How to manage the financial fallout from a divorce or separation

tim mackay divorce blog photo

The reality is that a third of weddings will be followed down the line by a divorce. Knowing how to approach this traumatic situation can help make the process easier. So how do you manage the financial fallout of heartbreak? 

It is a joy to share in the celebrations when two people publicly declare their eternal love and commitment. However, “eternal” these days is not necessarily “forever”. Having advised clients through the financial implications of relationship breakdowns, it is not something I would wish for anyone.

Unfortunately, the sad reality is that a third of all marriages will end in divorce after an average 12.2 years. The average age for men is 44.1 and 41.5 for women.

Once the emotional decision is made to end a relationship, depending upon your circumstances, a divorce can be quite a lengthy legal process. In working with our clients, we focus on what this means financially.

“Divorce is a game played by lawyers” (Cary Grant)

Unless there is a binding financial agreement (BFA) (the old fashioned “pre-nup”), then the financial split is often a series of negotiations. Once lawyers are involved, costs will likely skyrocket. So an amicable asset split agreement is preferred to Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas’s approach in the 1989 movie War of the Roses.

BFAs can be entered into at any time and both parties must receive independent legal advice. Like insurance policies, BFAs provide a good Plan B – in the event things don’t work out, a BFA sets out what you both agreed to be fair and equitable.

The German composer Richard Wagner shared wise advice – “Divorce is one of the most financially traumatic things you can go through. Money spent on getting mad or getting even is money wasted”.

“Divorce is the one human tragedy that reduces everything to cash” (Rita Mae Brown)

Start with an honest check of identifying and valuing all the assets, debts, income and expenses that you each hold individually and as a couple. For more complicated finances, this may involve assets held in a company or other structures. Everything is up for negotiation and your lawyer and financial advisor will need this information to ensure they can optimise your situation.

Don’t wait for the final settlement to be agreed before reviewing and changing the beneficiaries in your will, your insurance and your superannuation.

Seek the house or super?

A common question is: “Should I go for the house or the super?”. To make this decision you really need to have a vision of your life after the settlement. Ability to access funds, tax implications, your expenses and your living situation are all key factors in this decision. Determining your new financial goals and strategies will enable you to make smart financial decisions through the divorce process.

Seek financial advice early

On more than one occasion, clients have told us they wish they’d sought the support and guidance of financial advice earlier in the divorce process. It’s important to have sound legal advice but it’s crucial to decide what mix of assets will best secure your financial future. Getting financial advice early in the property settlement negotiations is a smart move – don’t wait until it is all nearly all signed and sealed.

Focus on your future

To successfully rebuild your financial life after a divorce, you have to go back to basics with a budget and a comprehensive financial plan. While your relationship with your lawyer will probably end with the divorce, your relationship with your financial planner will last many years. So choose one that you can comfortably share intimate information with, one you trust and who helps you get your finances back on track. They will assist you to surround yourself with the financial resources and assets that will help you and your family move forward in a positive direction and help you create and support the life you deserve.

Tim Mackay CFP®
Quantum Financial Services

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