5 questions for a girlfriend who's considering divorceWe girlfriends look to each other for advice. When I went through my divorce, I leaned on my girlfriends for advice and support. So, when offered the following information (guest post) for women considering divorce, I thought I’d do what my friends did for me – pass it along in hope of helping women. Share with a friend who may need this info too!

The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself. Oscar Wilde

5 questions for a girlfriend who’s considering divorce

  1. Do you two still get along? – This is the most important question, which will essentially dictate the entire process. If she and her spouse are amicable and the break-up is reciprocal, then it’s possible to skip the horror stories associated with divorce. There exists an “uncontested divorce,” where the two spouses agree, amongst themselves, on the divorce agreement. This includes the division of assets and a parenting plan (if relevant). It is considered most feasible for couples that have relatively few assets and no children—often younger and shorter marriages. If there is enough emotional detachment to pull this off, then they can actually file for divorce online. If they pull it off, they will literally save thousands of dollars and immense time in court.
  1. If it is not amicable, do you have access to money right nowThis is a question that’s relevant in the short-term for severe cases. By “access to”, I mean a bank or asset account that is in her name, or a joint account in both of their names. If all of the assets are in her husband’s name, then she isn’t guaranteed access to them. If he is severely manipulative, it’s possible that he cut her off from funds. This would leave her virtually powerless to leave the home, save help from friends or family. In divorce, there is a lag time between the filing and the court ruling. While she may eventually be awarded alimony, there could be months before everything is sorted out. It’s important to have access to money during the divorce proceedings, especially if you’re dealing with a controlling or abusive spouse.
  1. If you’re not working, how will you make money in the long term? It’s estimated that about 30% of women aren’t currently part of the workforce. Anecdotally, many women take a hiatus from work to raise children or run a household. Unsurprisingly, non-working women are most likely to live in either very wealthy or impoverished areas. If the first scenario, it’s likely that your girlfriend would be awarded an alimony in the divorce. Her main concern at that point would be to allocate and budget the alimony appropriately to pay for necessities such as: rent, health insurance, and retirement savings. She would need to be sure that the settlement is comprehensive. For example, it should require her ex to maintain life insurance, so that she may continue to get paid, even if something happens to him. If there is no alimony, then, she’ll likely have to go to work to earn income. This could be extremely difficult, especially depending education level and lifestyle. Encourage her to be resourceful and to start as soon as possible. A distant friend or relative may know of an opening that isn’t yet posted anywhere. Experience and/or longevity with a company can only help her earning potential.
  1. Is it possible that he’s hiding money? – While illegal, it’s not uncommon for a spouse to hide some of their finances so that they appear less wealthy to the courts. Sometimes a spouse has been doing so the whole time—via a “rainy day” account or secret real estate investments, for example. More often, however, a spouse will start to do so once they sense the marriage going south. Jeff Landers over at Forbes explains some of the many ways to hide money:
  • Stash cash: he may buy strange yet valuable assets like a piece of art, or put actual cash in a safe-deposit box
  • Stash assets: transfer stocks or funds to a friend or family member to hold in that person’s name until the divorce is finalized
    • Equally, if he owns a business, he could pay “employees” that don’t exist and void their checks later
  • Lie about income: he may underreport earnings on any financial statements so that your combined net worth would appear to be less
  • Overpay loans: he may give too much money to the IRS or a moneylender: then, get a tax return or refund after the fact

Advise your girlfriend to take an active role in the family’s financial affairs. Encourage her to pay the bills, balance the checkbook, and be aware of investments. Tell her to be on the lookout for behavioral clues on his part: defensive behavior, bank statements not coming to the house, or a sudden lack of bonuses/decrease in salary.

  1. Is it possible that you’ll end up with debt? This is related to the former question—both of which are parts of the grand question, “are you aware of the real financial situation?”. Everyone talks about dividing assets, and yet, often overlooked is the division of negative assets—or, debts. Attorney Guy Greenstein of Louisville, CO, clarifies that, luckily, there is “separate debt”, which would be anything that a spouse incurred before the marriage, such as student loans. Anything that either spouse incurred during the marriage, such as medical bills or credit card debt, would be “communal property” to be divided as the court sees fit. In a really tragic situation, there could be a spouse who has secretly incurred debt, such as to feed an addiction, and left the other in ignorance. The good news is that there are only a handful of states that default to dividing everything 50/50 in a divorce. These are: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. The other states take divorces case-by-case, and use a variety of factors to decide the division of assets. So, if your girlfriend’s husband has secretly run them into debt, in many states, the courts would assign the burden of repayment to him. 

Girlfriend advice for divorceMarlo Spieth writes and does outreach. She empathizes most with Andy Warhol’s quote,”I have social disease. I have to go out every night”. Working for Avvo, she recommends our website for any legal needs, to get a quick, personalized, and flat-rate experience.

 Please note: The views and opinions expressed herein are the author’s alone and do not represent Girlfriendology or Avvo. Also, the legal information herein is intended for general informational purposes only and is not the provision of legal services. Please acknowledge that such information consists of third party data and contributions, that there are certain inherent limitations to the accuracy or currency of such information, that legal and other information may be incomplete, may contain inaccuracies, or may be based on opinion. 

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