In my many years of advising couples and individuals on how to achieve an equitable divorce, I have seen antics on both sides that can only be described as “the good, the bad and the down-right ugly.” It is unfortunate, but true, that couples embarking on divorce sometimes behave badly during the process. Many professionals who work in this space say, “divorce can bring out the worst in otherwise good people.” I would have to agree.
So, if you are considering divorce or have started the process, you may want to watch out for a number of red flags that could indicate bad behavior on the part of your spouse may be taking place or is about to.
Keep in mind, these red flags can occur even before the decision to get a divorce has been made. Marriages typically start to fall apart months, sometimes years before most couples seek counseling and before the word “divorce” ever comes up. Yet, marriage problems can trigger perceived threats and acts of self-preservation at the expense of one spouse — some of which may be unlawful.
Here is a list of red flags to look for:
- Removal of financial documents from the home, or the sudden, unusual interest in such
- documents and where they are stored
- Closing or opening bank accounts
- Opening of online bank accounts or moving financial statements to online only
- Unusual or unexpected financial information on income tax forms
- New lines of credit being opened or new credit cards appearing
- Unexplained charges on credit card statements
- Moving of funds
- Staying away from home
- Wanting you to sign documents you don’t understand
- Having important financial statements sent to a work address
None of the above activities prove that bad behavior is taking place. They simply are clues to where bad behavior may show up. In fact, each spouse should have a thorough understanding of the couple’s marital financial picture, regardless of the status of the marriage. Here is a list of steps you can take to make sure you are current on your marital finances and have your own copies of all pertinent financial documents:
- Find and review the last several months or years of all bank and financial statements — investment accounts, retirement funds, mortgage statements; make copies of these and all other pertinent documents and store in a safe place;
- Order credit reports on you and your spouse;
- Gather and copy proof of income for your spouse — especially if he or she is the owner of a private business;
- Make copies of the last 3-4 years of your income tax forms and supportive documents; store in a safe place;
- List all marital debts, then find and copy documentation;
- If you’ve recently refinanced your home, make copies of all the paperwork and store safely;
- Visit your safe deposit box and take photos of all contents; make copies of important papers and store safely;
- If you brought separate property into the marriage — savings accounts, investments, retirement accounts from former or current employers, real estate, collections of high value such as art, for example — document it with financial statements and receipts showing ownership of these assets before you were married.
I sometimes meet with clients who anticipate divorce to go over a couple’s complete financial situation. Since I’ve been trained in divorce law in Texas, I can often provide insight into what clients can reasonably expect with regard to a divorce settlement — if we have all the financial information we need. Most importantly, we can explore how to divide assets and debts in a way that meets the unique financial needs of each spouse. This exercise usually proves to be a valuable and insightful reality check.