Most married people share joint banking accounts, car insurance policies, credit cards, mortgages, investments, loans, lines of credit, and more. Paychecks are normally deposited into joint accounts, and then split to meet the family’s needs that particular month. Mortgages, rent, utilities, childcare costs, gas and groceries usually come out of the marital account, and no one quibbles too much about what money is getting spent where, because both parties share certain goals, just by the nature of their marriage. Taking care of the kids, building wealth for retirement, paying off the home, and addressing day to day needs are important to most married couples, and money is put aside to handle each of these line items. Married partners work together for shared goals without thinking twice about them. Extras come out of these accounts, too. Whether hubby wants a new fishing rod or set of golf clubs, or you need a new pair of running shoes or a haircut and color, you work together to make sure each of you has what you need. Emergencies come up sometimes, too, and the cars get repaired and the children get stitches and casts after accidents. Everything works well, more or less.
After couples separate, everything changes. If your husband is like most men, as soon as you separate he will start having his paycheck direct deposited into another account. As soon as you formally decide that the two of you are no longer headed in the same direction, it’s a pretty common theme. No shared future equals no shared bank account.
Of course, that may be a terrible thing for you, especially if it’s unexpected. If you’re the lower wage earner of the two of you or, worse, if you’ve stayed at home to raise the children while he worked, you’re going to have a tough time making ends meet.
Because we’ve seen this happen so many times, we’ve come up with a list of the four things you should absolutely do to avoid being taken by surprise after you and your husband separate and he cuts off your access to the (formerly marital) money.
1. Take care of big ticket items early.
The best thing to do, obviously, is to plan ahead of time. If you know that the roof of your house needs fixing, your car tires need replacing, or your son needs braces, what better time is there than the present? If you know that you and your husband are headed towards a separation, make a list of expensive things that will need to be purchased or repaired, and start making time in your schedule to handle these things now.
Your husband won’t give you such easy access to his money after you separate. Legally, he doesn’t have to, either. Anything you earn or accumulate post-separation is technically separate property, so he’s within his rights to keep it. If you know, ahead of time, that certain things need to be fixed, it’s better to take care of these things while you still have access to marital money. After you separate, you may find that you end up footing the bill yourself, at least in the short term, and hoping for reimbursement from him in the long term. It’s much, much easier to pay for expensive things with marital money rather than separate money, so you’ll definitely want to get a move on. Pay for these things together now rather than paying for them yourself later.
2. Start stocking up now.
When you and your husband separate, you’ll probably want to live separately. Even though it’s not technically required, most couples eventually move to separate physical spaces. Even if it doesn’t happen right away, you probably will eventually move into separate places—very few divorced couples live together after the final divorce decree is entered. (Though I guess you could still continue to live together, if you really wanted.)
Again, just like with the big ticket items, it’s easier to pay for things with joint money than marital money. Even though there’s still probably a budget you’re going to have to keep in mind (because you can’t skip a mortgage payment just to get your ducks in a row pre separation), it’s far easier to do it now rather than later.
It’s a good idea to buy some of the things you’ll need in your new home before you even separate. Things like sheets, towels, and small kitchen utensils will help make your move (or his) a smoother one. All too often, the parties end up fighting over personal property, because neither feels like he (or she) has enough to really allow them to live apart.
Now is the time to start stocking up on the new things that will help you make your house (or apartment) a new home. Whether you’re staying in the marital residence or moving to a new location, you’re going to want it to feel fresh and new. You’re starting over; you don’t want to be surrounded by things that remind you of him. Let him keep the old sheets and towels, and start to stock up on new things for yourself. (But probably don’t tell him what you’re up to.)
3. Always get cash back.
So far, none of the solutions we’ve already discussed have dealt with a very real, very serious problem: what are you going to do about money?
If he’s the primary wage earner and you’re not, you’re probably going to need a little help getting back on your feet after the separation.
He’s probably not going to give you any support until he signs an agreement or the judge orders him to start paying. That’s just the way it usually happens. You’re going to need some extra money in the meantime, especially if the kids stay in your care. Paying for just you is one thing, but being able to provide for the needs of the entire family on what you earn can be incredibly tough for many moms.
It’s not a bad idea to get a little extra cash back whenever you go to the store. Twenty dollars here, fifty dollars there, and chances are good that your husband will never notice. You can set your stash aside (somewhere he really won’t be able to find it) and use it when you’re down on your luck. If you need first and last month’s rent to get a new apartment, you’ll have a little nest egg built up already. If you need a little help paying for the groceries after you separate, you’ll have some reserves.
If you get cash back this way, your husband won’t be able to tell. He’ll just see a charge from Kroger, Wal-Mart, or Harris Teeter, and won’t think any more of it.
Don’t take so much that he’ll start to notice, but just take a little, gradually, over a period of several months. It’s probably best to keep it all in cash, because if you deposit it into a separate bank account and he finds out about it, he can ask for half of it. Prior to separation, it’s all still marital money, so you’re free to take it. After separation, anything earned or accumulated is separate, so you’ll have a much harder time getting any help at all from your husband.
4. Buy gift cards.
This is a similar idea to number 3. These days, a lot of grocery stores also sell gift cards. You can purchase them along with your groceries, and they’ll show up as part of the total. That way, your husband won’t be able to tell exactly what you’re doing, and you’ll be able to build up a separate, even less traceable, form of money for yourself after you separate. You can often buy gift cards for places like Bed Bath and Beyond, Target, Wal-Mart, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. As you can probably imagine, having a stockpile of these gift cards later can be incredibly helpful.
I’m not suggesting that you go in and stock up on TJ Maxx, DSW, iTunes, and Starbucks cards. I’m talking about buying gift cards for places that sell things that you regularly need or use, so that your transition will be easier. Buy things that are necessary, that you use all the time, and that will help you out of a jam. The more things you can buy with the card, the more useful it is. (Like Amazon!)
On top of being able to use the cards to purchase things you’ll really need later on, the cards also often contribute towards bonus points or customer loyalty points with the grocery store, depending on where you shop. So, if you buy gift cards from the grocery store, you may qualify for other things—money off your bill or a discount at the fuel pump! Together, all these benefits can really add up and provide you with a substantial amount of help at a time when you need all the help you can get.
The best part is that you can do this quickly and easily during your regularly scheduled grocery shopping trip without alerting your husband.
5. Get an agreement in place quickly, schedule a PL hearing, or file for support in juvenile court while your case is pending.
Not everything can be done ahead of time, and sometimes things happen that take you by surprise. Even if you weren’t expecting the divorce, you can take steps early on to help protect yourself.
If your husband has cut you off from the marital money and you didn’t have time to plan ahead and get things organized, you’re not without help. You’ll probably want to act fast, because time is of the essence. Your lights won’t stay on if you don’t pay the bill, no matter how good your reason is, so it’s important that you get started working on your case right away if you’re suddenly caught without the ability to pay.
Whether your case looks like it’s going to be uncontested (you’re going to be able to reach an agreement) or contested (you’re going to be headed to court to resolve your case), there are ways to get support in place without finishing the entire divorce process.
If your divorce is uncontested…
If your divorce is looking like it’s going to be uncontested, you have two options. You can either (1) get your separation agreement in place very quickly, or (2) file for support in juvenile court while your case is still pending.
You can have your attorney draft a separation agreement for you, usually within a couple of days. You can hire an attorney before you separate from your husband and have an agreement already drafted when you tell him you’re ready to separate, or you can hire the attorney after you separate and have the attorney draft it then. You can also draft an agreement on your own (if you want help from an attorney while drafting an agreement for yourself, click here) or see a mediator and have him help you get an agreement drafted.
This is probably the best way to do it, if at all possible, because then your husband will be obligated to begin paying support and you’ll be ready to proceed with your divorce as soon as your separation period is up. It means that you won’t have to fight over your issues in court, and you’ll save a lot of money, too. It’s an all around ideal scenario, if you can manage it!
Of course, you can’t reach an agreement without his approval. You can draft agreements until you’re blue in the face, but if he won’t sign it, you don’t have an agreement. If he just won’t agree, your best bet is probably to file for both child and spousal support in the juvenile court. It may take several months to get into the court, but the good news is that any support the judge would award would be retroactive to the date of filing. So, if you file in January and don’t get into court until May or June, you would receive whatever level of support the judge awards from the date you filed in January. Needless to say, but you’ll want to file as soon as possible, if it looks like you won’t be able to reach an agreement quickly and easily.
If your divorce is contested…
If your divorce is contested, you’ll want to file your complaint as soon as possible so you can schedule a pendente lite hearing. Pendente lite is a Latin word that means “while the litigation is pending.” A pendente lite hearing is one that you can schedule early on in your divorce, and it can help you establish temporary child and spousal support. It can do more things than that, too, but obviously the biggest concern you have at the beginning of your case is how to get the bills paid in the meantime. The pendente lite hearing is the quickest and easiest way to do that!
I’m not saying that it’s going to be easy. In most cases, divorce is very difficult, both emotionally and financially. There are a lot of uncertainties and you’ll be dealing with a lot of change. That’s uncomfortable, especially when you already have less money than you’re accustomed to having.
Planning ahead is your best bet, but, failing that, being able to take quick action is critically important, too. For help with your divorce, or to find out what your best options will be, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.