We’ve been separated for a while. How do we move forward?
In This Episode, CEO Erin Levine Discusses:
- How to move from separation to divorce.
- The ways in which the stress of being stuck in transition can impact your physical health.
- Why it makes sense to move forward now – for financial reasons, legal reasons, and emotionally, too.
- The risk to your current and future credit and finances if your ex is still tied to joint credit card or other accounts.
- Your legal liability if your ex does something illegal in a property your name is still attached to.
- Why drawing out the divorce process could mean that you could lose out on spousal or child support payments you truly need. And why waiting could also impact your ability to claim reimbursements or credits.
- What to look for when seeking legal help so you can move forward.
Actionable Steps You Can Take Right Now:
- Listen to last week’s podcast: How to Find the Right Legal Help for Your Divorce to understand your legal options and how to keep costs down, but quality high.
- Follow this advice from consumer lawyer Ian Lyngklip on How to Take Control of Your Credit During (and After) Divorce, With These 8 Steps
- If you’ll be asking for child or spousal support, this article on How to Talk to Your Ex About Spousal and Child Support will help.
- Prepare to divide your retirement accounts. Learn how to do that with this guest article, How Do I Get My Share of Retirement Savings After Divorce?
Read the Transcript: Why You Should Stop Delaying Your Divorce and Get on With It Already
Hi everyone, this is Erin and today’s topic is, “Why You Should Stop Delaying Your Divorce and Get on With It Already.” If I sound a little off it’s because I have a cold and so I’m hoping that I will still speak clearly enough that you can understand what I’m saying and not be too annoyed by my nasally voice. I literally never get a cold, so this has been beyond annoying and I’m really having a hard time accepting the fact that I actually have one, but I do and so there it is, let’s get on with our topic.
So, I bring up this topic because the last, let’s see, the last eight or nine calls we’ve gotten on Hello Divorce have been from really nice folks who tell me that they’d been separated from their spouse for a really long time. They know divorce is inevitable, but they liken it to going to the dentist or other things that you might want to put off. Because let’s face it, divorce is not that fun and there are so many excuses, many of which seem really fair in the moment, right?
Like, my kids are too busy, divorce will cost too much, everything’s going smooth right now, I don’t want us to start fighting. Will this mess up the kids? The divorce process will take forever won’t it? Will I have to go to court? Will I have to hire a lawyer? And so on and so on. And while these are all really valid questions, I do want you to understand that in many cases it actually makes sense for you to move through your divorce now, for financial reasons and legal reasons, but emotionally too. You know if you look back on your life, emotional baggage gets really heavy and the stress of staying in a marriage that isn’t working or not getting divorced, but knowing that you need to, it does take a toll on your mental and physical health. I’ve read so much research, especially from John Gottman about how couples that are enduring marital stress are more likely to experience psychiatric disorders, like depression and even increase the risk of heart problems.
So financial and legal issues aside, I don’t want you to discount the fact that not getting a divorce, but knowing that you need to, can really weigh heavily on you, transition is hard. And so if for that reason alone, I just want you to think about it. Now I’ll move on to the more obvious stuff, like the legal and financial stuff.
One concern I have for people who are separated but have decided not to go through with the divorce yet, is the possibility that your spouse could end up owing money on a debt that they acquired maybe even after you separated, but you could still be liable for it. So one example that comes up quite a bit is the spouse that has a credit card with their other spouse being an authorized user. Example: I have a credit card, my husband gets to use that card. He actually has a card in his name, but it’s tied to my account.
If s/he runs up a bunch of debt then and doesn’t pay for it, then I could actually be sued by creditors who ultimately have my wages garnished or get me on attorney’s fees, or have a judgment entered against me. It’s pretty serious and look – Visa and these other companies, they’re going to go after the person who they think is financially more responsible or who has a job, or money in their bank account. So you can complain until you’re blue in the face that it wasn’t you that made the purchases – and these companies just don’t care. The same thing goes for if you co-signed on a loan or any other debt that your spouse accrues. So that is one really important reason why ending a bad marriage is important, and it’s important not to wait a really long time. Another reason is, it’s possible that when you’re separated, your spouse is going through whatever they’re going through, they do something stupid or negligent on a property where maybe the two of you still own or on the lease.
So one example I had with a client is that her husband had a party with a bunch of people, some of them minors, minors were caught drinking under age and guess what? She could have been held liable, she could get sued. If anything were to happen to any of those kids, she could have had a serious issue on her hands. And while I know this is an extreme example, this is just one way you can find yourself at risk. Because the two of you, whether you like or not remain one marital unit and until that divorce is finalized, you remain legally connected. And so even if your spouse is awesome and your divorce is going to be fairly amicable or you want to see that happen, you still could be faced with some serious liability if he or she does something either intentionally or maybe even unintentionally.
The other thing that you want to think about financially is that if you want to buy something significant before the divorce petition is filed, like a car or a house, there can be some issues there. So first of all, your spouse would totally have to cooperate because if you’re married, it’s likely that that escrow company is going to require that your spouse sign an inter spousal transfer deed, or a quit claim deed or something to say that it’s not theirs for purposes of purchasing the property. However, it doesn’t mean that later on he or she might try to claim a piece of that property when you do your divorce action. So the quicker and cleaner your divorce is, the better when it comes to property and financing.
When it comes to estate planning, think wills or trusts, you also want a divorce sooner than later.
So as an example, if – God forbid – you were to pass away before the divorce is filed or final, your ex could stand to inherit everything you own, not your kids. It doesn’t matter that you’re separated, she or he is your spouse. There are things that you can do to try and prevent this like the creation of a will or a trust – but it isn’t a guarantee and there are lots of assets that pass outside of a will. And if you’re not divorced, then the court would honor the beneficiaries of a joint account or if you’ve named your spouse as a beneficiary of a retirement benefit, that would pass outside the will likely and go directly to your ex. Maybe that’s okay with you, but if it’s not, this is something that I want you to think about.
Okay. I want to go back to finances for a second because I missed something – surprise – that I think is really important for you to know. So the longer you wait to file your divorce, especially if you’ve already separated, the harder it might be to recoup spousal support or reimbursements that you plan to request.
So sure, sometimes your divorce is totally simple, you take yours, I’ll take mine. But if your situation is even a little bit more complicated than that, the math can get super tricky when it comes to accounting for joint versus separate assets. The longer the period of accounting grows, the harder it is to unwind who pays what and with which funds. So if you plan to request a credit or reimbursement for funds, let’s say you made a down payment on the marital home, you’ll have to prove what you paid unless your spouse just accepts you at your word. Banks will typically keep financial records for seven years, it could be a really big hassle even if you make it within those seven years to get the bank to pull this information for you. You don’t want to miss out on a reimbursement or credit because you waited too long to divorce.
Another type of reimbursement, and this is going to be a lot more relatable to a lot of us, is when you use your separate property funds to pay maybe your spouse’s health insurance premium or other bills on your ex’s behalf after separation. And let’s say you want to get reimbursement for that, it could get more tricky and sometimes less likely to collect the longer things go. And when it comes to spousal support, there’s a couple things here, so first of all, it could become harder to get spousal support if you’ve been separated for a long time and haven’t received it. The presumption might be in certain places, that while you went this long and lived just fine without spousal support, why should all of a sudden the court grant you some now. And on the flip side, if you’re the spouse more likely to pay alimony, the longer you delay legal separation and divorce, the more you actually might end up paying your ex.
A couple of reasons why. So first of all, date of separation could become really blurry. If you are not able to prove an earlier date of separation, the longer your marriage in most places, the higher the likelihood you’ll have to pay spousal support for a longer period of time. And if you’ve been informally paying your spouse a lot more than maybe he or she would have received under the law, like you might’ve been doing it to keep the peace or just make everything okay while you separate, but it could end up that you have to pay that higher amount for the long term. We don’t want a really long time to transpire between when you decide that the marriage is over and when you actually file for divorce. Now, this might seem to contradict some of the things that I’ve said earlier in other episodes about divorce not being a sprint, it’s more of a marathon that you don’t have to do things overnight and that is still true.
But what I’m talking about here is actually getting your divorce filed and you might be thinking that there’s legal reasons to delay on that. And in your case that might actually be so, but if you are considering delaying, I want you to talk to a legal coach and find out whether that is a good idea for you. Because most of the time, not always, but most of the time it’s not a good idea to wait for months and months and months or even years.
For those of you that are concerned about filing your divorce, you’re concerned that you’ve had a fairly smooth relationship with either your co-parent or your ex and you’re worried that the divorce might ramp up conflict. I want to tell you that in my 15 years of experience, most couples who’ve been separated for a while without, let’s call it an ‘incident’ or major drama, end up having a pretty smooth divorce. And quite frankly, that’s a big reason why I created Hello Divorce, to help people complete their divorce paperwork and get through their divorce without ramping up war, without ramping up the conflict.
Regardless of whether you want to handle the divorce primarily on your own, or with the help of our non-lawyer but super awesome legal document assistants; if you have an uncontested or mildly contested divorce you want to look for flat fees so you know what you’re facing in terms of the cost. And what this divorce service or lawyer is going to do to make the divorce process transparent, affordable, and hopefully convenient for both of you.
Okay, so this episode was a little bit longer than they usually are. I’m hoping that you found value. My point really here is that divorce doesn’t have to take forever and it doesn’t have to cost you everything. You can find a process that works for you and your situation, but I do want you to consider it and consider getting on it soon if you find yourself separated for a significant period of time and you’re looking for an empowered closure, keeping conflict low and costs low.
It’s time to move forward, do the research, start the paperwork, and start your next chapter so you can finally live the life that you keep envisioning for yourself. Thanks for being with me today, till our next episode.