Dear John: After 43 years of marriage, I have decided to leave my husband.
My question is, where do I begin the process of starting a life of my own? There is a trust in place. The portfolio is $2.5 million and there’s $300,000 in equity in our present home.
I would like to be able to secure financial support for my future, but because of the trust — that was detailed and signed by me a few years ago — I am confused as to where I should start and who I need to consult for proper advice and direction. K.J.
Dear K.J.: First off, I’m sorry you are going through this. But 43 years was a pretty good run, and obviously it was you who decided to end the marathon. So now all you need is direction for the rest of the race.
I have no experience with divorce, so I called upon Bobbi Rebell, author of the book “How to Be a Financial Grownup: Proven Advice from High Achievers on How to Live Your Dreams and Have Financial Freedom.”
Maybe even more important is that Rebell was divorced at 30 and is now happily remarried. “I’m sorry to hear that you have decided to leave your marriage after 43 years,” says Rebell. “You don’t get into the reasons, but your tone is one of frustration. Before you move forward, consider taking some time apart from your husband to consider the consequences.
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“No matter who gets what, a divorce will be financially devastating. Make sure it is the marriage that is making you unhappy, not something else in your life,” says Rebell.
OK, let’s move on to the financial advice and leave the lovelorn stuff for someone else.
The first thing you need to do is make sure you know all the assets in your family. “You should strongly consider hiring a forensic accountant who can look into what your soon-to-be ex owns, and where it is,” says Rebell.
The trust could be particularly troublesome. What was the purpose of the trust? Who are the beneficiaries? Is it an irrevocable trust, which is difficult and expensive to undo?
“Your tone implies you regret signing it. If it was signed under duress, that also needs to be investigated and addressed,” says Rebell.
You also need a lawyer. Maybe friends who’ve been divorced can recommend someone. Consult with at least a couple of lawyers before you hire one.
“If you are lacking financial resources, or are not able to get recommendations, a good place to start given that you live in New York, is the New York State Bar Association (nysba.org),” says Rebell.
“One final warning,” says Rebell. “Whatever the financial outcome, make sure a system is in place that ensures you get paid. An agreement to be given a percentage of marital assets or income is not the same as actually receiving it.”
Lump sum payment? Have everything in writing.
And, by the way, look at this as the beginning of something new and not the end of something old.