If Your Spouse Wants the Divorce
So far, we've assumed that you're in the driver's seat in this divorce. What if, instead, your spouse surprises you with the announcement that he wants a divorce? You'll probably feel as if you've been punched in the stomach. You may react by denying what you've just heard. You may get very angry. You may well spend the night of the announcement sleepless, going over and over your marriage and wondering where it went wrong. In the days and weeks that follow, you'll be on an emotional roller coaster. Your world is in chaos. Even so, you need to pull yourself together enough to take action to protect yourself. How quickly you need to move depends on your relationship with your spouse. If you don't trust your spouse, you need to act sooner rather than later.
Considering Your Options
What can you do if you don't want a divorce? You can ask your spouse to go to counseling. If your spouse is willing to go to counseling, you may be able to save the marriage. If counseling can't save the marriage, it can give you some insight into your spouse's issues. It can also give you some time to adjust to the likelihood that there will be a divorce.
If you don't want to get a divorce, don't simply ignore the matter and assume your lack of cooperation will stop the proceedings. Your spouse may be able to get a divorce without your consent and may be able to get whatever she wants unless you take steps to protect yourself and your interests.
It is not uncommon for one spouse to decide the marriage is over long before the other has any idea that the marriage is in trouble. Lack of communication is a major factor in many divorces. When the spouse who wants the divorce pushes to move forward, the other spouse may use all kinds of tactics to delay the process. The spouse who is being left may plead and bargain with the other spouse to reconsider. Counseling can be very useful in helping the reluctant spouse accept the fact that a divorce will occur.
Steps to Protect Your Assets
Consider the worst-case scenario. Suppose you've hidden things from each other. You have some credit cards your spouse doesn't know about. Your spouse hides extra spending in the grocery budget. The bottom line is that you trust each other very little. Now your spouse is very angry and threatening to leave or to make you leave the house. You need to act quickly. At a minimum, you need to do the following things if you and your spouse have accumulated assets during the marriage:
Go through your home and collect every possible financial paper that you can lay your hands on. Don't overlook anything. Something as simple as an ATM receipt may tell you that your spouse has an account you don't know about. Copy them as soon as possible.
Write down the name of every financial institution, address, and account number for every document you find and keep this list separate from the financial papers. The list will help you in case your spouse takes the papers back before you have a chance to copy them.
Get the balances on every account you know about — savings, checking, retirement, credit cards — right away and keep track of what goes on in the accounts in case you need to show that your spouse wrongfully withdrew funds or improperly ran up charges on the credit cards.
Open an account in your own name and start putting some money in it. As long as there is not a restraining order or divorce in progress, you can take money out of your joint accounts and put it in a personal account for yourself. You do not need your spouse's permission. Do not take any more than half of the available funds in a joint account. Available funds are the money that has not yet been used. Make sure you have enough to pay for outstanding checks, monthly debits, or other charges. If you cause any checks to bounce or accrue other fees because of your withdrawal, you will probably have to repay these charges at some point.
See a lawyer. Take every financial document you can find with you to show the lawyer. If you haven't already done so, ask the lawyer to make copies before these papers disappear. If you only have a list of accounts, ask the lawyer to make a copy and keep it on file in case your list disappears.
Your spouse may already have transferred assets into new bank accounts and may have tried to put various pieces of marital property out of your reach before telling you the divorce is imminent. While your spouse probably can't get away with this, you may have a long, costly legal battle to get what is rightfully yours. Knowing where the assets are located will help your lawyer get back what is rightfully yours.