If you’re considering leaving your husband, take some time to prepare yourself emotionally and financially. The first step is a leaving your husband checklist. This will help ensure that you have all of your bases covered during this difficult time.
You may be wondering how you will make ends meet, or whether you will have to leave your home. In this blog post, we will break down tasks you can check off to help make the process a little bit easier.
We will also discuss some money and safety tips to keep in mind during this time.
Should I leave my husband?
There is no one answer to the question of whether or not you should leave your husband. Every situation is unique, and only you can make the difficult decision of whether or not leaving is the right choice for you, and if you are ready to leave your marriage.
If you are experiencing any of the following, it may be time to leave your husband, from women who have been there:
- You are unhappy in your marriage and your efforts to improve your marriage are going nowhere
- Your spouse is not interested in trying to improve your marriage
- You or your spouse has had an affair – and wants to stay in that relationship
- You no longer feel safe in your marriage. This could be due to domestic violence or verbal or emotional abuse, or simply feeling like you are always walking on eggshells around your husband.
- Your friends and family members are expressing concern about your marriage. They may have noticed changes in your behavior that indicate you are unhappy.
- Your family therapist has told you it’s time (true story x2)
Do not tell your spouse you are leaving until you are ready to go.
If you are considering leaving your husband, it is important to make a plan and consider your safety. If you are in an abusive relationship, it can be very dangerous to leave your husband. Recruit the help of a friend or family member, or even leave without telling your husband.
Thinking about divorce, but not yet
You may not be ready to get divorced, but just want to protect yourself and your children in case things go south. This is incredibly important work. You don’t need to do everything on this list. I have a shorter post on how to financially prepare for divorce.
When should I start preparing?
Start preparing your exit strategy 2-6 months before you plan to separate. Even if you think your spouse will handle the news well and not cause problems, you could get a big surprise when leaving your husband. Set yourself up for success early and start in a better mental position to handle the emotional upheaval and paperwork of the divorce process.
When you tell your husband you are leaving, separating, or divorcing, he may take it in stride. But brace yourself for the possibility that he will react angrily. Some people will become obsessed with money and clean out their bank accounts.
Some people who usually seem calm can become very aggressive and even violent when they feel like their life, money, or reputation might be in danger. They may intimidate or belittle you or threaten you with weapons even if they never have before. Depending on the state, you may be able to take weapons out of your family home before you announce your departure.
If you’re considering or preparing for divorce, there are a few things you should do to secure yourself and your kids before you set any wheels in motion:
Build your Emergency Fund
I know many women who have left with $300 and the kids. It’s possible, but it’s not ideal. Try to build a $1000 Emergency Fund in an easily accessible account, like a savings account or money market account. This is your emergency fund to help you survive if your leaving causes any financial disruptions. If you can’t get to $1000, just do what you can. Every $20 helps.
Create a Cash GoBag
You should also have a “cash go bag” with $500 in cash, copies of important documents, and a credit card in your name only. This will help you if you need to leave quickly. Stash this in your car or with your “Ride or Die” (see below). Again, stash what you can.
Get your own credit card…
…in your name only that your spouse doesn’t have access to. Yes, in the long run, you want to build your credit score, but in the near term, access to funds is more important than your credit record or the long process of building your own finances.
Pack a Physical GoBag
Hide this in your car or with your Ride or Die – for you and your kids. This should have a change of clothes, extra undies, prescriptions, etc. for a few days.
Figure out your expenses and build a budget
It is A LOT easier to figure out your actual spending when you are not dealing with a spouse who just got served divorce papers. Track your expenses for a month or two to get an idea of what you need to live on. Having a sense now will help inform your separation agreement while helping you build a post-divorce financial plan.
Keep it in your pants, girl
If you are leaving your husband for another man or interested in dating, do not start a romance until you are divorced. It will only make things messier and more complicated. Depending on your state, it may harm your separation agreement.
Learn about your state family law
Every state has different divorce law – no part of divorce (except taxes) is regulated at the Federal level. Learning about your state’s custody and divorce laws will help you understand the legal process, what to expect, and how to protect yourself.
These are a great way to increase your financial and personal safety, even if you’re not leaving your husband.
Choose your Ride or Die
Every woman going through something this big needs an accomplice she can trust with her keys, cash money, personal information and kids. Someone who will look your spouse in the face and credibly say “She isn’t here.” She doesn’t need to be your sister or your best friend. She needs to be someone completely reliable and pragmatic who is on your team 100%. And it could be a dude. Whoever you trust most.
Freeze your credit and pull your credit report
I really cannot stress this enough. I have heard multiple many stories of soon-to-be ex-husbands trying to take out a joint account in their wife’s name while separated. Protect your credit.
Change all passwords to your personal accounts
Now is not the time to change the logins you share with your spouse (that’s for after you’re officially separated). But if it’s just you – change the passwords to your email, social media, banking, and any other personal accounts. This is also a great time to…
Set up Two-Factor Authentication
This will help protect your accounts from being hacked by sending a notification to your phone. This includes:
- Social Media
- Financial Accounts in your name
- Your cell phone account (this is actually really important)
- Any account with sensitive information that is yours alone
The best way to secure your accounts is with a password manager to keep track of all your new passwords. I recommend LastPass, but there are many out there to choose from.
Clear your internet history
Embrace duckduckgo.com as your new best friend. Duckduckgo is a search engine that helps keep your internet history private. It is very difficult to keep anything completely private on the internet. Your spouse could be monitoring your activity, so clear your history often. I recommend using a search engine like duckduckgo.com that doesn’t track your search history.
Get a new (or used) laptop
This is only important if your husband is really tech-savvy and you think he might have installed tracking software. (Macs are a little easier to secure)
Create a new email account for divorce admin
This will be a safe place to communicate with your divorce attorney, therapist and anyone else you need to without worrying about your spouse reading it.
Disconnect from shared backup
If you use a shared account for cloud storage (iCloud, Google Drive, DropBox, etc), it’s a good time to get a separate account to make sure your backups are working and independent.
Get a PO Box
You can also use a friend’s address as your new mailing address, but you always control a PO Box. This will help keep your correspondence and location more private and secure.
Get a burner phone
An inexpensive phone using prepaid phone cards. Put key and emergency numbers in it, like your attorney, close friends and family, your church and school – any important numbers you may need. This is a good time to write down those numbers to keep in your wallet, in case you can’t get to your phone in an emergency.
Notes on your spouse’s behavior
This should include any time a promise is broken to you or your kids, instances of gaslighting, threats, accusations, strange purchases, anything involving illegal or shady activity whether the police are involved or not, and any property damage.
If emails, text messages, or voice mails from your spouse contain something problematic, save and print them. Here’s what to look for:
- Threats of physical abuse, violence, lawsuits, retaliation or legal escalation
- Verbal abuse and harassment
- Any lies
- Any admission of illegal activity
- Implied threats and intimidation, such as destroying furniture around you
- Any evidence they are tracking or following you
- Anything that can be considered defamation or libel
- Any accusation, especially if it’s unfounded
A spare set of keys
Store this with your Ride or Die. If you need to leave quickly, you don’t want to have to go back for keys.
Set a safe word with your kids
This is a word or phrase only you and they know, that if you say it to them, they will know to get you out of there quickly, no questions asked.
Open a separate bank account, at a totally new bank.
This money will not be protected from a separation agreement, but it will give you some financial security if your spouse decides to empty accounts.
Important Documents List – Financial Documents
Before you file for divorce, there are a few key financial documents you’ll need to collect. If you can, gather them. If not, your family lawyer (a nice word for divorce attorneys) can get all your legal documents and financial statements.
If you need to leave now for safety reasons, don’t wait. This will just make your attorney’s job easier and less expensive, while also giving YOU a picture of where you stand.
Cash accounts and bank statements
Print or download the most recent statements from checking accounts, savings accounts, and money market accounts. Check with the bank whether it’s a truly joint bank account or you are just an authorized user.
Investments are brokerage and crypto accounts from Fidelity and Schwab to Coinbase. Copy statements or snap photographs of the account balances. If you can, check whether there are any open margin accounts or open options. These are really risky positions, and if your husband likes to gamble, might be features of your account. A customer service rep can tell you.
Get copies of statements from IRAs, 401(k)s, federal or state retirement plans, or pension plans, and any loans taken out from these accounts. Retirement accounts are often a substantial portion of household wealth and are always individual accounts, so they need special treatment from the court (a QRDO) to be split up in a divorce judgment.
Credit card accounts
Grab a few months of statements, the account numbers, credit limits, and balances.
Mortgages and home equity lines of credit.
The account number, mortgage balance, monthly payment and terms (e.g., 30-year fixed) should be enough.
Automobile loans and leases
The account numbers and lease or loan terms are essential. Grab a copy of your car insurance while you’re at it.
Even tho you are not liable for your spouse’s student loan debt, it will be figured into your overall financial situation. You’ll need the account number, balance, and repayment terms.
These can be useful in several ways, so get copies of the last three years’ returns at a minimum. Photocopy or download the past three years of tax returns, including every page. Include any letters from the IRS or your state tax board. If you don’t have access to these, you can request your tax transcripts from the IRS. These arrive as huge, obvious envelopes, so maybe have them sent to a friend or family member.
Documentation of government benefits
To ensure you don’t lose them, grab any copies of any WIC/SNAP, Section 8 housing assistance, unemployment or disability benefits.
Proof of health care coverage
Make sure a copy of the ID card and the policy document, or your medicaid or medicare card. If your husband carries your coverage through an employer, and they are eligible for COBRA, you have COBRA coverage when you divorce.
Social Security numbers
Social security has special rules for people married longer than 10 years, so you may be entitled to benefits using either your husband’s employment and income record or your own. And vice versa. An accountant or financial planner can advise you when you get close to drawing Social Security.
Income statements and pay stubs
These will help determine what you or your spouse are entitled to in spousal or child support payments, as well as give you an idea of your future financial picture. Include non-job income: disability and social security payments, veteran benefits, trust income, bonuses (especially if either of you is in sales), retirement and pension benefits, informal family support, or business income.
You’re looking for health, life, disability, umbrella, and long term insurance policies. You need the carrier, the policy number and preferably the declarations page.
Document All Property
It’s important to catalog all your property, but especially when you got it, who holds title (you, your husband, joint title), and who makes the payments. Just because property or a bank account is in your name, or your spouse’s, doesn’t mean it’s exempt from a property settlement when your divorce is finalized. Your goal now is to build a comprehensive list of “what WE have.” Your divorce lawyer can also get details, so just a property list is a great start.
Cars, trucks, motorcycles, ATVs, RVs, boats
Take a picture of the registration and the vehicle and make a copy of the loan statement.
Your Marital Home
If you’re a homeowner, make a copy of your monthly mortgage statement, closing statement, property tax statements, and HOA fees including special assessments.
If you have any gifts that were given to you and/or your husband, separately or jointly, include them on the list. While they may not transfer hands, they will likely be included in the high-level separation agreement.
If you or your husband owns a business, or you own a family business, get copies of incorporation or formation documentation, tax returns and financial statements (profit & loss and balance sheet).
A video of your furniture and home contents
A home inventory doesn’t need to be fancy, so you can use your phone and describe what you see. Describe things that are valuable or precious to you and the state of the house. Make sure to highlight any existing damage. Include the contents of any safes or safe deposit boxes.
LEGAL PAPERWORK LIST
So, divorce is easier with professional legal advice. Even if you expect to remain best friends with your spouse, it’s a good idea to have a lawyer advise you on your state family law and best interests.
Take the original or photograph or photocopy the following. Your divorce attorney may be able to do much of this if you cannot find this important information quickly and easily.
Marriage license and certificate
You’ll need this to prove you’re actually married and legally allowed to divorce. Similarly, the final divorce decree and settlement agreement from any previous marriages.
Prenuptial agreement, postnuptial agreement or cohabitation agreement. If you have any of these, they may impact property division and alimony. They also may no longer be valid, based on your or your spouse’s behavior.
All the Documents Around Compensation
Employment agreements, offer letters, commission plans, bonus plans. This is especially important if you or your spouse is an executive or work in a role heavily compensated with bonuses or commissions. Any documentation of job performance, such as a review or payout letter.
Restraining or protective orders
If anyone in your family has a restraining order or protective order against anyone, make sure to include these.
Estate planning documents
Wills, trusts, powers of attorney for finances and healthcare. You need to know what exists and where it is located.
Divorce can have a big impact on immigration status and processes. For both you and your spouse make sure to have a copy of all immigration documentation, such as a green card, naturalization papers or visa. Additionally, letters from DHS, such as your advance parole document (which allows you to travel while an application for permanent residency is pending) are important to keep.
Divorce is more complex when children are involved. Here is a list of what you need to help make decisions and keep them safe.
- Birth certificates for all children born during the marriage, as well as any other children either of you had before the marriage. Adoption papers, if applicable.
- Your child’s social security card, passport and immunization records. You’ll need these to enroll your child in school or daycare, get a new passport or sign up for health insurance.
- You and your spouse should try to create a written parenting agreement before one of you moves out. The agreement should establish a schedule for both of you to spend time with the children. And it should state clearly that neither of you is giving up custody rights.
- Agreement on who is paying for what during your legal separation, such as medical bills, education costs and extra-curricular activities.
- Documents related to any special needs your children have. This might include an Individualized Education Program (IEP) from school or a treatment plan from a therapist.
- Any court orders or agreements related to your children, such as child support, custody or visitation.
- A list of your children’s favorite things, such as books, movies, foods and games. This can help make visits and transitions easier for them.
- Copies of any custody agreements, parenting plans or visitation schedules.
Post Divorce Checklist
Once you have finalized your divorce, there are still a few things you need to do to finalize the process. This includes completing an after divorce checklist. Some of the items on the list include:
UPDATE YOUR BENEFICIARIES
I put that in all caps for a reason – do this immediately. You need to make sure your life insurance policy , retirement accounts and any other financial accounts have the correct beneficiaries. A lot of women forget this step. It will give your next-of-kin access to money immediately if you die, without going through probate.
Change your name if you want to
This is a deeply personal decision. If you choose to do it, your divorce lawyer can include a name change order in your divorce decree, and save you some time and money.
Update your insurance policies
Life insurance and disability insurance are different for single women and single moms. You need to make sure you’re adequately covered, especially if you have young children.
Update your health insurance
Divorce is one of the situations that qualifies you to make changes to your coverage mid-year. If you carried your spouse’s health insurance, now is the time to remove them from your policy (ask HR about this). If you were on their insurance, you have several options for coverage.
- COBRA is a federal law that allows you to stay on the same plan for up to 36 months if the employer is big enough.
- Marketplace insurance. If you don’t have access to employer-sponsored health insurance, you can sign up for an individual policy through the Marketplace.
- CHIP. If you have children, they may be eligible for free or low-cost coverage through the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
- Medicaid is a needs-based program, so you will need to check to see if you qualify. Some states also have programs for mothers and especially children.
Get a new will, especially if you have young children
Over 70% of custodial single parents are single moms. Just because your spouse is involved now doesn’t mean it will stay that way. You want to name a guardian for your kids as a backup.
Create or update your power of attorney and living will
These documents allow a specific person to make financial and medical decisions for you if you are unable to, for a specific amount of time.
Clean up your Finances
- Cancel joint credit cards or lines of credit.
- Rerun your credit report and fix any errors on your credit record
- Remove your ex from any joint accounts: investment and bank accounts.
- File your last set of joint taxes.
Emotional Support and Spiritual Community
While leaving your husband may be the best decision for you and your children, it’s still a difficult situation. Be sure to take care of yourself emotionally and spiritually during this process, which can take a long time. Seek out support from friends, family members, a family therapist, online groups like Reddit or professionals. And lean on your religious community or spiritual practice for guidance and strength.
Opening up to people for support can be risky! Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Choose who you confide in very selectively. Divorce is not a shameful thing to hide, but keeping the gossip down while you’re going through the process will give you some breathing room.
- Don’t feel like you have to share everything with everyone.
- Set boundaries with people who want to help. You don’t have to do anything or everything they suggest.
- Be careful about what you post on social media, even privately. Assume everything you post is getting sent on a postcard to your spouse.
That doesn’t mean suffer in silence, it just means be thoughtful.
Make sure to consult with a family law attorney early on in the divorce proceedings so that you understand your legal rights and financial situation. Fault divorces are becoming increasingly rare, so it’s important to know what type of divorce you’re filing.
No matter what type of divorce you choose, make sure to get advice from professionals about how to protect yourself financially during and after the split. It’s important to remember that going through a divorce is not easy, but there is a better chance of ending up in a good place if you take care of yourself emotionally and legally throughout the process.