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Our blog provides illustrated practical guides for those going through the divorce process, plus news on divorce, money and family breakdown.

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11 May 2012

Preparation, preparation, preparation

Last week I said I would devote the next year of this blog – until the demise of legal aid in April 2013 – to trying to help litigants in person or self-helpers through the maze of divorce.

Sometimes these posts will be on the basis of one side being legally represented, sometimes with both people representing themselves. 

I am going to try to start at the beginning and work my way through the whole process, concentrating on finances (with a few bits relating to children). This is not a guide to the emotional side of divorce but to the practicalities.

If you are initiating the divorce
The key to a divorce, like anything in life, is preparation - I do appreciate this applies only to the person doing the ‘leaving’.

Knowledge of your financial situation
Before you tell your spouse you want to divorce, do make sure:

·        That you know what all the assets are and make a list of them
·        Find out who your mortgage is with and get a copy of the mortgage statement
·        Keep copies of the various bank statements
·        If you bank online make sure you know the passwords and access codes for the accounts
·        Make sure you know about any investments and keep copies of documents
·        Find out what you partner earns and, if relevant, what bonuses they get.
·        If they run a business ensure you know how it is doing and get hold of the accounts, management accounts, business plans and projections

Many people these days keep spreadsheets of their assets to help them keep track – if your partner is one of those people get him or her to take you through it and explain where everything is.

Basically, find out all that you can without making it obvious!

Don’t however break into anything to find out any of this information as that could get you into all sorts of trouble. 

Having a clear grasp of your financial situation is essential: if you do not understand your finances before you separate you will struggle to understand them once you have.

I know this sounds difficult to do without arousing suspicion but it can be done – just say you have had enough of not contributing to the financial management of the relationship and say you want to know more about your mutual finances – or something similar.

If you are able to communicate, at a time when it is clear things are over sit down together and list your assets, liabilities and incomes. If you have questions then ask them and get the information verified (i.e. independent valuations) if necessary. If you have a definitive list of what you own, owe and earn it will make dividing the pot that much easier.
Access to funds
Make sure you will access to funds after you say you want a divorce.

If you are still together, and your partner has all the savings in their name, ask them to transfer some to you as an act of good faith. It is surprising what you can get if you ask.

If you have savings in a joint account think about transferring half the balance to a sole account when you leave. This will put your ex-partner’s back up however, so you need to make a careful call as to whether you think it is necessary.

If you are not initiating the divorce
If a separation is sprung upon you, of course you won’t be able to prepare as I’ve described above. Nor frankly, will you necessarily be in no fit state to think about finances as your marriage comes to an end. What can you do?

If you are in this situation then the soundest piece of advice is not to rush things. You need to deal with the breakdown of your relationship as best you can before you can concentrate on the necessity of the finances. However, you need to be aware that you may not have that much time before you have to deal with the short-term position at least - as the bills will still need paying and the immediate financial needs of each of you met. Deal with this short-term position (i.e. before you resolve how to split your finances) as soon as you can. Get the information you need and worry about the rest later.