Deciding to end your marriage is one of the most difficult decisions a couple may have to make. Commonly, because of the emotional tension that comes with the territory of a divorce, irrationality kicks in resulting in words such as “Get your stuff & get out!” OR “I’m leaving today.” Though this may offer an instant sense of emotional relief, in most situations, making these decisions without thinking them through is simply not smart, as the transition from one household to two is a major adjustment; if not handled carefully, it can lead to financial detriment for the dividing couple and their family. For this reason, before you get to packing bags, it’s important to have a realistic sense of the most practical way to make this transition from together to apart.
First of all, where are you going? Have you strategically planned your move? Or were you planning to abruptly impose yourself on friends/family?
Secondly, if you’re “kicking him/her out,” what makes you think you have the right to do so? In most cases, unless you have court orders stating otherwise, both of you have a legal right to remain in your home and to access your assets. Interfering with these rights may be against the law, which opens up a completely new can of worms.
Next, who’s going to pay the bills? Just because your marriage is ending, doesn’t mean your marital debts and obligations disappear. You still have rent/mortgage, utilities, phone bills, credit cards/loans, insurance, and more. It’s important to remember that when you separate, both of your budgets will change drastically because not only do you have these obligations, but you’ll also have your own set of living expenses. In most cases, debts incurred during the marriage are a shared liability, regardless of which spouse incurred the debt. So, until you legally resolve this issue, creditors can still come after both of you for payment. Your credit/FICO becomes even more important now than when you were married, as you’ll likely have to apply for new everything on your own. For this reason, you can’t afford to make irrational decisions that will result in your obligations falling to the way side.
The smart approach is to financially plan your exit carefully; develop a budget to determine how you’ll survive going forward. Start by carefully considering and writing down your current and anticipated future living expenses. If you’re renting- will it be more practical to break your lease or for one of you to stay and take over the expenses? If you own- are you going to sell the house? If not, what does the law require for one of you to keep it and are you able to meet those requirements?
Are you both able to sustain financially on your own? Or will you need to pay or receive some type of support?
Spousal support is not guaranteed and is often based on the length of your marriage and the ability to pay. If kids are involved, one of you may have to pay child support. Who will pay depends on the calculation method used in your state which typically considers things such as each party’s income, the custody arrangements, certain expenses and other obligations. Seeking child and/or spousal support as soon as possible after separation will allow you to gain some sense of financial stability to better develop and manage your budget.
Answering these types of questions will aid you in putting a plan in place to make as smooth of a transition as possible, without putting you or your family at risk of financial hardship. So before you pack any bags…What’s your plan?