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Sometimes the only way to go is out, and divorce is the best option. But divorces can take years to finalize and often the first, and perhaps most important step, is legal separation. Though often overlooked, the day you walk out may be the most important day of your divorce. Set yourself up to win with these tips.
When a married couple decides that they will divorce, the process of legal separation should begin. This is a legal term of art. It doesn't just mean you've moved out but are still trying to work on your marriage. It means you moved out and are trying to work on your divorce. Legal separation is a court ordered event, and it consists of a agreement that defines legal rights and obligations, though it does not permanently end the marriage like a divorce does.
Once legally separated, community property stops building, child custody can be sorted out, and property can begun to be divided, among others things. This may appeal to you if, say, your future ex is piling up debt that you don't want to be connected to, but you don't want to speed up divorce proceedings because the uncoupling is complicated and perhaps detrimental from a tax perspective. A legal separation can give you some of the benefits of a divorce without some of the costs.
If you are the spouse in the marriage that is clueless about family finances, use this time to get dialed in while you still have access to all of the accounts. Try to download at least six months of statements from all financial accounts, including assets, debts, and credit cards. You may only have access to this prior to signing the legal separation agreement, so time is of the essence.
You will need to establish credit in your name. First, cancel all joint credit cards so that you do not become liable for any debts that your future ex incurs. That always adds insult to injury. Though legal separation should take care of this, if you are still in the throws of putting that together, this will serve as a great buffer. Credit card companies will not care if you two had talked about separation, talked about not being liable for each other's debts, and no longer live together. If your name is on the account, you are legally liable. Unfortunately, end of story.
Next, establish credit in your name. Good credit opens all the right doors, including lower interest rates on all sorts of loans and credit cards. But the only way to get good credit is to get credit, in your name, and then keep it clean.
All of this can be overwhelming, and potentially the last thing you want to deal with during this trying time in your life. However, the best way to start anew is to start at the starting line, and not three steps behind. Invest in your future self by hiring a local divorce attorney today, who can help you get started with these legal tips, and add in a few more. In the wise words of Mickey Rooney in Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, "Put one foot in front of the other, and soon you'll be walking out the door."
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.