IF YOU’RE GETTING divorced, be careful—but also try to be civil. Here are some steps to take in the initial weeks after the breakup:
Draw up a financial inventory. Make copies of financial account statements, tax returns, pay stubs and anything else that documents your collective income, assets and debts. Create a list of valuable household items. You might even photograph or videotape them. Don’t discount the possibility that your spouse is hiding assets.
Disentangle your ongoing finances. Get your own checking account and credit cards, while cancelling joint cards. Your goal is to ensure you aren’t responsible for any financial missteps that your spouse makes in the weeks and months ahead. At the same time, make sure the household bills get paid, or you may both see your credit scores plummet.
Find the right lawyer. While a courtroom battle is sometimes necessary, you don’t want a lawyer for whom that seems to be the first option, not the last resort. The less time you spend in court and the more details you and your spouse can hash out on your own, the less costly your divorce is likely to be.
Avoid unnecessary arguments. Unfortunately, many divorces degenerate into needless bickering that leaves both parties worse off and the lawyers considerably richer. If you can manage to be civil, you will both benefit financially.
A modicum of civility is especially important if you have children. In the years ahead, you will need to make countless joint decisions regarding your children, plus you may need your ex-spouse’s cooperation if, say, you suddenly need to work late and can’t pick up the kids. Those conversations will be far easier if you haven’t torn each other to shreds during the divorce proceedings.
Civility, however, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be firm in seeking a fair settlement. The division of property, as well as the amount paid in child support and alimony, are crucially important. State law goes a long way toward deciding these issues. Still, think carefully about what’s equitable and which assets to request.
A heads up: Historically, alimony payments have been tax-deductible for the payer and taxable for the recipient. But under the 2017 tax law, payments will be neither deductible nor taxable for divorce and separation agreements signed after Dec. 31, 2018.
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