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 you protect yourself (and your kids).
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 while separating from your husband.
- The safest way to leave your husband is with an exit plan – prepare before you announce
- Even if you’re not leaving your husband, small steps can protect your financial security, identity and credit
- These apply before, during and after divorce, whether or not you have kids, no matter your income or wealth
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 decide if you are ready to leave your marriage.
According to women who have been there, these are the signs it may be time to leave your husband.
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 express new concern about your marriage. They may have noticed changes in your behavior, that you are unhappy, or that he is treating you poorly.
- 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 to form a safe exit strategy.
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.
How to separate from your spouse
Start preparing your exit strategy 2-6 months before you plan to separate from your spouse. Even if you think they will handle the news well and not cause problems, you could get a big surprise. Set yourself up EARLY to handle the emotional upheaval and paperwork of the divorce process.
When you tell your husband or wife you want to separate, he or she may take it in stride. But brace yourself for an angry reaction. Some people will go a little crazy and clean out their bank accounts.
People who usually seem calm can become very aggressive and even violent when they feel like their life, money, or reputation is in danger. They may intimidate, belittle or threaten you, even if they never have before. Depending on your resident state, you may be able to take weapons out of your family home before you announce your departure.
If you’re preparing to leave your husband, there are a few things you should do to secure yourself and your kids before you set any wheels in motion:
1. 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.
2. Stash 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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, in your life and in your head. Depending on your state, it may harm your separation agreement.
7. 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 while leaving your marriage peacefully.
Divorce safety checklist
These are a great way to increase your financial and personal safety, even if you’re not leaving your husband.
1. 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.” This person doesn’t need to be your sister or best friend. They need to be someone reliable and level headed who is on your team 100%.
2. Freeze your credit and pull your credit report
I cannot stress this enough. I have heard so many stories of ex-husbands trying to take out a joint account in their wife’s name while separated.
Protect your credit and lock that shit down. You have to do this with each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion:
- Equifax: Call 800-349-9960 or online
- Experian: Call 888‑397‑3742 or online
- TransUnion: Call 888-909-8872 or online
3. Change all passwords to your personal accounts and devices
Change the passwords to your email, social media, banking, and any other personal accounts. The best way is to use a sentence, including spaces. Use a different one for each account/device/card.
Set up two-factor authentication
This sends a notification to your phone any time someone tries to log in. Set it up on:
- 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.
4. Clear your internet history
Your spouse could be monitoring your activity, so clear your history often. Another tip: Duckduckgo is a search engine that helps keep your internet history private, because it doesn’t track your search history.
5. Get a new (or used) laptop
This is only important if you share a computer or your husband is really tech-savvy and you think he might have installed tracking software. It’s fine to borrow someone’s old device. Macs are a little easier to secure.
6. Create a new email account for divorce admin
This will be a safe place to communicate with your divorce attorney, therapist and supporters without worrying about your spouse reading it.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Get a burner phone
A burner is a cheap cellphone that uses 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.
10. Start 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
11. A spare set of keys
Store this with your Accomplice. If you need to leave quickly, you don’t want to have to go back for keys.
12. Open a separate bank account, at a totally new bank.
This money will not be protected from a separation agreement, but a separate bank account will give you some financial security if your spouse decides to empty accounts. Confirm it is NOT a joint account when you open it.
Before you file for divorce, collect your key financial information. If you can’t gather them, 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. Having all the documents will make your life and your attorney’s job easier and less expensive, but they are not as important as your safety.
1. 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. This will impact whether you can be cut off from the funds.
You want the statements even if it’s a separate bank account. You might not have a right to that money, but it could impact your separation agreement.
2. Statements for investment accounts
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.
3. Retirement account statements
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.
4. Credit card account statements
Grab a few months of statements, the account numbers, credit limits, and balances.
5. Mortgages and home equity lines of credit details
The account number, mortgage balance, monthly payment and terms (e.g., 30-year fixed) should be enough.
6. Car loan and lease info
The account numbers and lease or loan terms are essential. Grab a copy of your car insurance while you’re at it.
7. Student loan details
Even tho you are not liable for your spouse’s student loan debt, it will be figured into your overall financial settlement. You’ll need the account number, balance, and repayment terms.
8. Tax returns
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.
9. 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.
10. Proof of health care coverage
Make 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 can get COBRA coverage when you divorce, or use it as a “qualifying event” to enroll in other coverage.
11. 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. This is important for women when you get close to drawing Social Security.
12. 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.
13. Insurance details
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 before divorce
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 separate 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.
1. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, ATVs, RVs, boats
Take a picture of the registration and the vehicle and make a copy of the loan statement.
2. 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.
4. Business documents
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).
5. 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 for divorce
Family law differs from state to state, so all of these important documents are going to be subject to state and local laws.
1. 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.
2. Your Prenup
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.
3. All compensation documents for you both
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.
3. Restraining or protective orders
If anyone in your family has a restraining order or protective order against anyone, make sure to include these.
4. Estate planning documents
Wills, trusts, powers of attorney for finances and healthcare. You need to know what exists and where it is located before you leave your husband.
5. Immigration documentation
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 with children checklist
Leaving your husband 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.
Once you actually leave your husband, there are still a few things you need to do after the divorce process ends. This includes completing an after divorce checklist. Some of the items on the list include:
1. 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.
And a note: some single moms keep their ex as a beneficiary, even after leaving their husband. This might apply if he is in the picture and will definitely get custody, you trust him with money, and the kids are young.
2. Change your name, if you want to
This is a deeply personal decision. If you choose to change your name when you leave your husband, you or your divorce lawyer can include a name change order in your divorce decree. You can also do it afterward.
3. 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.
4. Update your health insurance
Divorce is one of the situations that qualifies you to make changes to your coverage mid-year, a “qualifying event.” 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.
- ACA Marketplace insurance. If you don’t have access to employer-sponsored health insurance, you can sign up for an individual policy through the ACA 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.
5. Get a new will, especially if you have young children
Just because your spouse is involved now doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Name a backup guardian for your kids.
6. 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. Indicate who that should be (a friend or family member) and who it should not be (your soon-to-be ex).
7. 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.
How to leave a marriage peacefully
While leaving your husband may be the best decision for you and your children, it’s still a difficult situation. Take care of yourself during this process by building emotional support and spiritual community. Seek out support from friends, family members, a family therapist, or anonymously in online groups like Reddit.
Lean on your religious community or spiritual practice for guidance and strength, even if you haven’t been in a while. There’s no shame in going back to church if you need it. This can be a great time to explore your faith.
Tips for emotional support
Opening up to people for support can be risky! Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Choose who you confide in. Leaving your husband is not a shameful thing, but keeping the gossip down while you’re going through the process. It 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, especially parents, aunts and grandmothers. You don’t have to do anything or everything they suggest, just because it comes from Chief Aunt.
- Be careful about what you post on social media, even privately. Assume everything you post is getting sent on a postcard to your spouse.
This doesn’t mean suffer in silence, it just means be thoughtful.
Make sure to consult with a family law attorney before you leave your husband so you understand your legal rights and financial outlook. You may not need to hire a lawyer, but connecting early will make your life easier if you do. Legal aid offices can be great resources.