Divorce- it can be one of the unfortunate results of too much time together spent in tight, tension-filled environments like we’ve been in lately. Many households have both spouses home now, either due to the stay-at-home orders or job loss, and there’s added pressure. Households are seeing more negativity, hostility and fighting, and for those who were already on shaky ground, this might be enough to push them over the edge.
If you’re experiencing this situation you’re not alone. A certified divorce mediator in New York, Michelle Smith, has noted that her call volume has increased 33% to 40% since the pandemic hit the US in February.1 Of those calls, 90% are coming from someone involved in a relationship where their spouse is in control of the finances. I’ll let you guess who most of these people are- they’re mostly women. 1
It’s not a new phenomenon that the spouse involved with the finances often begins to use this knowledge as power. A sad story Ms. Smith mentioned came from an angry and embarrassed woman. Her husband had cancelled her credit card without telling her, only to find out when she was attempting to make a purchase at the grocery store. Upon further investigation, it turns out the credit card account was in her husband’s name and he had just given her a card on the account. To this, she was none-the-wiser, as it had her name on it so it looked like it was her personal account. So not only did she have an embarrassing experience, but in the end, it means she has no credit in her name (and likely no credit history) and she now does not have access to money to buy necessities.1
Ms. Smith also mentioned she’s heard of several business-owner spouses claiming their businesses are worthless and therefore can’t pay alimony/maintenance or child support payments.1 Obviously the truth to this matter depends on the business, but in reality, if the business is still operating (as opposed to being out of business with the doors permanently shut) there is likely some value there. And furthermore, many businesses are valued using year-over-year earnings trends and income rather than a moment-in-time valuation affected by the current pandemic. So I suggest you don’t rely on their claims.
If your marriage is shaky right now, my advice to you is this: Start documenting things immediately. That means, get organized and ready to sleuth. You need to find the actual income, debts, expenses and assets of your marriage. Don’t forget, your assets include items in a safe-deposit box and any joint bank or investment accounts. If your spouse has a business, put together a list of the income and assets belonging to it. Additionally, make sure to document the value of any PPP or assistance the business has received recently. I’ve also made a Checklist of items you’ll want to gather before you go to see an attorney. And yes, I encourage you to see an attorney. There are many different ways an attorney can help guide you through a divorce. You can choose between Divorce Mediation, (where a third-party mediator facilitates communication between you both. This can be a great option, though you miss out on professional guidance as no advice is given by the attorney.), Collaborative Divorce (where each spouse has an attorney representing them to work with the other party to reach a mutually agreed upon settlement.), Litigation (which is just like you might think it is, it involves lawyers and court proceedings), or Co-Mediation (similar to mediation but instead of just one third-party mediator a team of third-party professionals are hired, such as an attorney, a Certified Divorce Financial Analysts and/or a mental health professional).2 Of course you can always try to do it by yourself or conduct an online divorce, but if you’re in a controlling marriage there’s no question that you need a divorce attorney on your side.
If you’re in this situation, I’m not trying to scare you, I just subscribe to the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. If you take back your power, you will be better off both now and in the future. Anxiety and fear comes from unknowing, but you’ll be above that with your preparedness.
1 Sergeant, Jacqueline. Covid-19 Pushing Shaky Marriage to Breaking Point, Advisors Say. Financial Advisor Magazine. May 13, 2020.
2 Crowley, Jason. What Are The Types of Divorce?. www.SurviveDivorce.com/wisconsin. May 26, 2020.
*Divorce Financial analysis is not offered through Lincoln Financial Advisors.
Carrie Waters Schmidt is a registered representative of Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp. Securities and investment advisory services offered through Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp., a broker/dealer (member SIPC) and registered investment advisor. Insurance offered through Lincoln affiliates and other fine companies. Equanimity Wealth Planning and Investing is not an affiliate of Lincoln Financial Advisors. CRN-3102296-52720