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In Australia, one in three Australian marriages end in divorce, even if the average length of the marriage is 12 years. Research showed that men and women take about five years to stabilize their finances after a divorce. So, everyone goes backwards, but women suffer most financially in the first four years post-separation.
So how do you make the most of a dissolving marriage, or at least guard yourself against the worst?
Some separations are a shock, but most are months or years in the making. If the situation allows, try having the conversation about how finances might be split if you separate – or how finances might be prepared, now, for that future event. If you manage it properly, spouses and children can come out of this without too much financial distress.
You need expert advice when you separate, especially if there are children involved. Get advice as early as you can because there are many aspects of your marriage you probably take for granted but that influence your settlement. A lawyer should be your first adviser, but don’t forget your accountant who is probably intimate with your family finances and may have constructive solutions.
It’s worth making the clear distinction between “property” and “parenting”. Avoid linking a division of assets to custody arrangements as a quid pro quo. Be clear about what is best for the children, and what is most fair for dividing the property.
Divorce is an event but then you still have a life ahead of you. So, during a separation, it’s worth meeting a financial adviser to discuss your future finances. Your responsibility for superannuation, housing, estate planning and life insurance doesn’t disappear just because you’re single.
It may not be the best idea to sell all your property to clear debt. You may be better off keeping family assets (such as a home) and using equity from it to get started again. There’s many variations on this theme, so get expert advice.
Major debts have to be paid-out or assigned. But don’t forget all the regular payments such as phone, power, subscription TV, gas and insurances. Manage them properly to avoid defaults and credit score problems down the track.
If you have a self-managed superannuation fund together, you should tread carefully. The investments might be set-up to deliver optimum results 20 years from now. Take advice, don’t be hasty.
The true value of a family business may lie in its future cash flows, but only if someone is working in that business. Remember this if you’re tempted to demand a big pay-out of your half of the business shareholding.
Lastly, it’s a highly emotional time and you don’t want to make too many big decisions when you’re in that state. So, make it easy on yourself: listen to the experts and focus on building a future.
Article by Mark Bouris, an executive chairman of Yellow Brick Road.