Because divorce is essentially a business transaction, much of the work of a divorce involves separating you and your spouse’s finances and assets. Hopefully you and your spouse can agree through much of that process. Either way, you will want to begin with these steps:
1. If you don’t have one, open a separate checking account. You can do so with a small amount. What is important is that you have this account, not how much is in it. You need your own financial system.
2. Set aside some cash in a safe place. Sometimes in divorces the bank accounts and credit cards are frozen.
3. Come to agreement with your spouse on how handle the joint bank accounts. Usually the best course is to close the joint bank accounts and split the cash in them.
4. Close your joint credit card accounts and obtain a credit card in your own name. Any debt on the joint card can be transferred to the individual cards. Alternatively, you can tell your credit card company that no new charges can be made on the joint card. Watch your credit report to make sure that your spouse does not obtain a new joint card (or apply for a joint loan).
5. Freeze all your joint investment accounts so cash cannot be withdrawn and loans cannot be placed against them. Obtain statements for all the accounts.
6. If your spouse has a retirement account, ask the retirement plan administrator for its current statement and a copy of the plan description.
7. Make a detailed list of all the property in your home. Append photos of the more valuable items, enabling the date stamp on your camera before shooting.
8. To ensure privacy of your communications, rent a post office box and open a new email account.
9. Change the passwords for your ATM cards, bank accounts, online stores, social networks, and email accounts. Ask your spouse to return the duplicate key to your car.
10. If you have a job, tell your boss you are going through a divorce. Offer to make up the hours you will miss.
11. If you don’t have one, begin making plans to obtain a job. Update your resume, research job prospects, and begin applying for interviews.
12. If you depend upon your spouse’s health insurance, investigate the cost and availability of continuing its coverage. Compare separately obtained insurance.
13. Gather and organize information about what you own and owe. You will need financial statements, tax returns, bank statements, insurance policies, and investment account statements.
14. Start thinking about which assets you want to keep and which you are willing to give up.
15. Write for your attorney a concise narrative about your marriage, and include the date you began living together, the date you got married, your children’s birth dates, any previous separations, when various assets were acquired, and separate property either your or your spouse inherited or brought with you to the marriage.