No one enters a marriage with plans to divorce or plans to have a stranger looking at their expenses with a fine-tooth comb, but it happens.
Individuals often pay their bills online without performing any serious recordkeeping. This can become problematic, even if you aren’t headed into a divorce, and can be especially challenging when compounded with the emotional trauma that comes with ending a marriage.
Many people turn a blind eye to their financial picture and don’t have a clue as to what they spend their money on. When we are so accustomed to paying for everything with a credit card or with apps on our phone, it is too easy to spend and not keep track.
Some folks are happy to have most things on auto deduct, often on their credit cards so they get points. That’s great, but it’s not the same as keeping good books.
Running a household like running a small business could be the ticket to taking control of the finances.
Have regular family meetings; it might even be the way to get your marriage back on track and open the lines of communication. But that is another story.
There are a number of financial aspects to consider when contemplating a divorce, especially if you have been comingling your finances for many years.
People usually are joint owners of credit cards and checking accounts with their significant others.
If you don’t have any credit in your own name, it is a good idea to start establishing credit of your own and get your own credit card.
When the time comes, remove yourself from the joint accounts and you will be on the way to having financial freedom.
Another area that is often forgotten is beneficiary designations.
Remember getting hired and the company asks for the spouse’s Social Security number? That was done to make them a beneficiary of a brokerage account that’s in your name.
It is important to understand that 401(k)s, IRAs, SIMPLE and SEP plans and insurance policies have beneficiary designations that override a person’s will.
Beneficiary assignments don’t change when a divorce happens, or when a will changes. This needs to be done separately.
It is judicious to remember to change beneficiaries on these documents, or risk subsidizing a life of luxury for an ex-spouse.
Keep in mind that a divorce never results in a decrease in spending — the opposite is true.
Many make an illogical assumption that living costs for each spouse will be half of what they were in the marriage.
Living single can cost each person up to 60% to 70% of what a couple would spend.
Tracking expenses in a divorce is just as important as getting the full financial picture. Bookkeepers, accountants and/or lawyers will be able to work with you more effectively if the information is organized.
It doesn’t have to be sophisticated. A few columns in Excel can save dozens of billable hours.
Making sure that financials are in order so that accurate financial affidavits or statements of net worth can be made is important.
The same reports will help to calculate and forecast cash flow needs. This ensures that you are getting the correct amount of alimony and child support.
People are generally shocked by the amount of money the divorce will cost, and then devastated when they work out their post-divorce spending plan.
Mediation and collaborative divorce often offer lower price tags than traditional litigation.
Another advantage of mediation and collaborative divorce is that the separating couple can craft a unique, voluntary agreement that could better suit both of their needs.
Good record-keeping is not always something that yields immediate results or satisfaction, but in time it will pay off. It is a process that will help people become empowered so that they know their expenses, understand what they’re currently spending and can accurately forecast their income for the future if divorce should be the only option.
Judy Heft is the CEO/founder of Judith Heft & Associates, a financial and lifestyle concierge celebrating 25 years in business helping people stay financially organized. She is the author of “How to Be Smart, Successful and Organized with Your Money.” For more information, visit www.judithheft.com.