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Planning To File For Divorce In The New Year? Here’s How To Prepare

Sarah Pierce  |  October 10, 2023

January kicks off “divorce season,” the most popular time to file for divorce. If a split is in your future, here’s how to protect yourself.

Why Couples File For Divorce In The New Year

If you’re contemplating filing for divorce when the calendar page turns to 2024, you aren’t alone. According to research, the month kicks off what some call “divorce season,” a three-month span when 33% of couples file for divorce. 

There are many reasons couples wait until the New Year to split — everything from wanting to avoid a divorce during the holidays, to the added tension of the season contributing to arguments, which might tip the scales toward putting an end to things. “During the holiday season, people often prefer not to disrupt their family life or introduce turmoil, especially when it involves informing their children about an impending divorce or making such plans for themselves,” says Dr. Jane Greer, a marriage and family therapist and author of the book, Am I Lying to Myself? How To Overcome Denial and See the Truth. “Once the holiday season concludes, there’s a collective sigh of relief, and individuals are more prepared to embrace change and embark on a new path,” Greer explains. 

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If you’re at a point where you’re thinking divorce seems like the only option, Dr. Greer recommends having an open conversation with your partner about your feelings and then, if they’re open to it, seeking counseling. “On the other hand, if you’ve already pursued marriage counseling and find yourself still experiencing unhappiness, disappointment, and a sense of emptiness, then it may be time to take the next step and initiate divorce proceedings, signaling your readiness to move forward with your decision to end the marriage,” says Greer.

The First (Financial) Step You Should Take

Not only can divorce be mentally and emotionally challenging, it also presents financial hurdles. Experts say one of the first steps those planning to file for divorce should take is completing an inventory of all your assets, including your investments, retirement accounts, property, savings accounts, emergency funds, and any others. You’ll also want to review any liabilities, such as credit card debt, car loans, mortgages or personal lines of credit. Lastly, to get a full picture of your financial situation, you should take a hard look at your tax return. “So many times I know one of the spouses just signs off on the tax returns,” says Sylvia N. Guinan, MBA, CDFA, senior private client financial advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors. “Now, you’ll need to take a deeper dive on the tax documents because they will disclose a lot of information as well,” Guinan explains. 

Getting financial information can be more difficult if you’re a spouse who hasn’t been intimately involved in day-to-day money management. That’s why Guinan advises all couples — whether they’re thinking about divorce or not — to regularly discuss their finances. “Many times, each of the spouses are doing their roles–one spouse is earning money, one of the spouses is running the household…the conversation doesn’t come up for years and then, particularly if the conversation is leading into a divorce, it’s very difficult to get the information,” says Guinan. “We try to encourage clients who are happily married to have conversations earlier on about finances.”

Getting By With A Little Help From The Experts

For some, after you’ve taken an inventory of your assets, the next step might be hiring a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, or a CDFA. A CDFA is an individual who can take all your financial information and put together a picture of how the split might look financially, as well as partner with your divorce attorney or mediator to advocate on your behalf. (HerMoney’s Karen Finerman had an incredible chat with CDFA Olivia Summerhill on the How She Does It podcast — see what Summerhill had to say about “coming out on top.”) 

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If you’re thinking about hiring a CDFA to help you through the process, there are qualities you should be on the lookout for. For many, divorce is a private matter, your CDFA will be someone you feel comfortable talking with, and able to ask all your questions. “Unfortunately, sometimes, there’s a lot of shame about not understanding the finances,” says Guinan. “There are experts who will speak at you, and there are speakers who are going to educate you. You ideally want somebody who is going to be mindful about educating you about what’s going on.”

Your Post-Divorce Homework

After your divorce is finalized, there are a number of financial-related actions Guinan says you’ll need to take, including:

  • Close and change names on all joint accounts (you’ll also want to make sure all your credit card bills and loans are closed by you or your spouse if responsible)
  • Change your name on all bank statements
  • Double check your investment accounts to ensure ownership of any stocks, bonds or mutual funds are accurately listed
  • Open a checking/savings account in your name
  • Set up a liquid account with up to 3 to 6 months of cost-of-living expenses in a money market fund or a Certificate of Deposit
  • Change your beneficiaries on all life insurance policies, retirement and/or pension accounts
  • Establish your own credit history by opening a credit card in your name
  • Review your tax withholding amounts to see if any changes need to be made

Guinan adds that as you go through the divorce process, you’ll want to make sure you’re addressing other important documents that need to be updated, including your will, health care proxy and power of attorney, among others. 

The Bottom Line

If you’ve gone through divorce, you know it’s a huge life transition. While it can be incredibly challenging, if you take steps to prepare and let yourself lean into the change, for many, it can actually be a path to a better you. “Anything in life that we go through that’s painful and difficult and messy, that’s really our opportunity to grow,” says Guinan. “That’s where the beauty and the growth can come from if you choose to look at it that way.”


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