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What Women Need to Know About Divorce and Their Finances

Date: 2007-01-16

Women need to be financially prepared before a marriage has the chance to go sour. That means being aware of your family's financial situation and being responsible for your personal long-term financial outlook, including retirement.

Too many women learn the financial lessons of divorce the hard way. Women face different financial challenges than men.

They still make only about 76 cents for every dollar men do, and they are more likely to take time off during their careers to raise children. Furthermore, women invest less aggressively than men do.

Women also live an average of seven years longer than men, and often don't have the savings to sustain them during this period. All of these factors add up to a tenuous financial position for women.

Women need to be aware of their joint finances.

Even if you are not the designated organizer of your family's finances, you can't bury your head in the sand.

Be aware of the big financial picture and informed about your family's finances. Be especially aware of any activity on joint accounts.

How much do you owe? What is the family's overall income and what are its expenditures? This isn't preparing for a divorce — it's being informed and responsible.

If you are newly married, now is the time to set the standard. Let your husband know you want to be an equal partner, keep the lines of communication open and talk about your finances. Miscommunication and secrets can lead to nasty surprises later on.

Who suffers more financially in a divorce, men or women?

The truth is that everyone suffers. Divorce is expensive — not because of legal fees and unfair ex-spouses — but because it essentially splits a family in half.

Where there was once just a single set of expenses, now there are two. That said, women often experience greater hardship because they have custody of the children, their incomes are usually less than their ex-spouse's and they may have accepted a meager financial settlement from the divorce.

Women are too quick to give up their financial identity in a marriage.

Unfortunately, it's a common mistake for a woman to close all of her own accounts when she gets married.

Make sure you keep a bank account and a credit card in your own name so your credit history remains intact throughout your marriage.

Women tend to take the back seat when it comes to protecting their long-term financial security.

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees in life and counting on someone else is not a sound financial plan, no matter how strong you think your marriage is.

Too many women aren't investing for retirement because they have what I call the "white knight syndrome."

If you are working, you should be enrolled in your company's 401(k) plan. Set up a spousal IRA account, and maximize your contributions to the best of your ability.

Unfortunately, the retirement situation is often made worse for women when they return to work because they are victim of what I like to call the "mommy tax."

According to the National Center for Women and Retirement Research, for every year a woman stays home caring for a child, she must work five extra years to recover lost income, pension coverage and career promotion.

For this reason, it is critical that you continue to put away money for your retirement whether you are in or out of the workforce.

If a couple gets divorced, are their credit histories automatically separated as well?

If you and your ex co-signed for anything, whether it be a mortgage, a student loan, a credit card or a phone bill, you are both liable for those debts.

If you are going through a divorce, pay off these joint accounts, close them and notify the lender that under no circumstances can the account be reopened with your name on it (this sometimes occurs with credit cards).

Keep documentation for all closed accounts, because if your name remains on any joint accounts, your credit score will be affected by any late payments your ex makes.

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