Saving Dollars & Making Sense of Divorce

Here's how you can part ways without taking the financial plunge

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MIldred Miller was excited about her promotion. After living nearly five years of her married life as half of a commuter couple, she had finally gotten a position that would enable her to relocate from Elmira, New York, and live with her husband in Rochester. She excitedly packed her bags in anticipation that she and her husband, along with their son, would finally live under one roof-or at least that’s what she thought. After only one day in the traditional family setting, her husband announced that he didn’t think they were compatible. For Miller, this meant moving out as quickly as she’d just moved in, with a brief pit stop at the home of one of her brothers. “I was hurt and upset,” the 50-year-old, now single mom recalls. “We visited each other on weekends and talked over the phone. I didn’t expect this from my husband of 22 years.”

Miller is not alone. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, in 1998, there were 19.4 million divorced persons in the United States. And regardless of who files for divorce, both partners and the children are dramatically impacted by the results. For the most part, a divorce requires that new living arrangements be made, marital assets be split and strategies for dealing with child custody and visitation rights be devised. Divorces can be uncontested, which are the quickest and least expensive types, or contested, which can drag on for months and sometimes years. Both of these options will cost you. But, if you’ve decided it’s time for you and your spouse to part ways, here are some specific strategies you can employ to keep financially afloat:

Once you decide to divorce your spouse, “be prepared for a fight,” advises attorney C. Victor Long of C. Victor Long & Associates in Atlanta. He says you shouldn’t be surprised if your spouse becomes angry about the divorce because dissolving a marriage can bring out the worst in people. Some pre-divorce financial planning can ensure that your interests, and those of your children, are well-protected. For starters, get copies of the statements of all of your joint financial obligations, including those accounts with brokerage houses, credit card companies and other debtors. Also, secure insurance policies, bank and loan statements, pension plan documents, mortgage payments, recent tax returns and estate planning information.

Depending on how you believe your spouse will react, it may be best to keep your plans for divorce under wraps until you have all of the information you need to support your case (see sidebar). If you fear your spouse will try to take money from your accounts or hide important papers, you can ask a judge to intervene on your behalf. On the other hand, you don’t want to be antagonistic either, advises Lee Borden, a lawyer and divorce mediator who manages a Website that assists divorcing couples ( He says a divorce fight means that “both of you will be living your lives

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