Hopefully, you’ll never have to deal with the messy money issues of a divorce. But just in case….
No one ever gets married thinking their love story is going to end in a messy legal battle over credit card debt and mysteriously vanished savings. But these things happen—even to women and men who are financially savvy in every other part of their life. These steps will not only lead to better financial health for the two of you as a couple, but will protect you if you ever have to go out on your own.
Be an Active Financial Partner.
“In most marriages, the partners split up the responsibilities, and one person takes charge of finances,” explains Brittney Castro, the CEO of Financially Wise Women. “It’s fine if your partner is the one who pays the bills and balances the budget, but you still have to stay in the know.” The best way to do this? Have a weekly or monthly money date, where you sit down and talk about your expenses, your goals, and your budget. If you haven’t done this yet, and you’re not sure how to bring it up, a good time is the end of the year, when you’re figuring out your goals for the future, or when you’re preparing your tax returns, says Patricia Seaman, senior director of Smart About Money, a nonprofit organization that educates consumers about personal finance. “You should frame the discussion in a positive way,” she advises. “Say, ‘Let’s look at all our assets and debt, see how close we are to our goal of buying a house or retiring early or taking a vacation.’”
Make Sure You Know All the Passwords and Account Numbers.
Every couple should have a shared space where they keep all their financial paperwork—including credit card bills, mortgage statements, bank account balances, 401k statements, and insurance plans. But since so much of your financial life exists online, it’s also crucial to keep a list of all accounts, usernames, and passwords so you can keep on top of exactly where all your money is and how much debt you have. In case of divorce, your lawyers will initiate a process to uncover all the shared assets, but that can potentially drag on for years. “I had one client who got divorced and had no clue what she and her husband had,” says Castro. “If you don’t know, it can get drawn out and hold up the divorce.”
Make Sure All Beneficiaries Are Updated.
If your partner had any life insurance policies, pension plans, or 401k plans before you got married, he or she may still have parents, siblings—or even an ex—listed as the beneficiary. The two of you should go through all your pre-marriage assets and make sure those names are updated to current spouse or children.
Establish Good Credit in Your Own Name.
Not only should you keep at least one active credit card in your own name that you pay off regularly so you have a good credit record if you ever need to go off on your own, you should also keep a close eye on the monthly bills of any card you share with your partner. “If your partner ever goes haywire and starts spending like crazy and accumulating a lot of debt, you are on the hook for it, too,” warns Seaman. “If you can’t pay back that debt, that will damage your credit score, which can affect your whole life, even something as simple as trying to open an account with a utility company when you move to a new home after a divorce.”
Sit on a Nest Egg of Your Very Own.
While most of your income will likely go into a joint account to cover all shared expenses, such as rent, health insurance, and childcare, you should keep a separate account to be used for personal expenses—no need for either partner to disclose what they spend that discretionary fund on. “That money can also come in handy to cover the first few months of expenses after a divorce, should you ever need it,” says Seaman.