Embarking on divorce is intimidating, even for those who are well-situated in their career and are in control of their finances. If you’re a stay-at-home mom who has been out of the workplace for an extended time or never had a job outside the house, the prospect of divorce can give rise to feelings of powerlessness and fear of the future.
Depending on the family dynamic, in addition to not contributing financially to the marriage, you may have limited or no access to financial information that would give you a real understanding of your and your husband’s current financial picture.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take before or during the early stages of your divorce to level the playing field, especially if your spouse doesn’t know you intend to divorce. Time is still on your side. Even if a divorce has blindsided you, don’t fear. The more information you can collect, the better off you‘ll be.
Here’s a quick and easy guide for getting started.
As much as you can, try to assemble bank statements, investment/retirement account statements, W2s, tax returns, insurance policies, mortgage/home equity line of credit documents, and loan information. Not only will compiling these records help you gain a fuller understanding of your position now, having them at your fingertips will save you time (and money) during the Discovery process later. Keep a running list of what you’re missing.
As a stay-at-home mom, and depending on the division of labor in your household, you may not have access to all of the documents mentioned above. If that’s the case, you’ll have to dig a little bit. That’s okay, so long as you gather your information legally. Your lawyer will request that your spouse produce whatever’s missing during Discovery.
Stay-at-home moms tend to know better than their gainfully employed spouses how much day-to-day expenses are. Take time to figure out how much you and your family allocate to groceries, medications, toiletries, personal care, memberships, school tuition, camp, extracurricular activities, clothing, car payments, utilities, and pretty much anything else you spend money on each month. Pay particular attention when using cash as these purchases are often forgotten. For more substantial expenditures such as vacations, divide your yearly total by 12 to find what the cost is monthly. The more specific you are, the better. You want to make sure you’ll have enough money to support yourself post-divorce. If you haven’t been paying close attention to your spending thus far, get ready for a wakeup call.
List your home, cars, investments, boat, jewelry, art, wine, collector’s items, and antiques, as well as their approximate value. If you don’t know what those numbers are, your lawyer can request appraisals. In the meantime, think about what you own.
You may have a mortgage on that home you own, and you may still be paying off the cars you drive. These are liabilities. So too are credit card balances, a home equity line of credit and any other bills you have which remain outstanding. If you are unsure about how much you owe, run your credit report.
Understanding that you won’t get everything you want is critical to managing a successful, not to mention economical divorce. Spend time thinking about what you hope to achieve. Is it to stay in the marital home? Do you want full or joint custody? Are you hoping to live near your ex or have the freedom to move far away? Write down your list of wants and then rank them in the order of their importance to you. Doing so will help you gain a more realistic picture of what life after divorce may be like while letting your lawyer know which issues to fight more vehemently for on your behalf.
If you’re a stay-at-home mom, it’s likely you’ll have to, if not want to, return to work. Begin thinking about which careers will be open to you, including whether you plan to go back to an old one or reinvent yourself. Going back to work, mainly if you haven’t worked outside the home in a while, can take time and, in turn, money. You may even wish to return to school. Figure out how much you will need and for how much time to get back on your feet. The sooner you have a plan, the better position you will put yourself in to implement it.
There are three key people you will need in your camp, and these are a divorce lawyer, a certified divorce financial analyst, and a therapist. Spend the time looking for professionals who fit your needs and with whom you feel most comfortable. Get recommendations, preferably from individuals you know. And if for some reason you find you’re unhappy with your choice, don’t hesitate to switch. Your team should be there to support and guide you through your divorce to a new day, a day when you won’t need to rely on anyone except yourself.
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