Accurate record-keeping is essential
Divorce proceedings are often contentious, emotionally fraught, and never easy. That’s why when going through a divorce, it’s absolutely critical to keep a cool head about your finances and property. Unfortunately, it’s here that there tends to be the most dispute. But that needn’t be the case if you have all your records in order and can show what’s yours personally and what is legally jointly held property. There are three key principles to follow.
1. Get expert help in developing a plan
Under no circumstances should you attempt to lock out, hide, or dispose of joint assets on your own if you’re undergoing divorce proceedings. The legal ramifications can be very serious and costly. If you haven’t already done so, a priority should be to separate your advisors, both legal and financial, from those of your spouse, to avoid any possible conflicts of interest.
You’ll need something more than just a back-of-the-envelope financial guesswork when it comes to splitting assets. I recommend that you enlist the help of a financial advisor holding the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation. Look for someone who has experience in navigating the special challenges of financial planning during and after a divorce. This planner will be able to help you navigate the immediate next steps and help set you on a path to recovery, both emotionally and financially.
This involves not only getting a handle on your immediate financial situation, but developing your post-settlement financial plan. Great peace of mind comes with the knowledge that your financial affairs are in order.
2. Find and track important documents
These include, most importantly, documents relating to ownership of real property, investments, and bank accounts, both here and abroad. Originals of signed wills, powers of attorney, trusts, and so on should be tracked down.
Your lawyer will probably already cover all of this, but it’s always wise to do a double-check. In addition, having this information at hand will give you a head start on the rest of the financial planning you have to do, especially the division of property.
3. Know what you own, what you owe
What do you own, both jointly and individually? This includes not only your principal residence, but any other real estate, like a cottage or timeshare. Same goes for investments, including funds held in Tax-Free Savings Accounts, Registered Retirement Savings Plans, Registered Education Savings Plans, Registered Retirement Income Funds, and any non-registered brokerage accounts, both full-service and self-directed.
Of course, the other side of the coin is what you owe, both jointly and individually. This includes mortgages, car loans and leases, lines of credit, credit card balances, personal loans, and so on. Any property you brought to the marriage is yours, but any increase in the value of that property since the date of marriage must be shared.
Take stock of income from employment or self-employment, a business, a trust, and investments. All sources should be counted. Itemize and detail all your ongoing expenses, both short-term daily living expenses and longer-term recurring expenses, like taxes, loan and mortgage payments.
This can get complicated, especially if there is a wide range of assets accumulated over a long period of time. Expert financial and legal help is essential.