As the world slowly begins its back-to-normal phase, the aftermath of the pandemic has left a lot of devastation in its wake. If your marriage didn’t survive quarantine, here’s how to get your finances back on solid ground after a divorce.
Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, and the initial pandemic lockdown was a definitely a “make or break” time for many couples. Over the last several months, therapists have seen more marital conflict due to COVID-19. It turns out that, for couples who already have cracks in their marriage, being cooped up together, 24/7, is like putting salt on an open wound.
One of the main issues to resolve through divorce proceedings is the division of financial assets. Even if couples already separated pre-pandemic, the lockdown has made it even more difficult to settle on a fair division of financial assets, and newer cases are being delayed or deferred to clear the divorce case backlog. With life beginning to return to normal, it’s time to take control of your financial future as you navigate divorce.
Most Common Financial Issues and Assets in Divorce
During a divorce, you and your spouse will be forced to make and accept decisions that have a major impact on your current and future financial situation and security. If you are not careful and make good decisions while you are going through your divorce, you could end up in a bad situation after the fact. Financial factors to consider include:
In the majority of divorces, the main asset is the matrimonial home. In Illinois, one of the things that you must do before you finalize your divorce is divide up and specify who gets what in the divorce. Determining which spouse will retain the family home is often a major issue. If children are involved, judges will often grant the home to the parent with primary custody of the children but it is not a guarantee that the home will go to the spouse who has primary physical custody.
Illinois courts will always want you and your spouse to try to work out an agreement among yourselves before you bring your case to court. If that fails, divorce mediation is a great option as it covers assets such as property division.
In mediation, you and your spouse meet with a neutral third party, the mediator, and with their help, you work through the issues you need to resolve so the two of you can end your marriage as amicably and cost effective as possible. If divorce mediation was unsuccessful due to continued disputes, then the case can go to court.
In addition to dividing your marital property, you must also divide up any debt that you and your spouse happened to accumulate while you were married. As part of the divorce judgment, the court divides the couple’s debts and assets, while deciding who is responsible for paying specific bills. Equality is the goal, but the division of assets could change that ratio. If a spouse is awarded more property, for example, that decision might be accompanied by more debt obligations for that spouse.
When it comes to dividing marital assets and debts, Illinois is an equitable distribution state. This means that each spouse will be allocated a “fair” amount of the marital estate, including both property and debt. If you leave it to a judge to determine what is fair, the judge will use a variety of factors to make the determination. These factors may include each spouse’s financial resources and ongoing needs, as well as how decisions about child custody will affect each party’s financial situation.
Pensions and Investments
Retirement accounts are often one of the biggest assets in a divorce, and many people going through divorce worry about losing their retirement savings, especially if they are nearing retirement age. Generally speaking, a pension that is earned during the marriage is considered to be joint marital property and is subject to division during divorce, just like any other marital property. Any part of the pension that was earned prior to the marriage can be considered non-martial, separate property. Separate property is not divided during divorce.
The sharing of a pension is generally dealt with in two ways:
- Via a pension sharing order in which one spouse receives a share of the other’s pension; or
- Via a process called offsetting in which the value of the pension is taken into account as part of the division of assets but the pension itself is not actually shared. For example, one party may prefer to retain the family home rather than obtain a share of the other party’s pension.
As both these options are reliant on accurate valuations being available and considered in light of the assets as a whole, it is generally advisable to seek professional advice before deciding which option is best for you.
However, one of the largest financial impacts COVID-19 showed was upon pension assets as the stock market plummeted. In the current economic turmoil, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, economic fears are understandable. But you can get divorced during a tumultuous market and still come out with some financial security intact. You will just have to be even more careful and strategic during property division.
Child Support Payments and Alimony
If you are one of the 7 million Americans with a child support agreement or order and you are out of work, you may be wondering how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect your due payments. However, the law remains clear that child support obligations still stand and orders are to be complied with unless a separate order provides otherwise. If you and your ex-spouse are not in regular contact, have an acrimonious relationship, or simply cannot agree on a resolution, then it might be time to consult with an attorney. Your attorney can suggest interim financial arrangements that can be presented to your ex in the hopes of reaching an agreement.
If the parents still cannot reach an agreement, the parent paying support can ask a court to order a temporary modification. A judge will review a parent’s financial situation in detail, including their income, assets, expenses, and debts, before deciding whether a modification is warranted.
Although each state has its own guidelines for calculating and modifying child support, courts generally consider each parent’s income and time spent with the child. Judges will review evidence to find income. In Illinois, courts base items as income based on:
- Allocated parenting time
- Financial affidavits
- Tax returns
- Pay stubs
- Banking statements
- Other relevant documentation
Generally speaking, there needs to be a justifiable reason as to why the monthly support amount should be changed.
Financial Wellbeing Checklist Post-Pandemic Divorce
Now life is returning to somewhat normal, it is a good time to evaluate your financial situation carefully. It’s important to understand and take charge of your financial well-being after going through a divorce.
Review and update the following documents:
- Take the necessary steps to make any name change official. Get a copy of your court order for use when requesting that agencies and creditors change your name in their records.
- Review and update files for all personal accounts and property.
- Update your will and estate plan.
- Update beneficiaries for your IRA(s), 401(k) plan, and life insurance.
- Update your health and life insurance records as needed.
- Update your name on the titles of all property you own.
- Request copies of your credit report to check for accuracy—you can request copies at AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Update your income tax filing choices and W-4 as needed.
Getting the Help You Need
Going through divorce is frightening and can be overwhelming. Asides from the pandemic delays, sometimes the length of the Illinois divorce process simply comes down to how well you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse communicate, but by knowing how divorce works – and what you’ll need to do first – can help you move forward with confidence.
Divorce cases involving substantial assets or complex estates require specialized knowledge. Masters Law Group is skilled at identifying and valuing assets and wealth, including real estate, securities, business interests, retirement funds, pension plans, tax shelters (domestic and foreign), overseas accounts, stock options, trusts and other actual or potential sources of wealth.