How to handle your finances and pay the bills during a divorce
Community Education and Marketing Manager
American Consumer Credit Counseling
Going through a divorce is a stressful and trying time. With the divorce rate in the United States hovering around 50 percent in recent years, more and more Americans are dealing not only with the emotional toll that comes with divorce, but also the logistical challenges of splitting up.
The division of financial assets becomes complicated in a divorce. Trickier still is how to pay bills while navigating the split. A poorly handled divorce can cause both spouses unnecessary stress, damage to their credit scores, and lead to costly litigation. So, how does one go about properly paying the bills?
No matter how amicable the split, both spouses must agree what bills need to be paid and who will pay them. They need to be upfront about expenses, and be fair about who will do what. Make sure to cover all the bases. Consider this expert advice for paying bills during a divorce.
- create distance and separate yourself
- consult a lawyer
- determine common bills
- define shared assets and, if able, divide or sell them
- understand, monitor, and be aware of changes
- cut ties completely
- close or freeze joint credit cards
- increase your debt
- discredit any assets
- forget about taxes
Do create distance and separate yourself
Set up a new individual bank account, review your individual net worth and your own specific debt. It’s important to thoroughly know where you stand financially going into a divorce. You will need to understand your finances for not only day-to-day money needs, but for your lawyer and divorce litigation.
Do consult a lawyer
Attempting to dissolve joint mortgages, rental agreements, or car payments is a difficult process. Your lawyer or mediator will guide you through it. Update these accounts with new information such as a change of address or change in beneficiaries for life insurance or retirement plans.
Do determine common bills
Until it is otherwise determined, it may make sense to maintain a joint account to pay common utility bills. If a debt is an ongoing obligation, the amount owed on the date of the separation should be a joint debt. Any amount incurred following the separation should be viewed as an individual debt.
Do define shared assets and, if able, divide or sell them
Figure out who will be responsible for each asset. Make a complete list and include any homes, joint properties, vehicles, and securities. It's up to you if you want to keep any asset that results in your sole possession, but when any physical asset is divided, it makes a lot more financial sense to sell that asset. Alternatively, one half of a joint asset can be awarded to the other ex-spouse so as not to lose the asset—such as a house. The receiving party would need to pay for the other half in either cash or their own assets in the divorce proceedings. Talk to your lawyer about this possibility.
Do understand, monitor, and be aware of changes
Review your current income and expenses, as a separation will greatly impact your household income. Make sure to review your credit report a few months after adjustments have been made to joint accounts. Your credit score/report may be impacted by the change.
Do not cut ties completely
Monitor your former spouse’s payments on any joint debt. Your name is still on the debt, therefore you are still jointly liable for payments your former spouse may make (or not make). Review these current bills and make sure the payments are being made.
Do not close or freeze joint credit cards
The credit card debt that remains is still in your name, and you are still responsible for the outstanding debt, regardless of your situation.
Do not increase your debt
Divorces are expensive. Legal bills and court costs mount quickly. Splitting finances between two people means each person will have less money and it might take a while to get used to. Make your life easier, and be overly cautious of your spending.
Do not discredit any assets
Make sure to properly appraise the value of assets. Keep paperwork on asset value. While paying bills and dividing assets, consider division of even worthless stocks. You never know what may become valuable in the future.
Do not forget about taxes
Often times, spouses do not look at all settlements in order to minimize total taxes. Taxes are not often considered in the equitable consideration. Both parties are responsible and liable for taxes due on joint returns.
There are many moving parts and pieces that are necessary to overcome in dealing with a divorce. A separation does not need to be made any harder with the added stress of financial burdens and confusions. Knowing how to help yourself prepare for the fiscal logistics is pertinent to creating the best out of the situation and handling it in the most beneficial way for both parties.