A petition for divorce can hit especially hard for a stay-at-home parent, and the worries can quickly begin to pile up:
How will I support myself and my children?
Where will the money for bills and the rent/mortgage come from?
Will I receive enough child support and alimony?
Can I handle this alone? If not, how can I possibly afford an attorney?
For a stay-at-home mom or dad, all of this can seem overwhelming, and the understandable response for some people is to simply shut down and try to ignore the situation, unsure of how to address so many issues at once.
Unfortunately, doing this will only make your problems worse. However, there’s a better way to approach an impending divorce that can put you on the path toward a brighter future — even if you’re a stay-at-home parent with no income — and it starts with understanding your rights and legal options.
Affording a Divorce Attorney When You Don’t Work
Spouses have a legal obligation to continue supporting each other while the divorce proceedings are still in progress, but they don’t always abide by these obligations. Sometimes, the working spouse will even manipulate finances to put pressure on the dependent spouse in an attempt to leverage a better settlement. This can leave you feeling stressed, anxious, and alone in the middle of an already stressful situation.
What’s important to know, however, is that if your household income is enough for your spouse to hire an attorney, then you are entitled to an attorney as well. You don’t have to suffer without legal representation and struggle to keep up while your spouse gets the benefit of professional assistance.
One option is to use marital assets such as joint bank accounts to hire an attorney. Before and after your spouse petitions for divorce, you’re entitled to access joint funds (as well as funds that are your separate property) to hire an attorney. However, it’s important to move quickly if you’re pursuing this option, as your spouse may try to empty the accounts to prevent you from using the funds.
Furthermore, money isn’t always required. Some non-working spouses are eligible to request temporary relief, which means that the working spouse will be required to pay for their attorney’s fees. Filing a motion for temporary relief may take some funds, so planning is important, but the availability of this option means you shouldn’t count yourself out, even if money is hard to come by.
Important Steps to Protect Your Finances Before a Divorce
If you think a divorce may be coming, it’s in your best interest to take action now and begin to protect yourself financially. Hiring the right lawyer is one of the most important steps in your divorce process because it will give you access to an experienced partner and advocate who understands how family law courts work and acts with only your best interests in mind.
Besides finding an attorney, there are several important steps you can take to make sure you’re financially protected, and they can have an enormous positive impact on the eventual outcome of your divorce.
Start gathering your financial records. Having all your information in one place will save you time, money, and stress during your divorce proceedings. Try to gather your records from at least the past five years. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, you may not have a lengthy paper trail around your finances, but you still need to gather everything you can, including:
- Pay stubs (if you’ve worked part-time or done odd jobs)
- Tax returns
- Bank statements
- Investment accounts
- Property information
- Take inventory of your assets and separate your non-marital assets. In Florida, property that you owned before the marriage is considered separate property and should remain yours (although there are exceptions to this, especially if you commingled your pre-marital assets with marital assets). Property has a way of disappearing during a divorce, so document everything with digital photographs or video as soon as possible.
- Cut expenses and start saving money. Even if you take all the right actions, divorce can be a costly process, which means that you need to rethink your budget in preparation. Now is the time to adjust your lifestyle, cut out any unnecessary expenses, and begin saving money wherever you can.
- Get a copy of your credit report. Unfortunately, it’s not unheard of for a vindictive spouse to open new lines of credit or charge purchases in the other spouse’s name. Monitoring your credit report will help you catch these kinds of behaviors, and it will also help you get a more complete picture of your current financial situation.
- Close joint accounts and open new financial accounts and lines of credit in your name only. As soon as you believe divorce may be a possibility, you should immediately open new checking and savings accounts in your name to make sure you have access to your funds. Although you should consult your attorney first, you may be able to withdraw up to half of your joint funds to establish these accounts. Meanwhile, getting lines of credit in your own name will help you to establish credit and can also provide a lifeline for necessary expenses and emergencies.
- Change beneficiaries on life insurance policies and retirement accounts. If your spouse is named as the beneficiary on these accounts, they will receive any money the account pays in the event that something happens to you.
- Revisit your estate planning documents, including your will and medical directives. Presumably, you don’t want your ex-spouse making medical decisions for you or inheriting all your assets after the divorce, which means you need to revise your estate plan. Our team at the Devolder Law Firm has experience handling all of the estate planning matters that typically arise during a divorce case and can help you update your estate plan to suit your needs.
Most importantly, don’t feel hopeless just because you don’t work and your spouse does. Stay-at-home parents have plenty of rights and legal options during a divorce, and by working with an experienced family law attorney to take advantage of those options, you can put yourself in the best possible position to begin a promising and financially-stable new chapter of your life.
Facing Divorce as a Stay-at-Home Parent in New Tampa, Wesley Chapel, or the Tampa Area? The Devolder Law Firm Is Here to Help
If you’re a stay-at-home mom or dad facing divorce, don’t resign yourself to going it alone while your spouse works with an attorney. Our team at the Devolder Law Firm has experience working with stay-at-home parents who don’t know where to turn, and we offer affordable finance options for clients who are concerned about being able to afford a retainer up-front.
If you’re ready to speak with us today, call us at 813-724-3880 or fill out our convenient online contact form and we’ll get in touch right away to schedule an initial consultation.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.