Personal finance consultant Ruth Hayden offered some suggestions on how to get through divorce while remaining as financially whole as possible. Here are nine tips from her appearance Thursday on The Daily Circuit:
1. Don't get divorced. "Before you've actually decided to get a divorce, exhaust all methods to try to make this work. Because there's no way you're going to get out of a divorce without a lot of pain. Emotional pain, physical pain, financial pain in particular, because at best — and I know I'm not romantic, Kerri — but it is a legal and financial contract, this thing we call marriage. That's where it's going to really affect you. Before you actually decide, go get help. If you need a financial counselor, if you need a marriage counselor, go get help. Because if we can save this, both of you will be better off. Relationally, emotionally, financially."
2. In early negotiations, don't aim for fair. "When women make an offer, they want it to look fair. They don't want to be seen as greedy. When men say, 'This is what I'll accept,' they know compromise is coming, they're going to have to come down. Women start with fair. Men start way up, and women say, 'Oh, this is just terrible. You know what he's asking for?' And then she comes down, and he comes down, so she doesn't get fair, either ... The statistics say that you have to start with more than what you think you're going to get."
3. Seek professional help. "The goal is to not have regrets. There is no way to avoid divorce ... seriously affecting your pocketbook. Fear and exhaustion make people too narrow-focused. And they have to have some help, if they can't do it on their own, to see the big picture. 'How will this work for me? How will this be for me 10 years from now? How will it be for my children? How is it going to work?' Bigger picture."
4. Don't move out of the house. "What I tell my clients is, don't leave until you have absolutely the blessing of your attorney. Don't move out. If it becomes physical, you then need to document that with your attorney, and then you can move out. But it has to be a reason to move; otherwise, you're abandoning the asset. ... If you really want to get through this as easily as possible, don't abandon the house. Stay with the house. For a lot of people, it's their primary asset.
5. Save money. "Stash cash. You're going to need money. Both spouses actually are. Somewhere along the way you're going to need money, whether it's a retainer for your attorney or it's food for your children, you're going to need money."
6. While separated, remember you're still married. "If you are unofficially or officially separated, don't forget you're still married. So the issue is then, keep an eye on the credit report. Because the other spouse may be running up debt that you will co-own when it comes to the actual filing of divorce. You are still legally married."
7. Refinance the mortgage. "Do not sign a quit-claim deed to your house, if you're still on the mortgage. Happens all the time. The title, which is the quit-claim deed, that's the ownership piece. I own this house. When you're on a title, you own the house. The mortgage? You own the debt on the house. One of the ways that couples get talked into splitting up the house — who's going to get it? — is that one of them signs over the house to the other one. Quit-claim deed. But he's still on the mortgage, or she's still on the mortgage. So I own the debt, and if there's a problem with you not making payments, they're going to come after me. And I don't have any asset. ... The only way to make that equitable is to refinance the mortgage. Absolutely brand-new mortgage."
8. Don't spend the retirement fund. "There's something called the QDRO ... it splits up retirement money. And one of the big regrets I hear, particularly from women, is that they spend the QDRO money to live on after a divorce. ... But that's supposed to be their retirement money. It's half of what they created as a couple. And if she spends it for her life, once she's done with that, then she realizes what dire cash-flow circumstances she's really in. And she doesn't have retirement money. So really protect that retirement money through the QDRO."
9. Plan for the kids' college funds. "Whatever is going to happen with college has to be handled in the divorce decree. I get frustrated with divorce decrees. It's very specific about child support, and who's going to pay for this and all of that, and then they say, 'The parents will work out college. They'll figure it out.' Right. It doesn't happen. The only good news about a divorce and college is that you can use one parent's income, and you can pick the lowest income, to try to get financial support for the child."
If you're divorced, what do you wish you had known from a financial standpoint when you were ending your marriage? Leave your comments below.
Learn more about divorce finances:
• How to Protect Your Finances in a Divorce
Even if you harbor hopes of reconciliation, as soon as a divorce is decided, you want to eliminate the chance for financial surprises. (If you separated before deciding on a divorce, you may have done some of these things already.) Close joint accounts, credit cards and other lines of credit as soon as possible. You don't want to be stuck paying for debts racked up after the decision but before the divorce is finalized. (Credit.com)
• Don't Let Divorce Wreck Your Finances
For many of the newly single, living costs rise relative to income, while discretionary spending remains the same — leaving less room for the savings needed to catch up. (Time)
• 7 Ways to Manage Your Finances Through a Divorce
There are proactive things you can do to help make the process a little less painful. Have a plan and make sure you're financially organized — you can't get your finances on track if you're not sure what's going on with them. (Wall St. CheatSheet)