Financial Tips for Non-Working Spouses Going Through a Divorce

Divorce rarely comes as a complete surprise, though some spouses treat it that way. Couples know if they are having problems if the marriage is not exactly working – they may even be in couples counseling or see other warning signs. Even if the spouses hope to save a marriage, the reality is that it may just as likely fail.

Despite spouses knowing their marriage is in trouble, when the time for divorce arrives, too often spouses treat it as a surprise and feel quite unprepared for all the challenges divorce presents.

Before you get divorced, it’s important to understand your finances. But if you’re a non-working spouse who doesn’t handle the bills, figuring out the overall financial picture can be intimidating. Even so, knowing the exact amounts of your assets and liabilities is key to a fair and equitable split of your marital property. While it can be a lot of work, understanding your household’s income and expenses is key to determining how much money you’ll need to live on after your divorce, including negotiating maintenance and child support.

Here are some tips on setting yourself up financially for divorce.

1. Financial preparation is crucial before divorce

It’s important to be prepared financially for the divorce process. It typically takes at least six weeks and sometimes up to a few months to get a court order for temporary financial support from your spouse. To save around 30 to 45 days of filing time, you should file a Motion for Temporary Spousal Support and Child Support with the original Petition for Dissolution of Marriage if possible. If not, filing of the Motion should happen sooner rather than later.

You should keep in mind that the spouse paying support will want to delay those payments as long as possible to leverage negotiation power. To prevent you from having financial issues, you should try to save a minimum of three months in a reserve account to make it through this wait time. As you wait for your court date to arrive, you should try and negotiate with your spouse. If you are successful in reaching an agreement, the court date can be canceled.

2. Your financial document checklist for divorce

To pursue a fair and reasonable division of marital property, the non-earning spouse needs to know all he or she can about the family’s finances. The non-earning spouse should make copies of all relevant financial documents and keep them in a safe location. At a minimum, the non-earning spouse should obtain the following financial documents:

A. Federal and State Income Tax Returns for the past three years. If available, the past five years.

B. Statements for all bank accounts for at least the past three months. If available, the past two years.

C. Statements for all investment accounts for at least the past three months. If available, for the past two years.

D. The most recent statement for all retirement accounts. If available, the December 31 statement for the past two years.

E. The most recent statement for all insurance policies.

F. A complete copy of any prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.

G. A complete copy of any estate planning documents.

H. A complete copy of your three credit reports through

3. Should a non-working spouse get a job during a divorce?

There isn’t a right answer to this question and situations vary in every case, so consider consulting with your attorney prior to starting a job. Why is this a difficult question? What is the reason for you getting a job at this time? Is it because you don’t want to enter the divorce proceedings as being unemployed or a stay-at-home spouse? Mentally, that makes sense; however, it may not be the best strategy for your case as your new job may affect your request for spousal maintenance. This is especially important if you haven’t worked in years and don’t have a college degree. However, if you are a highly educated, qualified, and experienced spouse who recently left the workforce to care for a child or a parent, then resuming your career before or early in the divorce process might be a good idea as you can build your self-confidence and establish a sense of independence.

Even if you decide to not get a job during the divorce proceedings, you should at least gain some insight as to how much you might be able to earn if you needed to get a job after your divorce is over. To do this, evaluate your education and work experience. You can do so through a job recruiter who focuses on your area of expertise to determine the current salary for your field. Or you could visit websites such as Indeed, LinkedIn Salary, Glassdoor, PayScale, or Salary Expert.

4. Create a budget for life after divorce

First, take the necessary time to research the expenses listed while completing your Statement of Income and Expenses form for your attorney. Take twelve-month averages for each expense listed. By paying close attention to what your actual financial needs are, you can create your post-divorce budget. To learn more about how you can budget, consider consulting with a financial planner who can discuss your income, your expenses, and your potential financial flexibility.  For example, a common recommendation of a financial planner is for the recently divorced individual to establish an emergency fund by setting aside six months of living expenses to weather the storm of a work disruption such as a layoff. The emergency fund can also be used to pay toward unpredictable expenses such as house and car repairs. Creating, managing, and following a budget is key to thriving post-divorce.

Having a firm grasp on your financial situation is key to preparing yourself for a divorce as a non-working spouse. By gathering important financials, determining your earning potential, and creating a realistic budget, you will be better prepared to manage your money post-divorce. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. It’s always a good idea to consult with a financial advisor who can help you create a long-term financial strategy that works for you.

Should you need the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney in Creve Coeur and O’Fallon or have questions about your divorce situation, know that we are here to help and ready to discuss those questions with you.

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