by Catherine Alford – February 19, 2018
Like all marriages, all divorces are not the same. Some end amicably and some drag on for years. Whatever your situation, if you’ve operated on shared income and shared debt throughout your marriage, you might find that going through a divorce is financially painful. However, with the right steps, you have the ability to be financially free after divorce.
Separate Debt Into Each Person’s Name
Sometimes, as part of a divorce agreement, a court will divide a couple’s financial responsibilities. It can get dicey when a significant amount of debt is involved.
For example, if each of spouse’s name is on an account, it’s difficult to maintain your credit should one person decide to stop paying their bills. Your finances might be separate in the eyes of the court but not in the eyes of creditors. If your name is on an account, you’re responsible for it. Yes, even if your court documents say otherwise.
So, in order to truly make one person responsible for a specific debt load, you need to separate all joint debt. If you have $5,000 in credit card debt on a joint account and need to split it, here’s what to do: Transfer $2,500 to a credit card that’s only in one person’s name and $2,500 to a credit card in the other person’s name. This will also enable you to close any joint credit card accounts.
Keep in mind that closing accounts can impact your credit score. However, what’s most important at this juncture is to fully separate your financial lives. Any joint account that you leave open is vulnerable because the other person can charge something in the future.
Of course, taking the time to separate your debt and ensure every account you’re responsible for is only in your name will take time. In fact, it could take a few months, and it relies on cooperation with your, which may or may not be challenging.
Assess Your Expenses
After you’ve taken the time to separate your debt, it’s time to assess your expenses first. If you’re going from two incomes to one, you might not have as much discretionary spending as you used to.
Now’s the time to re-evaluate your monthly expenses and decide which ones are musts and which ones are negotiable. You’ll likely be budgeting for new amounts, too. For example, do you need to get a new health insurance policy? If so, how much will that cost in comparison to what you were already paying?
It will take time to evaluate and readjust your monthly expenses, so take the first few months after a divorce to get used to your new normal. Control what spending you can so that you’re better able to make a plan for your financial future.
Depending on your circumstances, it might be a good idea to avoid any big-ticket purchases, such as a car, right away. Instead, get used to your new life and new budgets before committing your hard-earned cash. A few months later, you may even be able to find a better deal or afford more than you were originally anticipating.
Fill Up Your Emergency Fund
Going through a divorce, you might be forced to use up a lot of your cash. Once you’re able, plan to fill your emergency fund back up. A starter emergency fund should have $1,000 in it, but eventually it’s wise to build to 3 to 6 months’ worth of expenses.
There are many ways to build up that starter emergency fund, from side hustling like crazy to having a few garage sales. Whatever your marital status, having an emergency fund can help prevent you from going into debt. It’s also a big stress reliever to know you have money set aside.
Once you start to master your new budget and contribute more and more to your savings, you’ll be well on your way to a strong financial foundation for the rest of your life.