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The Divorce Encyclopedia
Getting Started (Divorce)


Term Definition Getting Started (Divorce) - when over is over, the first steps.
Application in Divorce The Russian writer Tolstoy said happy families are all alike, but unhappy families are unhappy in different ways. So it is difficult to prepare a how-do that fits all couples when they decide to part because they part in different ways. Very few couples come to the realization that the marriage is over simultaneously. In fact, it is quite common for one spouse to be completely blindsided when his or her partner says, "I want a divorce." Thus, marriages more often come to an end when one partner leaves and the other is left, when one spouse acts and the other reacts.

However, when a couple come to the end of the road, a spouse, particularly the one who is being left, should "get started," which means prepare for a divorce.

Sometimes, usually for financial reasons, couples live together after they agree the marriage is over. Sometimes, one spouse (usually the one who wants out) has seen a lawyer before announcing his or her intentions. Sometimes, even after the couple agree to end the marriage, neither moves out simply because he or she does not want to surrender any ground.

If a couple continues to live together as roommates, there may be risks. At the least, the couple should try to agree on a DOS -- a date of separation. Depending upon the jurisdiction, this date is very important. It establishes a date after which the spouses are individually responsible for their debts and it is important in the division and distribution of assets.

When the decision to end the marriage has been made, a spouse should gather every piece of financial information about what the couple own and what they owe, both as a couple and individually. On the asset side this includes, but is not necessarily limited to, the following: checking and savings accounts, mutual funds and money market accounts; real estate records, including the marital home and second homes and unimproved land; personal property, such as automobiles, furnishings, collections (art, stamp, coin); stocks, bonds, annuities, retirement plans, including pensions and profit sharing; accrued vacation time, medical savings accounts; other valuable personal property, life insurance and season tickets. On the debt side, this includes, but is not necessarily limited to, records of credit cards, vehicle loans, mortgages and home equity loans, promissory notes, student loans and other debt.

Put another way, divorcing spouses need all the financial information that they would have used if instead of divorcing, they were going to a financial planner to plan their golden years.

Sometimes, one spouse (usually the husband) manages the finances, so the other spouse may be a loss when it comes to collecting financial records. Needless to say, divorce works better if the spouses, regardless of their differences, cooperate with each other and gather and share financial information in good faith. When one spouse (usually the husband) is secretive about financial records, the other spouse (or his or her lawyer) generally suspects that he is hiding marital assets.

Once a couple have decided to divorce and even before one of them files for divorce, they should close joint credit accounts, and put the creditors on notice that they are in the process of getting a divorce.

After the couple has filed, they will need to set to work on the marital settlement, which is the division of property, and decide, among other things, whether to file joint or separate income taxes. A couple can file jointly for any tax year that they are married, including the one when their divorce is pending, but not for the tax year the divorce became final.

Despite the advances associated with the emancipation of women of the last generation, stay-at-home mothers whose contributions to the marriage have not been economic often find themselves at a disadvantage when their marriages end. Getting legal and professional help earlier is a good idea. At this stage, the stay-at-home mother may need to obtain court-ordered spousal and child support -- at least on a temporary basis. The stay-at- home mother who has been out of the work force also must reestablish credit in her own name.

In the process of getting a divorce, the spouses must come to terms with the fact two households are now being supported by the income that formally supported one. At a minimum, this means establishing a budget.

Once again, the budget -- which may include temporary spousal and child support -- is easier to make if both spouses cooperate.

See also DOS; Secretion of Assets; Permanent Separation;

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