I don’t have Money for my Virginia Divorce, Part I

You can plan to buy a house. You can plan to get a new job. You can plan to go to school. For many of the major transitions in life, it’s possible to plan ahead. Most people, though, don’t really plan for divorce. For most women, they got married expecting it to last forever. When it starts to look like that might not actually happen, they’re flabbergasted.

I mean, what would the alternative be? Going into a marriage thinking for sure it was going to fail, and always planning and preparing for the other shoe to drop? That’s just…not the way these things typically work because, if you knew it’d fail, why would you get married to begin with? Besides, it’s decidedly unromantic to think that way (besides the fact that thinking that way in itself might pave the road to divorce).

Today and Wednesday, we’ll look into the steps you can take to plan for divorce, both financially and legally. There are a lot of things you can do to help protect yourself, and I want to make sure you have as much information as possible. Over the years, we’ve found that there are plenty of tips and tricks that can help make the transition easier. Maybe not easy, exactly, because no matter how you slice it, divorce and custody cases are emotional, expensive, time consuming and difficult – but that’s not to say that there aren’t things you can do to help make it easier.

How do you plan for divorce?

Planning for divorce is difficult, but it’s possible. Though you may not have planned to end up in this position, once it starts looking like you’re headed down this path, there is often time to take steps to protect yourself.

Planning is always key. Just like you have life insurance and an estate plan to protect yourself and your family in the event that something unexpected happens to you or your spouse, you can put a plan into motion to protect yourself in the event of a divorce.

What if I don’t have any money for my Virginia divorce?

If you don’t have any money, then careful planning is even more important. Stay at home moms or women who are underemployed are pretty common in my line of work; it’s a little sexist, but it does seem like it’s typically the women who work less or not at all in order to do the necessary work of supporting the family. That’s not a dig; if anything, it’s a testament to your strength and your willingness to work for the benefit of the family for little or no recognition or pecuniary compensation. But it DOES mean that planning is even more necessary.

If you don’t have any money, now’s the time to start gathering it. There’s no other way about it, you’re going to have to take steps to ensure that you have what you need to move your case forward.

1. Get cash back.

Every time you go to Target or the grocery store, get an extra $20, $40, or $100. Whatever you think you can withdraw without your husband getting suspicious, because that can be super helpful later. Remember that you may very well have to retain an attorney, pay a security deposit and first month’s rent on a new place, or buy new towels and sheets and so on after you and your husband officially separate.

Separation is an expensive and scary time, and the more you can gather some money now, the better.
What you gather, make sure to keep in cash; don’t put it in a different bank account. (If it’s in a bank account, it’s discoverable, and divisible in the divorce.) Whatever cash you have on hand that your husband doesn’t know about will help you establish yourself, especially if he’s the breadwinner. It’s hard for stay at home moms or women with less lucrative careers to survive financially, especially in the beginning before child and spousal support would even be awarded on a temporary basis.

2. Take care of known issues now.

Need new tires on your car? Now’s as good a time as any. Need surgery? Medical treatment of any kind? Definitely time to start taking care of it. Kids need braces? New school shoes? Why not take care of it now?

After all, you have more money now, while it’s still marital, than you will once it’s your money and his money. You also probably have a lot more control over priorities and how it’s spent, so it’s a good time to think about taking care of some of those big ticket items that will be harder for you to afford later.
It’s also not a bad idea to pay down debt, so you don’t wind up having to pay a portion of it after divorce. It’s easier to put marital money towards a credit card or car payment than it will be later. Besides, no judge is likely to find fault with you for taking care of marital debts.

3. If all else fails, remember – the bank account is half yours.

This is a risky choice, but one that’s sometimes necessary. If you have a joint account with access to some of the marital money, you can take it. While I generally don’t recommend taking any more than half (because that’s roughly the amount that the court would award you if you took the issues to a judge), technically its yours and your husband’s equally. Either of you could spend all the money, or remove the money and close the account.

Why is this risky, if it’s your money anyway? Well, obviously, because it’s going to make your husband pretty mad. If things were amicable prior to this point, taking this step will likely cause it to be less so. He’ll get his guard up and, in the future, he’ll likely put his money somewhere you can’t reach it. So, it can backfire, especially if you’re depending on access to that money (which, if you’re in this position anyway, you probably already are).

Sometimes, though, it’s the only way to get enough cash in hand to do big things, like rent an apartment or hire an attorney. I definitely recommend talking to an attorney before you take any big steps like this, though, to come up with a plan of action moving forward. Maybe it’s okay because your attorney plans to file for a fault based divorce, schedule a pendente lite hearing right away, and have temporary child and spousal support awarded in the next couple weeks. But you’ll want to at least have that conversation and make sure you know what the plan is – because chances are very, very good that as soon as your husband finds out you made this withdrawal, there won’t be a joint bank account anymore.

4. Borrow, borrow, borrow. Or use your credit.

This last one isn’t a possibility for everyone, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that, in many cases, our clients borrow money from family and friends. We see lots of moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends who help provide the money our clients so desperately need to secure legal representation.
Still others pay their attorney’s fees on credit. It’s not ideal, but it’s often key, especially in more difficult divorce or custody cases. You have to have representation – and there’s so much risk, in many cases, to not having it.

Where money doesn’t exist, sometimes you have to look to other sources.

That’s a pretty fair summary of a couple financial steps you can take to begin to prepare for divorce. Many of them aren’t perfect, but, taken together, you can at least make a dent in the amount of money you’ll need on hand to take care of yourself and your children in the meantime.

On Wednesday, we’ll talk more about the steps you can take to plan your divorce from a legal perspective, so stay tuned. For more information, or to schedule an appointment to talk to one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, give us a call at 757-425-5200.