How can I prepare financially for a separation or divorce?

Divorce is an emotionally draining time, not only for the couple but for their family as well. What should you be wary of? How can you be financially protected? What are you entitled to and where do you stand in the whole process? Hopefully, this article will help you clear your ideas.

Divorce is an emotionally draining time for not only the couple but for their family as well. It can also be a financially devastating time. Putting your energy into your financial wellbeing is essential when going through this life transition. You will be forced to make life changing decisions possibly in a very short period, and it is important that you know what you are entitled to and where you stand in the marriage, from a financial perspective.


1) Find and Compile Your Financial Records

Your first move to protect yourself financially is to make a file of all your financial records. Tax returns, loan and mortgage documents, retirement accounts, bank accounts, investment, and pension statements. You want to be sure that you are aware of all accounts and liabilities when you go into the divorce process. For those of you owning a business or whose partner owns a business, gather as much info as you can especially if you are a shareholder. For all real estate, secure the documents or copy them so you both have what you need.


2) Assess Your Assets

Make an exhaustive list of all your assets that could come into question when it comes to division of property. Marital assets are any asset or liability that was acquired during the marriage. This includes houses, cottages, land, investments, pensions, personal property (jewelry, art etc.), vehicles, and other types of intangible property (such as intellectual properties).

Typically, assets acquired before marriage remain in the possession of the person who brought them into the marriage. Inheritance and gifts can also be excluded from divorce if the assets have not been used to buy joint property. If you had a marriage or co-habitation agreement , now is the time to pull out and read every page.


3) Open New Bank Accounts

Many married couples have combined finances and use joint bank accounts for convenience’s sake. If you have or if you plan to end your marriage, one of your first steps should be to open new bank accounts in your name that your spouse does not have access to. You should also make it a priority to have any direct deposit is moved to your new account and start paying your bills out of your new individual account, more importantly your pay cheque, since it can be withdrawn in its entirety in the joint account.


4) Change Your Will and Update Beneficiaries

Most couples name each other as beneficiaries in their will and on any investment or insurance accounts where beneficiaries can be designated. This should be changed as soon as possible, unless you’ve decided to keep your former partner designated, which many people do especially in the early years of a separation. This may not seem like a top priority, but the unexpected happens and no matter how amicable the divorce, it is impossible to know your wishes will be honored upon your death, if you do not put it in writing. Investment accounts and life insurance policies can easily have their beneficiaries changed through your advisor. Something like real estate will also need your will and power of attorney designations should be updated by a lawyer to be updated in a will.


5) Change your Mailing Address

If you are changing your address due to the divorce, or even if you are splitting time in the family home until the divorce is settled, you should change your mailing address immediately. Whether this is to your new home or if you secure a PO Box, it is important that your mail stay private as you may receive correspondence from your lawyer or information about your finances.


6) Get Credit Cards in Your Name

If you have a joint credit card, pay them down and cancel them immediately if possible, so that you don’t find yourself responsible for debt that your spouse may accumulate when you leave the marriage.

If you own investments accounts either personally or corporately, now is the time to let the advisor know that there’s a marriage breakdown. Many investment accounts require only one signature, and most advisors will never do a redemption unless all parties sign, but they can only implement if they’re aware of your circumstances.


7) Refrain from Making Any Big Financial Decisions

Divorce can be a long road. Assets may become unavailable to you if you go through court proceedings, or conversely you could end up having to hand over more to your spouse than planned. It is wise to hold off making any big purchases or irreversible decisions until your separation agreement is in in place.

Separation and divorce are complicated and can be a difficult time, both emotionally and financially. It is always best to work with legal and financial professionals when navigating a divorce to ensure your best interests are being looked out for and that you are being treated fairly as the process proceeds. They can also help you to navigate the differences in the law, depending on whether you were married or common-law.


“This material is provided for general information and is subject to change without notice. Every effort has been made to compile this material from reliable sources however no warranty can be made as to its accuracy or completeness. Before acting on any of the above, please make sure to see a professional advisor for individual financial advice based on your personal circumstances.”