How Do I Protect Myself Financially Before a Washington Divorce? 

February 1, 2023

It’s no secret Washington divorce is hard. No matter how prepared you think you are for a divorce, hidden issues almost always rear their heads. Divorce affects virtually everything in your life, from your emotions to your finances.

Every divorce is unique. Your marriage was a unique blending of two personalities. Your divorce is a dissolution of what those personalities sometimes created over many years.

Divorce is not an inexpensive undertaking. Whether you were in a one-income or a two-income household before the divorce, you will find that you face new financial challenges you may or may not expect. If you take care, there are ways to protect your economic life before a Washington divorce. Here are some tips to help you prepare yourself financially before your Washington divorce.

1. Beware of Well-Meaning, Non-Professional Advice in Washington

Divorce laws are different in each state. For that reason, it’s best to avoid advice that offers a one-size-fits-all solution to issues. Friends, relatives, social media, physical media, and other online forums often advise how to handle your divorce. However, their experience won’t be exactly like yours, even if they’ve been through a divorce.

Before you make any financial decisions, consult a financial adviser and a Washington divorce Attorney who is licensed to practice in your state. They can tell you whether you should make changes like moving money or opening new accounts.

2. Keep Track of Your Expenses and Prepare for New Ones

Once it becomes clear that a divorce is happening, keep records of your household income and expenses (if you haven’t already). This step has multiple benefits. One benefit is having this knowledge will help you complete a budget when the divorce is final. It will also provide valuable information for your attorney and the judge regarding assets, debts, and how you currently handle childcare and other expenses.

If you’ve already been keeping a good budget that includes this information, you’re ahead of the game. You will already have a record that could go back years. If not, it’s not too late to start. You should include all household bills, food, clothing, home maintenance, transportation, entertainment, childcare, and anything else that gets part of your money.

Your credit card and bank statements can help you compile this information. Current statements can help you estimate how you’ve spent your money in previous months and years. They can also help you estimate what your future expenses could be.

Don’t forget to include annual expenses such as holiday travel or property taxes. Also, have estimates for one-time costs like purchasing a new dryer or paying a deposit on a new living space. Don’t forget that your circumstances can change. Children grow up, cars break down, you could get a promotion at work, or any number of other things could happen without warning.

3. Collect Documentation Regarding Accounts

Financial records paint a picture of how financially stable your marriage was. They also let you see where your money goes. Finding and collecting documentation like bank statements, credit card records, mortgage documents, and other financial documents can be a long, tedious process, so you should start gathering those documents as soon as possible after deciding to divorce.

If you and your spouse share accounts, the financial institutions aren’t required to keep your requests for records confidential. Here is a list of documents you should gather:

  • The past year’s checking and savings account statements
  • Any retirement account statements—the most recent if the contributions are the same as they have been
  • The past year’s investment account statements
  • Any loan documents from the past year—mortgages, auto loans, personal loans
  • The past year’s credit card statements
  • All recent pay stubs
  • A list of all assets and debts categorized by whether they were brought into the marriage, purchased during the marriage or purchased after separation
  • The past three years’ income tax returns

You can find a checklist of financial records to gather at the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts website.

4. Be Prepared for Conflict With the Help of Washington Divorce Attorney

Some divorces are amicable, and partners share information freely. If the divorce is more adversarial, spouses may not share information or provide documents unless they are forced to do so by the court. If one person controlled the household finances, that person might not want to share the information they have been guarding closely for years.

Be prepared for slight conflict, even in the most amicable situation. One consideration is gathering financial information before a divorce is filed. If you are in a situation where your spouse fights providing the information, have your attorney help you compel them to share it.

5. Don’t Make Any Big Financial Decisions

It’s tempting to start changing life insurance policies, retirement accounts, or wills. However, it’s best to wait to make those changes. Your divorce proceedings will determine decisions regarding how some of those things must be handled.

If you change these things before the divorce, the judge could decide you’re trying to hide assets and make an award in favour of your spouse. If you’ve already filed, and the court hasn’t okayed the changes, you could find yourself in contempt of court. Allow your attorney to guide you regarding which financial moves are advisable.

6. Pay Attention to Your Spending and Saving in Washington

If you’ve been married a while, your finances are likely intermingled with your spouse’s. Separating those finances can be challenging, and state law dictates how it must be done. Some states, including Washington, treat all income, assets, or debts as though they belong to both of you. So, spending more money than usual right before your divorce can cause you issues.

It’s usually best to keep all financial matters transparent between spouses. Use your accounts the way you have before the divorce. If you don’t have money saved for the expenses of the divorce, including attorney’s fees, try to agree together on how much to spend on those portions of your divorce. If you have a contentious relationship, you might benefit from a legal separation that will dictate how you can use your money until you get a final divorce decree.

7. Consider Opening a Separate Bank Account

Sometimes a vindictive spouse can leave you with no money. One way to ensure that you have some liquid assets to cover your bills is to open your own bank account. Don’t wipe out your joint account. That would make you the vindictive spouse.

You need to make sure you have access to enough money to pay your bills while waiting on the final decree. You also should have something set aside in case you have an emergency. Speak to your attorney to determine the appropriate amount you can place in a separate account.

8. Make Sure You Have an Experienced Washington Divorce Attorney

Know when you should hire an attorney. The advice of a  Washington Divorce Attorney can be invaluable when you are facing divorce. They know the laws of your state regarding divorce and how property and assets are handled during the proceedings.

Even if you feel like you understand your state’s laws, there are nuances that only a qualified attorney will know. Remember, it’s their job to remain knowledgeable about any changes that can affect the matters affecting their clients.

9. Build a Team Including

An experienced divorce attorney is only one portion of a qualified team when you are facing a divorce. It’s also smart to have a financial adviser on your side. This is especially true if your spouse handled the household finances during your marriage.

When looking for a financial adviser, find someone you trust who can explain financial matters to you in a manner you understand. Whether you have a good grasp of economic issues or not, a financial adviser is an invaluable member of your divorce team. They are non-biased and can help you recognize possible red flags to the financial portions of the divorce proceedings.

Divorce is an emotional undertaking. It’s easy to make a choice you later regret in the heat of emotion. For this reason, you need someone who can remain calm but still understand any complicated financial issues.

10. Know What You Want or Need

Most people think the divorce proceeding is the important part of a divorce, much like most people focus on the wedding rather than preparing for the marriage. However, if you don’t have a clue of what you want or need for your future, you may agree to something that doesn’t work for you long term. You may hear a settlement that sounds like a large number, but it may not cover the things you need.

Before entering into a divorce proceeding, take a long, hard look at your finances. Think about what you need to live in a manner consistent with what you are accustomed to. Think about what you need for your children to live their lives as they are accustomed. Then discuss those things with your Washington divorce Attorney.

Explore the Options With an Experienced Washington Divorce Attorney

A divorce proceeding can be long, confusing, and emotional. Being as prepared as possible is the best approach to an impending divorce. Create a team focused on helping you maneuver to the other side of divorce with confidence and with your finances in good shape. For any questions about navigating divorce with relatively secure finances, contact one of the attorneys at the Aberdeen Law Firm.

Related Content: Divorce When You Own a Business with Your Spouse 



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