Divorce proceedings, even uncontested ones can play havoc with your finances and/or ruin retirement dreams: legal fees, therapist bills and paying all the bills that you previously shared can be devastating. You can protect your financial future by planning for these common issues:
1. Create an inventory of assets.
One spouse usually has a better understanding of the family finances than the other. This spouse probably knows how much money is in their investment accounts, the value of their assets and how much cash is in the bank, while the other partner may not have a clue. If you are the person who doesn’t know, you should take an inventory of all the assets before attempting to divide them. In addition to knowing what’s in your bank accounts, you should also get information on all retirement accounts and life insurance policies.
2. Keeping the house, or not.
If you think you want to keep the house, please carefully think it through. It may symbolize your security, and be less disruptive for children not to move; but it can also be a money pit, especially when you’re the only one paying for the maintenance, property taxes and emergency repairs. Before you negotiate for the house, determine whether or not you can afford the mortgage, and the costs of maintenance. Also, don’t assume you can sell your house for a specific amount-fluctuations in value can sometimes be dramatic.
3. Know what you owe.
Virginia law states that both parties in a divorce are entitled to an equitable portion of the property, as well as debt—this is known as equitable distribution. The division of marital debt is approached in a similar way as the division of property, and the two can often be intertwined. Get a full credit report for both you and your spouse, so there are no surprises about who owes what.
4. Get tax advice.
Almost every financial decision you make in a divorce comes with a tax issue. What is the best option, monthly alimony or a lump sum payment? Should you keep the brokerage account or the retirement plan? Sell the house or keep it? Who will pay the mortgage until it sells? Your spouse’s investment account with gains of $100,000 can sound good, but it comes with a tax payment that will reduce the amount you receive. Even child support can have tax implications, so consult an accountant or tax advisor to determine what makes the most sense for your particular situation before having your attorney draw up your settlement agreement.
5. Don’t forget about your health insurance.
If your spouse’s policy has covered you, you may be in for an expensive—surprise, especially if you divorce before Medicare kicks in at age 65. You may have these three options: (1) Your employer can cover you; (2) you can sign up for your state’s health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act, or (3) you can continue to use your ex’s existing coverage through COBRA for up to 36 months, but the cost is likely to be substantially more than it was before the divorce.
6. Consider rolling over your ex’s retirement account into an IRA.
IRA laws can help with the financial difficulties of divorce: If you fund your own IRA with your share of your ex’s retirement account and tap it before age 59.5, you’ll still pay the standard 10% early withdrawal penalty. One solution: Protect the assets in your divorce settlement through a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO), which allows you to make a one-time withdrawal from your ex’s 401(k) or 403(b) without paying the normal 10% tax, even if you’re under age 59.5.
7. Can you afford to support your adult children?
No matter how much you’d like to help your kids, your priority is to ensure you have a healthy retirement income.
8. Do not try to hide assets from your spouse.
In divorces where a lot of money is at stake, you may be tempted to try to hide assets, so it looks like you have less money to contribute. Doing this is not only sketchy, but it’s also illegal and could set you up for additional legal fees and court time if the assets are found. Some of the backlash for hiding assets include a court ruling that will give your spouse additional assets, finding that you are in contempt of court, or guilty of fraud or perjury.
9. Take control over your expenses.
When the income that once covered one household is divided into two, you will have to make some changes to your spending to afford your daily and monthly expenses. Look carefully at how much money you’ll need to live on and make sure you can cover all of your expenses after the divorce.
10. Don’t think of divorce advisors as therapists.
What you pay your divorce advisors typically comes out of the settlement you get. Keep track of how much they are spending on your behalf. Remember that your lawyer is not a generous confidante whom you can thank with a cup of coffee, but a paid professional who is billing you by the hour in a contested case, or a flat fee if your divorce is uncontested.