Figuring out your family’s finances is a project most couples don’t look forward to during the divorce process. Often, when one of the spouses decides to move out of the house, it pushes the financial envelope, so to speak, because the couple, if they’re fiscally responsible, needs to know how much it’s going to cost to maintain two households instead of one. The goal is that neither spouse straps themselves financially.
The figure a couple comes up with after an analysis of their finances can be a big reality check. Given how much of an impact a family’s overall financial picture can have on other aspects of divorce including spousal maintenance (alimony), child support, and child custody, it’s important to get these numbers right before moving out rather than afterward.
To fully understand the family’s financial situation before moving out, means first assessing and documenting income, then creating a budget. This is how to get started.
Determine Your Income Together & Separately
The first step you should take is to assess the amount of income you and your spouse each bring in every month.
If you or your spouse are salaried employees, this should be pretty straightforward. If however, one or both of you, own businesses or work solely or partially on commission, determining your income can present more of a challenge, potentially requiring the assistance of a forensic accountant. Income from retirement, trusts, government benefits, royalties, and any other sources unrelated to employment should be accounted for as well.
Having access to this information is often easier while living under one roof, so keep your eagle eyes open.
More than that, I cannot stress this enough: document, document, document. Make photocopies, take screenshots, take photos on your smartphone. Then put what you find in a safe place where your soon-to-be-ex (or hackers) can’t get a hold of it.
If you need to, be discreet as you conduct your research. Even if you are on good terms presently with your ex, be understated in your investigations anyway. Nobody likes to feel as though they’re being watched, and the sensation of it is often enough to change people’s attitudes from cooperative to secretive.
So what documents should you be amassing? For the salaried employee, tax returns for at least three years with all schedules (better if you can do five) and paystubs. For those who are self-employed, bank accounts, credit card statements, business records, and credit lines.
The more you can find, especially where there’s a family business, the better. Those are the situations that tend to get the murkiest.
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Formulate A Budget
Once you assess and document your household income, the last step toward assessing your financial situation is to put together a budget. That budget should include the income, as well as what the expenses (including any debt payments that may exist) will be for the departing spouse once they move out.
Be meticulous in your inclusion of expenditures. Think rent, mortgage payment if the spouse is making a purchase, property taxes, utilities, groceries, car payment, traveling expenses to and from the marital home if they will have child visitation, and anything else the spouse who is moving will need to support themselves separately and apart from the current household.
Keep in mind your budget can extend beyond basic necessities to those pastimes and expenditures that make you happy, and that you enjoyed before (though maybe not in the same amount), like eating out, going on vacation, hobbies, and grooming appointments. Your life pre-divorce is, to some degree, will be a determinant of how much money you will have to work with for your post-divorce budget. Just because you’re leaving, doesn’t mean you can’t have a nice life after you do. Isn’t that the whole point?
Find Hidden Assets
In some cases, you can be the spouse who played an indirect role without an outright monetary equivalent. In such a case, there is a possibility of there being more assets than you know.
What’s more, maybe you were the passive spouse who let the other spouse handle the finances with little to no tracking. If you didn’t have direct knowledge or access to financial information in your marriage, It is advisable to ask for every copy of every financial record.
In rare cases, your EX may not be outright on past records, although they are legally obligated to cooperate. In such instances, they may be hiding assets. Locating hidden assets during a divorce is challenging, especially if you don’t seek help from a divorce attorney.
If you suspect foul play, contact a divorce lawyer before moving out of your matrimonial home to get expert help on asset searching and investigations. In most cases, you aren’t advised to trust an EX. Contacting a lawyer even if you don’t suspect there are hidden assets is the right move to ensure you get an accurate financial picture and exit a marriage with what you deserve.
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Initiate A Formal Divorce Discovery Process
Most spouses won’t disclose financial information voluntarily and conclusively until you take a legal approach to getting every single financial document needed.
There is a formal process referred to as discovery that is used to get information in divorce proceedings.
While the process in states like Alabama can differ from other states, most processes are largely similar.
Discovery begins by demanding documents. Your divorce attorney should begin by demanding specific financial documents like loan applications, tax returns, financial statements, account records, etc.
The process also includes written questions to interrogate financial information or request for admission of specific financial information. The questions “force” an EX spouse to answer questions in writing (on record) and admit or deny specific financial-related issues.
Discovery can also include demanding inspections to uncover financial information or assets that may be hidden. Your divorce lawyer can arrange for your EX’s safe deposit box to be inspected, among other items of financial nature (such as wine collections) that may be omitted or understated.
Since discovery can also involve testifying under oath and lying under oath is an offense, your spouse can be forced to be truthful or risk committing a crime. Discovery is among the best ways of getting full financial disclosure from an EX spouse who is uncooperative. The court system can compel compliance, and disobedience is punished severely through fines and judgments in some cases.
Discovery processes that involve depositions are great for making sure your spouse is being truthful and disclosing everything. Even if they lie and you don’t get what is rightfully yours immediately, lying under oath is an offense that can be revisited and punished. To have the best outcome, discovery and related processes should be done after your spouse has provided initial financial records.
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Setup An Emergency Fund
After discovery, you should have an accurate financial picture and what you should be working with. A budget will guide you on living expenses. In most cases, you will need an emergency fund in place. You can no longer rely on financial “cushions” present in your past marriage. You need a new fund to deal with emergencies. Before moving from your matrimonial home, set aside as many resources as you can.
Increase Your Income
While it won’t hurt working with the finances you have and setting something aside, you should also think of making more money. Divorce changes the financial situation of many spouses. Losing a spouse’s contribution may force you to look for work. Moving is also expensive, and you may have to start rebuilding a home from scratch with new furniture, appliances, etc. Let’s not overlook the legal cost of dissolving a marriage. You are likely to spend a lot during the process, and that money needs to be replaced. Before moving out or making permanent arrangements, understand the pressing need to be making more money.
You should consider starting a side business, taking extra shifts, pursuing a new career, among other income-generating ventures to avoid financial problems when you finally part ways.
The work you do now to document your financial picture and create a detailed and accurate budget will be well worth your time and effort. Even if your research creates added stress for you today, by not pushing it off to a time when collecting documents and making calculations will be more difficult, you’re protecting yourself from more stress tomorrow.
Divorce is not an easy process to cope with. Hence the importance of having clarity on the financial component of the process will aid you in making the right decisions. Moving forward to independent life can only happen if you are aware of the life changes that are about to occur, and the financial implications of those changes.
If you are looking into getting a divorce, you want someone who is going to be on your side. Connect with us at Charlotte Christian Law Firm by phone at (256) 769-0508, or online at charlottechristianlaw.com to find an attorney that will go to bat for you both in and out of court. We will advocate for you.