The #1 Financial Mistake Women Make in Divorce
I’ve been practicing law for almost three decades, and I’ve seen virtually every example of mistakes that people can make during the process. In fact, I usually tell potential clients at this point that I really don’t think there’s anything they can tell me during a consultation appointment that will shock me.
However, over the years, I’ve also noticed patterns among those seeking divorces. One of the most important patterns I’ve seen may seem sexist, but I assure you it’s not intended as such. This article will discuss the most common mistake I see women making when they are thinking about getting a divorce and tell you how best to avoid that mistake if you are in this category.
The #1 Mistake Made by Women
In my experience, the number one mistake I see women make is deciding to divorce before they truly understand their financial situation. The intake form we use for consultations requests certain general financial information so that I can quickly review the basic financial facts of the potential case and properly advise the potential client about their rights and responsibilities under the laws of our state.
Far too often, when I’m doing a consultation with a potential female client, her answers to these questions are either left blank, or they are woefully insufficient. Of course, this makes advising her on what divorce means for her specific situation very difficult, which makes her ability to make an informed decision about whether to leave her marriage almost impossible. However, things do not need to be this way.
How to Fix This Problem Before You Consult with an Attorney
For as long as I have been practicing law, I’ve advocated for both spouses in a marriage, knowing and participating in all the details of the financial side of their life. I also believe that some of the strongest marriages are built on a foundation that includes mutual financial respect and joint financial decision-making.
I’m not so idealistic to think that all marriages operate this way, and my professional experience has certainly shown that many marriages rely solely on one spouse to handle the finances. And despite that we are living in the 21st century, many marriages still operate in such a way that the husband is the primary financial decision-maker, with the wife often left out of the process.
If you find yourself in this situation, the first thing you need to do is determine the best way for you to become completely educated about your marriage’s financial situation. Below is a list of things you should know details about – at a bare minimum – before you talk to a divorce attorney to get the best advice possible during your consultation:
- Salary or typical paycheck amounts for each spouse
- Pay schedule for each spouse
- Any other sources of income (business income, investment income, side-hustles, rental income, Social Security, gambling, child support, etc.)
- Bank account information for joint accounts and separately owned accounts
- Mandatory and voluntary deductions for benefits each spouse provides from paycheck
- Support payments made by either spouse to/for prior spouses/children from other relationships
- Mortgage payments or rent payments
- Balance of all mortgage or any home equity loans
- Average monthly utility expenses
- Retirement and investment account information for both spouses
- Credit card account balances for both spouses
- Car payments for each spouse and/or children
- Insurance payments for home and auto insurance
- Any investment, retirement, inheritance accounts or other assets that belonged to either spouse prior to marriage
What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
This list is far from all-inclusive, but if you are able to gather the above information prior to meeting with an attorney, your consultation will yield much better information for you to use going forward in your decision-making. Leaving the marriage and starting the divorce process without knowing this type of information can and will hurt your attorney’s ability to help you get the best possible result when it’s time to finalize the case.
Some clients will just assume that their attorney will have the ability to gather all this information for them once the divorce has started. However, it’s important to remember that while attorneys engage in discovery or issue subpoenas to obtain certain information related to the marriage, it’s difficult to request information for accounts or send subpoenas to places you didn’t know existed. Even if you don’t know the account balances, simply being able to tell your attorney that your husband has an investment account with Fidelity, for example, will enable the attorney to then issue a subpoena to Fidelity once the case is filed.
Use This Information to Make a Solid Financial Plan
Your attorney’s job during the divorce is to help you get the best possible outcome in your case so that you will have the resources you need to build your new life going forward. Throughout the divorce, a very clear financial picture of your marriage will be taking shape. Stay involved throughout your case to ensure you understand all aspects of this picture.
When the case concludes, your divorce mediator or the judge (if your case goes to trial) does not have the ability to make money or assets “appear” where there aren’t any to begin with. If your marital financial statements show nothing but negative numbers and debts, your divorce case will likely result in negative numbers and debts to take into your future. If your financial statement shows positive numbers and healthy assets with lots of equity, you and your attorney will want to focus on you receiving whatever portion should be apportioned to you under our equitable distribution laws.
Regardless of whether you are facing positive or negative numbers, use this information before your divorce is finalized to make a solid financial plan for moving forward. If you are walking away with valuable assets and maybe even a check to represent your portion of the liquid assets, schedule an appointment with a trusted financial advisor to discuss ways to make that money go as far as possible. Your financial advisor can also talk to you about the tax consequences you may or may not be facing based on the assets you were awarded in the divorce.
If, on the other hand, you’re facing the reality of starting over financially, knowing that before your divorce is final is critical for making your post-divorce plans. For example, you may need to consider moving in with family members to rebuild your financial reserves since affording a new home or apartment may not be in your newly single budget. Or, if you did not work full-time during the marriage, you may need to return to the full-time workforce in order to be able to properly support yourself and your children post-divorce.
If you’re considering divorce, do your best to gather as much financial information as you can about your marriage before scheduling a consultation with an attorney. If you’re in South Carolina, it’s important to contact an experienced family court attorney like Ben Stevens today to discuss how your current financial situation will be affected by divorce. Even if you aren’t in South Carolina, Mr. Stevens is happy to offer referrals to a well-qualified attorney located in your state.
Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and he is a Board-Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. If you or someone you know is facing a divorce, separation, child custody, visitation, or other family law case, contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule a consultation.
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Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
ABOUT J. BENJAMIN STEVENS
Ben.Stevens@offitkurman.com | 864.598.9172
Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina. His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.
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