Predivorce planning? That sounds so premeditated, like a murder of a marriage. It feels like the ultimate betrayal of a marriage when someone plans for a divorce. Just like in the movies, if people fall in love quickly and with passion, it is so much more emotionally satisfying than if people slowly built up a relationship before they fell in love. When people end a relationship, it feels so much more emotionally satisfying if the separation is due to a spontaneous eruption of passion and spark.
This is where you should be separating out your emotional bias for spontaneity and start thinking about the benefits of planning. Planning, at its core, is getting sufficient information to be able to use all the parts of your brain to make the best decisions. Getting information may be what makes you decide that there is something still workable in the marriage, or it may give you information that the marriage deterioration has gone past the point of no return. What should your thought process be? What information do you need?
PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL SAFETY
If you are in flight, fight or freeze mode much of the time, you are not able to take the time to think about other things such as finances. If you are in fear of physical harm, you need to start talking to an attorney immediately, to be able to protect yourself, and be in a mental space to get information to make decisions. If you are in fear of emotional harm, find a therapist and start taking care of yourself enough to be emotionally ready to start getting information to make decisions.
CHILD CUSTODY AND PARENTING ISSUES
You need to know what the law is, what kind of custody and parenting time plans there are, and what the legal impact will be for you if you separate from your spouse and you have kids. Before there is a court order, both parents have equal legal authority to take the kids and leave, or to refuse to return the kids. If at all possible, you need to avoid having the kids in a physical tug of war, or an emotional tug of war. Often people react out of fear, when if they got facts, they would realize that their fear was not based in reality, and there are usually solutions that focus on the kids’ best interest. If you have the information, you can make better decisions for your kids in the short run, and the long run.
There is a legal process for exchanging financial information after the divorce is filed. However, it is better to get the financial information ahead of time, so that you know what the finances look like, what accounts there are, what debts there are and what assets you have. It is hard for the other person to hide assets if you have a bank statement showing that the asset exists. In general, you generally want to get two years of statements if at all possible, since that gives you information to bring to an attorney to tell you what it means.
If you don’t know because the other person will not allow access to financial information, that is a loud warning alarm that you need information, and you need to step up your timeline to make decisions.
GUARDING AGAINST LOSS
By the time that the relationship is struggling enough that you are thinking about divorce, most of the time, your spouse also knows things are not good. This may be the time to separate out joint assets, so that you are not left without financial resources to move out, if that’s what you need to do, or be able to retain an attorney. At the very least, it protects you against the entire asset being used up. If the other spouse uses the joint asset, you may be able to get a credit offsetting against other assets, but you may not. If the asset has been spent, during the course of the divorce, you can ask for the asset to be treated as a distribution, but judges often just divide up what property is before them to divide. It becomes complicated to recreate what assets were there and dissipated, particularly if you start going back months or years before the divorce was filed. If there are joint lines of credit or joint credit cards, it is a good idea to shut them down, so that you do not find yourself financially liable for someone else’s spending, especially if that spending did not result in marital assets to be divided. At the very least, you need to be aware of the risk that you take if you choose not to guard against the loss, or decide when the timing is best to take precautions against loss.
Predivorce planning is not premeditated betrayal, it is a smart practice to get enough information to make good decisions.