rating? Many women haven’t given it much thought since they were married. Well, now’s the time. Good credit will be the foundation of your financial well-being as a single woman, and yours needs to be in excellent shape. Request a copy of your credit report, and correct any errors you find in it. (See also my article on How To Protect Your Credit Score During Your Divorce.)
You will also need to obtain credit cards in your own name. This is very important — few people manage household expenses without them! Be aware though, that especially if you don’t have income of your own, it might take time to obtain credit cards. Get started now, so that you’re not caught short when you need them.
As a divorcing woman, you should also keep a very close eye on joint credit card statements. Go back at least 12 months — maybe longer, reviewing them carefully. Flag any expenditures you can’t account for or don’t recognize. For example, you’ll want to document if your husband has been using your joint cards to take his girlfriend on vacation or buy her gifts.
3. Bank accounts.
It is time to open the accounts you will need as a single woman. You should have savings and checking accounts in your name alone, and preferably, at a different bank than where you and your husband had accounts together.
Most importantly, these accounts need to contain sufficient funds. There’s no way around it: divorce is expensive. You’ll need to hire divorce professionals (lawyers, financial advisors, forensic experts, valuation and vocational experts, etc.), as well as pay for your living expenses during the process. As I discuss in my article, The Pros And Cons Of Keeping A Secret Fund In Case You Divorce, it’s a good idea to squirrel away a substantial sum. How much depends on how complicated your financial situation and how contentious your divorce, but you could easily need several thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
4. Divorce professionals.
As I hinted at above, it takes more than just a lawyer to handle today’s financially complex divorces. You’ll need to line up your professional divorce team before you get the legal process underway. For starters, interview several matrimonial/family law attorneys before choosing one. Look for someone you feel comfortable with, and who has demonstrated expertise in any special or unusual aspects of your case.
As the financial expert on your team, your divorce financial advisor will examine every aspect of your portfolio and work through multiple settlement scenarios. The goals are to achieve the best possible financial outcome, and to make your settlement last as long as possible.
It’s also important to have a compassionate therapist. Divorce is an intensely emotional process. Get professional help to cope with that, so that when necessary, you’ll be able to focus on the financial and legal details, and their long-term implications.
Many factors go into deciding when to file for divorce, but from a financial perspective, these four — paperwork, credit, bank accounts and your professional divorce team — are the critical ones. Beyond that, if you must wait to file until a relative is out of the hospital, or until after the Academy Awards, or the vernal equinox, or come what may… then that’s entirely up to you. Just remember that if you aren’t properly prepared, it isn’t the best time to file for divorce, no matter what the calendar says. And, if you are properly prepared, then there is probably never going to be a “better” time.
Jeffrey Landers is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.