No matter how hard a divorce hits you or how much of a painful blur the process may be, there are certain assets you need to protect, no matter what. Don't head into the process completely led by your emotions; instead, look ahead and try to determine what you want your new life to look like down the road and understand what it's going to take to get you there. Here's what you need to protect most:
1. Your Parental Rights
While you and your spouse may think you'll be able to divvy up your time equally and amicably with the children, it's really not something you want to take a chance on. Know your rights and protect them by having a divorce attorney confirm your expectations in enforceable legal terms. You want a custody agreement to be spelled out in plain and simple English, right in your divorce paperwork. Don't risk things falling apart later due to vacation and other scheduling conflicts, and most especially, make clear how you want custody to be handled in the event your soon-to-be ex-spouse becomes involved with a new partner.
Put your children first and fight for the parental status you think will be in their best interests, whether it be sole physical, sole legal, or joint custody. Ask your lawyer how each structure applies to your personal situation and how to win the arrangement that's best suited for your family. Also, think about how the entire process of divorce may affect your kids and how you can best help them through it.
2. Your Personal Space
You may want to fight for the current home you're living in, but will you be able to afford it down the line, after the divorce dust has cleared? Even if you're set to receive child support and alimony, managing the household on your own could be very expensive; therefore, it's important that you consider all possibilities, including selling a home you jointly own with your spouse and down-sizing and moving into something you can afford individually, no matter what happens.
Imagine you're depending on the alimony and/or child support to pay the mortgage or rent, but what will you do if your ex-spouse gets behind on those payments? Will you and your children be threatened with foreclosure or eviction? Discuss the details with your divorce lawyer, anticipating your family's needs in the best- and worse-case scenarios.
3. Your Credit Rating
If you haven't already, now is a good time to get a copy of your credit report. You need to know what, exactly, is listed in your name, including credit card debt and other financial obligations. If you're listed on any bills jointly with your spouse, how will the divorce impact those situations? You don't want your name on a loan that involves someone else's vehicle, for example, and this information should all come out before you get too deep into the divorce process.
For some, bankruptcy is a viable and advisable route to take when headed through a divorce with potentially devastating financial consequences; however, the timing and specifics, such as whether or not to file Chapter 7 or 13, should be directed by your attorney. Bankruptcy could absolve you of financial burdens tied to the marriage, especially those which can no longer be managed (or profited from) jointly. While bankruptcy is often seen as a last resort, it may be something worth considering.
4. Your Immediate Cash Flow
If your divorce isn't looking very amicable, you need to immediately protect your most liquid assets. Checking, savings, and investment accounts can be quickly drained, long before you have a chance to have them fairly divided by a judge. Know what's in your accounts and have whatever is yours put under your name only as quickly as possible. Don't empty every account you might jointly have, then hide the funds somewhere, as that could get you into trouble. You should, however, protect your cash flow and the money to which you're entitled. Keep diligent records, too, so that if your spouse tries anything dubious, you can prove it later on in court.
5. Your Future
Retirement accounts can be tricky during a divorce, for the simple fact that they were prepared to be "for two". While it's easy to divide a lump sum by two, recovering everything you've put into a retirement account, along with putting it back together just for yourself later on, can be a very difficult endeavor. Various accompanying assets, like pension plans, survivor benefits and beneficiary designations also must be taken into consideration when you make a move to protect your retirement account. Anticipating future changes is important, too, like what happens to the divorce arrangements if you remarry?
Your will is also a crucial aspect of your financial self to protect during a divorce. You should update it once your divorce is final to reflect the division of assets as well as to protect your children. Formerly, your will likely named your spouse as the sole benefactor, and that's now going to change, in all probability. Talking to a lawyer is the best way to resolve this complicated and difficult part of the life changes you're going through. Although it may be easier to procrastinate such heavy and hurtful details, your life deserves that kind of structure and security now and you deserve the peace of mind that comes with settling even the stickiest of situations.
As much of an emotional roller coaster as divorce can be, you need to stay focused on what's most important to you and protect it with everything you've got. Start with a good divorce lawyer who will guard your interests and one who understands where you ultimately want to land when this is all over: on your feet and ready for anything.