What are the financial implications of marriage (and of divorce and re-marriage)? Those who have recently changed their marital status or who are planning such a change may have important financial and legal decisions to make. These decisions might deal with property ownership, providing for children's welfare, post-mortem planning, and day-to-day finances.
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This Financial Guide discusses financial considerations related to a change in marital status. And, because divorce is sometimes the flip side of a marriage--and often the bridge between marriage and remarriage--it is covered here as well. This guide will also briefly touch on legal issues involved; however, variations in state law make it nearly impossible to discuss in any detail the legal ramifications that a change in marital status presents.
For the young, newly married couple, areas of financial concern primarily include: (1) life insurance, (2) form of property ownership, and (3) money management.
When it comes to insurance needs, the basic rule is that you need enough coverage to sustain your family's present income level should you die. If you are the only breadwinner, or if you plan on starting a family soon, then you should purchase life insurance.
If you intend to buy a home or other property or if you and your spouse already own property together, then you need to consider the best way for you to hold that property. Will the property be held solely by one spouse? By both spouses jointly? Because of the complex legal implications of the various forms of property ownership, you should seek legal advice about this issue.
It is important to carefully consider how the two of you will handle your day-to-day finances. New couples should be prepared to discuss financial goals, resolve differences (or at least agree to disagree) in spending habits, and establish a budget and/or saving and investment plan.
You'll also need to think about whether you want a joint bank account, separate accounts, or both. How much do you want to spend on vacations? On monthly food bills? Entertainment? Gifts? Personal items? What are your long-term financial goals?
Do you have a financial plan? If you don't, then now is the time to prepare one. Even if you do have a financial plan in place, since your marital status has changed it might be time to review and update it.
If you are considering divorce, it is vital to plan for the dissolution of the financial partnership in your marriage. Such dissolution involves dividing financial assets accumulated during the marriage. Further, if children are involved, future financial support for the custodial parent must be planned for.
While it may not be at the top of your to-do list, taking time to prepare financially during divorce pays off in the long run. Here are some steps you can take to get started.
Take Stock Of Your Situation
Assessing your financial situation helps you in two ways:
To take stock of your situation start by preparing an inventory of your financial assets:
Estimate Your Post-Divorce Living Expenses
Figure out how much it will cost you to live after the divorce. This is especially important for the spouse who is planning to remain in the family home with the children; it may be determined that the estimated living expenses are not manageable.
To estimate these expenses, add up all of your monthly debts and living expenses, including rent or mortgage. Then total your after-tax monthly income from all sources. The amount left over is your disposable income.
Cancel All Joint Accounts
It is important to cancel all joint accounts immediately once you know you are going to obtain a divorce because creditors have the right to seek payment from either party on a joint credit card or other credit account, no matter which party actually incurred the bill. If you allow your name to remain on joint accounts with your ex-spouse, you are also responsible for the bills.
Your divorce agreement may specify which one of you pays the bills. However, as far as the creditor is concerned both you and your spouse remain responsible if joint accounts remain open. The creditor will try to collect the bill from whoever it thinks may be able to pay while at the same time reporting the late payments to credit bureaus under both names. Your credit history could be damaged because of the co-signer's irresponsibility.
Some credit contracts require that you immediately pay the outstanding balance in full if you close an account. If this is the case, then try to get the creditor to have the balance transferred to separate accounts.
If Your Spouse's Poor Credit Affects You
If your spouse's poor credit hurts your credit record, you may be able to separate yourself from the spouse's information on your credit report. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act requires a creditor to take into account any information showing that the credit history being considered does not reflect your own. If for instance, you can show that accounts you shared with your spouse were opened by him or her before your marriage, and that he or she paid the bills, you may be able to convince the creditor that the harmful information relates to your spouse's credit record, not yours.
In practice, it is difficult to prove that the credit history under consideration does not reflect your own, and you may have to be persistent.
For Women: Maintain Your Own Credit Before You Need It
If a woman divorces, and changes her name on an account, lenders may review her application or credit file to see whether her qualifications alone meet their credit standards. They may ask her to reapply even though the account remains open.
Maintaining credit in your own name is the best way to avoid this inconvenience. It also makes it easier to preserve your own, separate, credit history. Further, should you need credit in an emergency it will be available when you need it.
Do not use only your husband's name (for example, Mrs. John Wilson) for credit purposes.
If you have been sharing your husband's accounts, building a credit history in your name should be fairly easy. Call a major credit bureau and request a copy of your report. Contact the issuers of the cards you share with your husband and ask them to report the accounts in your name as well.
If you used the accounts, but never co-signed for them, ask to be added on as jointly liable for some of the major credit cards. Once you have several accounts listed as references on your credit record, apply for a department store card, or even a Visa or MasterCard, in your own name.
If you held accounts jointly and they were opened before 1977 (in which case they may have been reported only in your husband's name), point them out and tell the creditor to consider them as your credit history also. The creditor cannot require your spouse's or former spouse's signature to access his credit file if you are using his information to qualify for credit.
Consider the Legal Issues
The best way to plan for the legal issues involved in a divorce including child custody, division of property, and alimony or support payments is to come to an agreement with your spouse. If you can reach an agreement, the time and money you will have to expend in coming up with a legal solution--either one worked out between the two attorneys or one worked out by a court--will be drastically reduced.
Here are some general tips for handling the legal aspects of a divorce:
Division of Property
The laws governing division of property between ex-spouses vary from state to state. Further, matrimonial judges have a great deal of latitude in applying those laws.
Here is a list of items you should be sure to take care of, regardless of whether you are represented by an attorney.
When considering remarriage, it is important to plan for the following:
If either spouse has significant assets, it will be necessary to consult an attorney.
As for the estate planning aspects of providing for children from a previous marriage, trusts and/or life insurance are the vehicles most often used to do this.