Here are some of the many financial issues to consider when you separate - and to keep in mind even if your marriage is on stable ground:
Get good advice
Even couples who part amicably should have capable representation. That means not only hiring a good attorney but often, a financial planner as well. Especially after a long marriage, you'll need objective advice about how to fairly divide property whose value has escalated, calculate child support, ensure you have sufficient health, life and property insurance, understand Social Security and retirement plan implications and more.
Although good financial planners aren't inexpensive, the money their advice might save you in preventing a prolonged divorce battle - not to mention ensuring your future financial security - is well worth the investment. If you don't know a financial planner, www.plannersearch.org is a good place to start your search.
Protect your credit standing
One of the first things divorcing couples should do is separate their finances. This means closing joint bank and credit card accounts and opening new accounts in your own name. Also, if you share a mortgage or other valuable property, make sure your interests are protected in the divorce settlement.
These measures can help prevent an economically struggling or vindictive spouse from amassing debt that could ruin your credit. Just be sure all closed accounts are fully paid off, even if it means transferring balances to your new account and paying them off yourself. That's because late or stopped payments by either party on a joint account - open or closed - will damage both of your credit ratings.
A word of caution to women: Although not as common today, in the past many women didn't put their names on joint accounts; so if a woman's husband died suddenly or they got a divorce, she had no personal credit history and had a difficult time opening accounts. Make sure you have personal or joint bank and credit card accounts in good standing to prevent such mishaps.
Check your credit reports
It's always wise to know what's in your credit reports, but at this critical juncture it's all the more important. Your reports from the three major credit bureaus should, between them, list all open and closed accounts and loans in your name, which will be helpful for knowing which joint accounts to close. The three reports don't always list all the same accounts, so to be sure, order each of them.
You can order credit reports directly from the bureaus' websites for a small fee (www.equifax.com, www.experian.com, and www.transunion.com), or you can order one free report per year from each through www.annualcreditreport.com. It's probably a good idea to order new reports again after the divorce is final and all joint accounts have been closed, just to make sure nothing is amiss.
For additional financial considerations related to divorce, visit Practical Money Skills for Life, Visa Inc's free personal financial management site at www.practicalmoneyskills.com/divorce.
Divorce can be a painful experience to live through. Don't make it any worse by not protecting your own financial interests.
Jason Alderman directs Visa's financial education programs. Sign up for his free monthly e-Newsletter at www.practicalmoneyskills.com/newsletter.