No one wants to think about divorce when things are going well in a marriage. Why borrow trouble? However, many financial planners and divorce lawyers say that one should anticipate the possibility of divorce from the beginning. Once the wedding day is set, it is important to make decisions with the understanding that the marriage could come apart at some point. It’s not romantic, but protecting yourself, even while happy engaged or married, will save anguish later on.
A recent article in the Huffington Post summarizes questions and answers that soon-to-be-married or just married couples should consider to protect themselves financially. The advice bears repeating and is summarized here.
Know your spouse’s individual finances. If he or she owns a business, how is that business doing? Is it flourishing or struggling? Are there investments? How are they doing? If you and your spouse file separate tax returns, have you reviewed your spouse’s return? Do you know how much your spouse is worth? Having answers to these questions will put you in a much better position if you need to divide assets and debts during divorce.
Don’t let your spouse be “in charge” of family finances. If you divorce, you will share responsibility for any untruths that are filed on a joint tax return. If there are debts, you will be responsible for those as well. Know how loan proceeds are being used. Make sure you review the tax return. Do you know what you are signing on April 15? You don’t want to learn that joint accounts have been manipulated to exclude you after the divorce process begins.
Know how much money you spend. You need to know whether you are living within your means and how much it costs to maintain your lifestyle. This is especially important if there is a dispute about child support or spousal support (alimony).
Stay in touch with your professional network, even if you are not working now. If you find you need to return to work after a divorce, you will be in a better position. Also, consider working part time if that is an option. It will be easier to obtain full-time employment if you have relevant part-time experience.
Don’t sign any type of prenuptial or postnuptial contract until your own attorney reviews it. Always assume that someday you will have to live with the terms of the agreement. Never assume that the agreement doesn’t matter because you will never divorce.
If you have substantial assets, think about asking your soon-to-be-spouse to sign a prenup. You need to understand how Texas will view your assets in a divorce. Even if you don’t ask for a prenuptial agreement, you still need to understand what you would face in a divorce, so get independent financial advice.
If you do ask for a prenup, be thoughtful. Don’t suggest to your intended that you suspect him or her of trying to get your assets. Don’t prepare a prenup without an attorney, and be sure to let your attorney know exactly why you want this agreement. Your goals and the goals incorporated into the standard prenuptial contract may not be the same. Don’t insult your soon-to-be spouse, but also be careful. Balance your need to protect your property with the need for a happy marriage that lasts.
Keep records. Know what you are worth on the day of your marriage and keep documentation. Also, don’t automatically throw out old bank statements or financial reports during your marriage when they are replaced by new ones. You want to know not only the amounts of the joint and separate assets, but also how they have appreciated over time.
Check with an attorney before putting separate assets in joint accounts or titling them jointly. You may be giving up your separate property and giving half to your spouse if there is a divorce.
Many couples hate to think about these matters before or even after they are married. No one knows what the future holds, however, and you can avoid pain for both yourself and your beloved in the future if financial matters are clear from the start. An experienced family law attorney can advise you at any stage of your financial life together.