Are you seriously considering filing for divorce, or has the divorce process already begun? Either way, the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to be proactive and take full responsibility for your divorce. We’re not referring to “taking the blame” or saying that the divorce was all your fault. We’re talking about assuming a positive role and sitting in the driver’s seat from this point forward.
If you’re dependent on your husband, it’s important to know that it’s normal for a woman’s standard of living to drop after a divorce, sometimes in the ballpark of 30%. For this reason, you want to focus on taking the necessary steps to gradually reverse that trend.
The worst thing you can do is let your emotions take ahold of you and walk into your divorce blindly. To take a smarter approach, begin by getting organized about your current and future financial situation. Here’s how to get organized:
- Run a copy of both of your credit reports so you know exactly which accounts are open and how much is owed.
- Copy the last two to three years of tax returns.
- Copy all financial documents, including mortgages, credit cards, life insurance policies, auto loans, etc.
If a divorce is inevitable, take the following considerations into account so you can protect yourself. If your spouse has already filed the divorce papers, do not sign any agreements or other paperwork without retaining your own divorce attorney first and having him or her look at the proposed documents.
If divorce mediation is off the table, hire your own lawyer – do not use your spouse’s attorney. When you hire your own legal counsel, you’re able to level the playing field and you’re not at your spouse’s mercy.
Divorce Consideration # 1: Money
If you are wealthy or have a high-net worth divorce, it’s critical to consult with a certified financial planner who handles divorce cases frequently. Even if you have a modest income, you may still benefit from a financial expert’s services. He or she can be a great help by preparing you financially before you file for divorce. They can explain how different settlement decisions can affect your financial future.
As you plan for divorce, keep these financial considerations in mind:
- Do not max out the credit cards as this will only add to the community debt.
- Do not make any large purchases that will also add to the community debt.
- If you’re not currently working, start.
- If you’re working, continue so you can secure your future.
- If you have individual assets, keep them separate. Do not comingle separate property with community property. For example, if you have an inheritance, a personal injury award, gifs that you received individually, or workers’ compensation, keep them separate from community assets.
- If you have any joint credit card accounts, freeze or shut them down so your spouse can’t charge them up.
- If your paycheck is automatically deposited into a joint checking account, set up an individual account in your name and have your checks deposited into that account.
- If your automobile is in need of scheduled maintenance or repairs, have them done now to ensure that your transportation is reliable after the divorce.
Divorce Consideration #2: Support Orders
In California, lower-earning spouses may be entitled to spousal support during and after the divorce, but it is NOT guaranteed. There are a number of factors that determine if spousal support will be awarded, including but not limited to: the length of the marriage, the age and health of both spouses, the income and assets of each spouse, the dependent spouse’s need for support and the higher-earning spouse’s ability to pay it.
If spousal support is awarded in California, it usually ends when 1) either spouse dies, 2) a court order says it ends, or 3) when the receiving spouse remarries. When spousal support is awarded, often it’s for one-half of the length of the marriage; for example, if a couple was married for seven years, support may be awarded for 3.5 years, but that’s not absolute.
Family court judges have wide discretion when it comes to awarding spousal support, but when a marriage was of long duration, which is 10 years or less, it may be awarded without an end date.
However, that does not mean support will last indefinitely, it just means the judge may not establish a termination date initially. In that case, support may be terminated or modified at a future date if it makes sense considering the facts of the case.
What women need to know:
- As of January 1, 2019, spousal support will no longer be counted as taxable income for the recipient, nor will it be tax deductible for the payer.
- Spousal support is not automatic in a divorce. If your spouse fights you on it, you will have to show the judge that you need it and your spouse can afford to pay it.
- Child support is not taxable or tax-deductible.
- Marital misconduct on your part will not disqualify you from spousal support.
- If your spouse files for bankruptcy, he or she cannot include spousal support or child support in the bankruptcy.
- Child support and child custody are separate issues. If your former spouse falls behind on child support, you cannot refuse to let them see your children during their court-ordered parenting time.
- If your husband has committed domestic violence against you and/or your children, there are steps that can be taken to protect you and your parental rights. Please contact our firm directly for more information.
- Child support lasts until your child turns 18, or until they are 19 if he or she is in high school full time, living at home and cannot support themselves.
- The local child support enforcement agency has lots of ways to enforce a child support order, including denying U.S. passports, suspending driver licenses, wage garnishments, tax refund intercepts and much more.
We are only scratching the surface in regards to divorce considerations; there is much more that we’d like to share with you. If you’re on the road to divorce, we invite you to contact our Los Angeles divorce firm for a free case evaluation.