Female clients who are the higher earning spouse are trending in my practice. These women are successful professionals who fear they have more to lose in a divorce than their spouses. They’re not only responsible for most of the financial obligations, they often retain the majority of household responsibilities including child rearing. They naturally trust their spouses to be responsible in their dealings with household finances.
Several years into her marriage, one of my clients learned that her husband had not performed the financial tasks he agreed to undertake. Mortgage payments on the marital home were erratic. Quarterly tax payments weren’t sent to the IRS. While he was also highly educated, he lost one job after another. Ultimately he refused to file a joint tax return, forcing her to file separately (at great expense). Something had to give.
Here’s what this savvy woman did to protect herself: She moved to an apartment with her kids, leaving her husband in the marital home. She continued to pay the mortgage on it from her salary. This established a date of separation which protected her from assuming more of her spouse’s debt. She hired a great attorney. And, most importantly, wisely started her own “deep dive” to figure out her exact financial situation.
Her husband was no more cooperative during the divorce proceedings than he had been in the marriage. He dragged his feet in order to postpone proceedings to continue his paid stay in the home. Because she was the only one working, she was hit with wage garnishments from the IRS, credit card companies, and collection agencies. The bank threatened foreclosure on the home she was maintaining because of payments he had missed during the marriage. Plus, his work history exposed her to paying spousal support. Even though she was blindsided by a tsunami of unexpected debtors, she stepped up and made ALL of those payments.
When the case was set for trial, she came to see me. Once bitten, twice shy. She wisely wanted a second set of eyes on the mountain of transactions that she had presented to her attorney to ensure a better outcome.
We found the initial disclosures prepared by the lawyer to be somewhat incomplete and lacking specific detail; instead, we compiled a complete history of all transactions. We went through every lien, every debt, and documented all payments she had made during the course of the separation with backup statements. All of those payments could be reimbursed at trial. This work also established that because of her wage garnishments, she lacked sufficient income to pay spousal support.
My client left little to chance: She did not assume that her attorney would show up at trial with all her financial info precisely documented.
In the end, my client’s spouse never submitted disclosures, missed key pre-trial court appearances, and didn’t even show up at trial. Because of the strong documentation my client provided to the attorney to make her case, she prevailed on all financial issues. She avoided paying alimony and got to retain a larger share of the community assets to offset her payments made during separation.
To increase your chances for a good settlement, trust your lawyer to be an expert in family law, but not necessarily in following the money trail. Even though you’ve hired a professional to do the job, it’s still your responsibility to provide sufficient input (to improve your chances). Your Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA™) is your go-to so you can provide the right facts and figures. Hiring a professional to be a second set of eyes is less costly than a lawyer. Reviewing your financials — for your divorce lawyer — is what I’m trained to do. Ask me your questions.