I was never a boy scout (or a girl scout, for that matter). But I wish that I had been! They learn how to be self-sufficient, how to care for the environment, and how to be of service. But most of all, boy scouts are renowned for their preparedness. This preparation allows them to think ahead, be cool under pressure, and adapt in times of adversity. These are the same attributes that you want to have when contemplating a divorce. Think of this list as your Swiss Army knife – a handy all-purpose guide with steps that should ideally be taken prior to your separation or divorce to put you in the best position possible.
- Pay Yourself First (and Fund a Bank Account in Your Own Name)
One of the biggest issues that I’ve seen clients have is that they do not have access to separate funds. Your spouse will likely notice right away if you withdraw anything unusual from your joint account, and you may not yet be ready to broach the topic of divorce. Ideally, you would save as much money as possible but at least enough to cover your and your children’s expenses, without any contribution from the other parent, for at least three (3) months. Think of it as your rainy day fund – for use in the event of an emergency only.
- Give Yourself Some Credit (and Obtain a Credit Card in Your Own Name)
I’m still surprised when I hear from clients that they do not have a credit card in their own name. While being an authorized user on your spouse’s card may be helpful to rack up incentive points or to track spending, it puts you at risk of being unceremoniously cut off by your spouse in the event of marital contretemps. Ideally you would obtain a card with a moderately high spending limit, and a low interest rate so that you can carry a balance if necessary, to be used in the event of an emergency – like when you need to pay your attorney’s retainer. If a bank account in your name is a rainy day fund, think of this credit card as your safety net.
- Make an Escape Plan
You should have both a short-term and a long-term plan for housing for yourself and your children. Always assume that you will be the primarily responsible for the care of your children, and include them in your plans. In the event that you have to leave the marital home, you’ll need a place to land, especially if you need to vacate prior to the entry of a final judgment of divorce.
- Identify Your Support System
Going through a separation or a divorce can be devastating, to both you and your children. It is important early on to identify the friends, family members, co-workers, and other resources who will be able to emotionally (and if need be, financially) support you as you go through this process. Identify healthy outlets for the stress and anxiety that you or your children may be experiencing as part of your separation or divorce – get into therapy, the gym, a divorce group – whatever it takes to make sure that you take care of yourself and your children. Most of all, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Out With The Old, In With The New
While you may have an attachment to the easy-to-remember password that you’ve been using for all of your online accounts since 2010, chances are that your spouse knows them too. It’s time to change your passwords to e-mail accounts, online banking, and any other online accounts that you use. You may want to also seriously consider creating a new e-mail address expressly for the purpose of communicating with your attorney (less of a chance of your spouse finding a new account than accessing your old one) or for the purpose of communicating with your spouse during your separation or divorce. Finally, if you are going to get advice from a professional other than an attorney – like an accountant or a financial planner – best to use someone that you have not used previously as a joint professional with your spouse. You want to work with someone who is neutral and who will look at your situation with fresh eyes and give advice that is best for you, not what may be best for your soon-to-be ex-spouse.
I’m sure you’ve noticed a recurring theme throughout all of these items. What is important at this stage is 1) privacy and 2) security (both financial and otherwise). It should also be noted that this is a starting point-there are various other steps that you should be taking (for example- making copies of important documents and policies) that you may not have access to once you’ve decided to pursue your separation or divorce. Finally, if you are contemplating a separation or divorce, the best thing that you can do is to be a boy scout and get prepared – by consulting with an experienced family law attorney if you are ready to move forward in your separation or divorce. Please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 732-545-4717 to schedule an initial consultation.