Opinion: How to Avoid Financial Abuse While Going Through a Divorce
Protecting your finances during a divorce can be challenging. Financial advisor Rosemary Lombardy is here to help.
Dissolving a marriage is very stressful, and it can set off angry outbursts in your spouse. Where emotional and mental abuse is present, the abuse may also escalate once the perpetrator becomes aware that they are about to lose control of their victim, as it has worked so well for them in the past. When domestic violence is involved, financial abuse happens ninety-nine percent of the time, according to a study by the Center for Financial Security. As a financial advisor, I have seen financial abuse in divorce cases where no abuse has been present in the marriage in order to cheat the other partner out of what they were entitled to receive. There are steps you will want to consider taking before you alert your partner of your intentions to file for divorce.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Your spouse may become vindictive and take punitive actions after becoming aware that you plan to end the marriage so that you will drop the divorce or agree to an unreasonable settlement. He or she may empty the joint bank accounts, remove financial records, remove or destroy incriminating evidence, hide financial assets, cancel life or health insurance policies, destroy or remove personal property, overpay or fail to pay income taxes, delay billing customers, fail to pay bills to jeopardize your credit, run up debts or dissipate marital assets, write bad checks, neglect to pay child support or alimony, file frivolous and costly lawsuits against you, or fail to comply with the divorce settlement.
STEPS TO TAKE
Take steps to protect yourself. Move half the cash to an account in your own name before filing for divorce so that you have cash to live on. To protect your credit, close out joint credit cards with a zero balance and place a freeze on joint credit cards that still have a balance on them. You will be held responsible by the credit card company for paying any charges on a card that you signed for, including charge your spouse makes after the divorce filing. If the debt is not paid, even if it is assigned to your spouse in the divorce decree, you will be held liable.
Order a credit report frequently both during and after the divorce to make sure no unauthorized accounts or debt have been opened under your name. Notify insurance companies in writing to let you know of any late or unpaid premiums so that valuable insurance protection is not cancelled without your knowledge by your spouse. Inform investment firms in writing that a divorce is pending and that a court order or approval from both of you is required for any future changes or withdrawals.
Tell your attorney immediately if your spouse does anything underhanded that would put your rights at risk. Be prepared to take your spouse back to court if he or she fails to fulfill the terms of the divorce decree.
Put copies of important information in a safe place outside the home before alerting your spouse that you are filing for divorce. This includes bank and other financial statements, a list of assets and liabilities (including account numbers), paystubs, 1099s or other tax statements, recent tax returns, deeds or other proof of ownership, estate documents such as your will and powers of attorney, a list of passwords (change them right before you file), evidence of abuse and/or infidelity such as credit card statements, social media posts, emails, and phone records. Give a copy of these items to your attorney and bring these records to any negotiation, mediation, or trial that you attend.
Hire independent professionals to represent your interests. Prepare a realistic budget of what you estimate your expenses will be after the divorce. This is crucial for determining alimony and child support. Request that your financial advisor prepare a financial plan for you. Give him or her a copy of the statements of all of the financial assets, including the cost basis of non-retirement assets, so that person can better advise you for your specific situation, including liquidity needs, risk tolerance, and long term goals. Don’t agree to anything until after you have received legal and financial advice and can make an informed decision as to which assets will be most advantageous for you to receive in the settlement. It is usually better to let your attorney handle the divorce negotiations. Be realistic so that you are not wasting time and driving up divorce costs.
READ BEFORE YOU SIGN
Take time to read the divorce agreement to make sure that everything you discussed with your lawyer is in it before you sign it. Have a checklist with you so that you can refer to it and correct mistakes while this is still possible. If it is not in the agreement, you will not receive it.
Rosemary Lombardy is a financial advisor with over 35 years of experience and domestic abuse survivor. She is the founder of Breaking Bonds, a free resource for abused women, and author of Breaking Bonds: How to Divorce and Abuser & Heal – A Survival Guide.