Divorce Planning: My spouse/partner controls all of our finances – I don’t know what we’ve got or what we owe … What do I do?

Untie The Knot Logo

Divorce Planning

Whether both of you work, or one of you stays at home, it’s common that one spouse is primarily responsible for the household finances. If you’re reading this, my guess is that you are not the one paying the bills, balancing the checkbook, investing your money or preparing your taxes.
My grandmother often tells a story of an era now long passed. She said that my grandfather’s boss called her and said, “Violet, I know Ed is a good man and he brings you his pay check, but when you deposit it, sign his name on the back, not yours.” What worked for my grandparents in the 50’s isn’t the best plan today, especially if you are contemplating a divorce.
I can’t tell you how many people come to me and say, I don’t know how much money we have in the bank or what we spend each month and they are terrified. In some cases, their partner uses this lack of knowledge and access to threaten and intimidate. Maybe your spouse even keeps the assets in his/her own name or uses a post office box so you can’t access the funds or see what mail is coming in. Don’t buy into the fear, your situation is more common than you think and there are divorce laws that can protect you.
What you can do right now …
Run a Credit Report. While you may have your spouse’s social security number, under most circumstances, it is not legal to run a credit report for your spouse/partner. By examining your credit report, you will be able to see your credit history – what charge cards are attached to your name, what mortgages are out there, your ability to access credit, etc.
Review at your Tax Returns. Your returns will tell you the sources and amounts of your income. If you don’t have access to your returns, you can order duplicate returns from the IRS by completing FORM 4506. Only one spouse needs to sign to request a duplicate copy of a joint return. There is a minimal fee charged for duplicates.
On-line Access to Bank Accounts. Sign up for on-line access to your Bank and Credit Card accounts, if you can. Often times you can go to the bank and ask that they walk you through accessing the system.
Talk to your partner. Ask for access to the family’s finances. Even if you are not contemplating a divorce, the knowledge is essential in cases of emergency.
NEVER sign a document without thoroughly reading it and understanding what it is that you are signing.
What next …
If your spouse refuses to give you access to financial documents, doesn’t keep them, or hides them, these documents can be obtained as part of the divorce, either from your partner or directly from the company or financial institution in question.
If your spouse is threatening to freeze you out if you file for divorce, speak to an attorney about your rights. In most cases, these threats are just made to intimidate you and have no basis in the law. Remember, laws are written to protect your rights. For example, courts can order emergency financial relief if your spouse tries to withhold your access to marital funds; additionally, courts can order your spouse to contribute toward your attorney’s fees throughout the process so you too are afforded legal representation, even though you do not have access to marital funds.
A little bit of knowledge will go a long way toward relieving your financial anxieties. Know what your rights are and don’t let your partner’s threats intimidate you.
#divorce #finances #asset tracing #IRS