You’ve just received the news: Your spouse wants a divorce, and you didn’t see it coming. No matter how much pain you’re feeling, you have to act fast to protect your interests. Your first job isn’t trying to understand what’s happened; emotional processing can come later. During the first 48 hours after you get dumped, start setting yourself up for the rest of your life.
Open Separate Bank Accounts
If you don’t already have them, open up checking and savings accounts in your name only. Stop using your joint account, which includes both writing checks and using your ATM card.
Apply for a Low-Interest Credit Card
Even if you’ve been working to pay down your debts, you need a safe financial lifeline that belongs only to you. If you have a joint credit card, apply for your own low-interest credit card in only your name.
Change Important PINs and Passwords
It might seem tempting to change all of the passwords and PINs on your joint accounts to shut your spouse out, but that action won’t reflect well on you in the divorce hearings. Select the accounts that affect only you, like your 401k or your life insurance policy, and change all applicable PINs and passwords.
Make a Budget
If you don’t already have a strong sense of where your money goes every month — or if you weren’t the one who handled the finances — you need to figure your income and expenses out as quickly as possible.
Decide where you’re going to live. If you’re staying in the home, get copies of your mortgage statement and your recent utility bills, and get information about any home equity loans or lines of credit.
Understand where your money goes. Get information about payments for auto loans, student loans, kids’ activities, life insurance, and other items for which you don’t want to miss payments.
Anticipate big upcoming expenses. If you’ve been dumped right before the holidays, anticipate how much money you’ll need to give your children some decent Christmas gifts. Also anticipate other major cash commitments, like big home improvements and car repairs.
Decide how you’re going to support yourself. Even if your spouse has offered to continue financially supporting you, you should make sure that, if the money disappeared tomorrow, you could still support yourself. If you’re unemployed, start looking for a job or taking in freelance work immediately. Also, talk to family members who might be able to give you a place to live or loan some money to you.
If you want to go back to school for your MBA or another graduate degree, fill out a FAFSA so that you can get some student loans. While it might seem like you have too much going on right now, now is a good time for you to further your education in order to increase your earning potential and support yourself and any children.
Withdraw Money From Your Joint Accounts
No matter how badly you’ve been treated by your spouse, you can’t take all the money, say nothing to your spouse, and run. However, you are entitled to at least half of what’s in your bank accounts.
If your soon-to-be-ex is reasonable, inform him or her that you’re withdrawing some money. If you’re in an abusive situation or you think your spouse is unreasonable, withdraw your share first and then inform your spouse that you’ve done it. Make sure to keep some cash on-hand because you’ll have to wait for new checks and a new debit card for your new account.
Get Copies of All Important Papers
You should have copies of your property deeds, your bank statements, your credit card bills, your will and trust papers, your life insurance policy, your brokerage account statements, and any other papers that could affect your future.
Protect Your Heirlooms
Even the most amicable divorces are full of tension, and people strike out at one another in ways that they normally wouldn’t. If you have heirlooms that you are concerned about preserving, such as jewelry, dishes, antiques, or other valuables, make sure that you put them in storage or in a safety deposit box.
Get an Attorney
Unless you’re very confident about your ability to negotiate with your spouse, find an attorney to assist you during the divorce. If you need to save money, consider an option like collaborative divorce, which allows you, your spouse, and your attorneys to work with a mediator and avoid court litigation. You can also find a legal aid attorney if you can’t afford representation.