Understand that marital finances are a critical aspect of securing a stable financial future following the end of your marriage. As the years progress in your marriage, many couples find that one spouse has taken complete control over the finances.
If you happen to be the spouse that is left in the dark, how can you get the financial information out of your spouse’s head and onto paper before you file for divorce?
If you suddenly start asking questions about the status of your financial affairs, it can raise suspicion about your intentions. And once your spouse has their guard up, it can be next to impossible to gather and interpret accurate information regarding your current accounts or your financial future. Therefore, it could be a good idea to obtain financial information under the guise of something other than divorce, which can help you uncover the information that your spouse has been hiding.
The checklist below offers a few sneaky ways that you can obtain the valuable financial information you need from your spouse before filing for divorce:
1. Plan for a Health Emergency
This strategy is one of the simplest ways to begin discussing marital finances with your spouse. If you “plan” for the possibility of a “future health emergency,” you could gain access to key documents, professionals, and information that you will need to get an accurate read on your finances. When you present this option to your spouse, be sure to obtain copies of all the documents that are critical to your marriage, including:
- Marriage papers
- Financial records (including tax statements, bank statements, and investment account statements)
- Car registrations
- Income statements
- Mortgage loan documents
In addition to the paper trail created by the documentation listed above, find out if there are any key professionals involved in your finances. Investment brokers, attorneys, and financial planners may all be significant sources of information regarding your current situation. You may also want to wait to contact those individuals, but having their information available is a worthwhile consideration.
There are plenty of legitimate checklists available for this kind of situation. By introducing formal lists from reputable sources like the ones listed below, your spouse is more likely to believe that you are actually planning for a health emergency. They can help you find all of the critical financial documentation you need while lending an extra layer of validity to your “planning”:
2. Take an interest in retirement.
If you have never had much of a say in your investment accounts, an effective tactic could be feigning an interest in retirement accounts. Begin by opening up the lines of communication about how the two of you plan to spend your golden years together. To begin planning your idyllic future together, your spouse will have to get you up-to-speed with your current financial standing (in terms of retirement savings accounts, investments, and checking accounts).
To “manage retirement funds,” be sure to ask questions about any current retirement savings accounts or investment brokers that your spouse is working with. You can also use some of the above checklists to gather together key documents (such as bank statements and records for accounts where funds have been deposited for the future). You may even be able to request copies of W2s and income statements to determine additional contributions (which could be made toward retirement on a monthly basis).
How does this ruse keep suspicions away from your impending divorce? Planning for the future can help take the wariness out of the situation at hand, which allows you to gather all the information you need to confidently move forward.
3. Hire a financial planner.
Your spouse may be less likely to hand information over to you alone, but visiting a financial planner under the guise of receiving assistance can turn the tables. If you have never had a financial planner before, this scenario is an excellent time to notate your current financial situation. Even couples who have used the same financial planner for years may want to consider taking the pulse on their investments. Many experts recommend receiving a second opinion about them, which marks another excellent opportunity to jot down details.
Encourage your spouse to help you round up all of the pertinent documents that a financial planner may request. They may include the income statements, tax statements, bank records, and current investment account statements that you needed to gather for the previous ruses.
The best part of visiting a financial planner is the ability to sit back while a professional asks all of the necessary questions and obtains an overall sense of your financial well-being. Similar to the way a doctor will ask questions that may not seem obvious in order to assess to the cause of your distress, a good financial planner knows the proper questions to ask to gain perspective about your finances as a married couple. You can simply sit back and absorb all of the information while your planner works through the details.
Finding the Right Ruse
Understanding your finances is a necessary part of receiving a fair divorce settlement during negotiations. You may be asked to reveal any hidden assets your spouse has, as well as produce actual income statements to prove the financial status of your marriage. Finding a ruse that can trick your spouse into sharing sensitive financial information may be the most effective way to prepare yourself for divorce without arousing suspicion.
Each marriage is unique, and you will need to find the right tactic to get your spouse to give you sensitive financial information. Even if the two of you completed these items years ago, you can always ask to revisit them in the present—to make sure your documents and information are current.
These guises are meant to keep the focus on your marriage and future together while allowing you some flexibility in preparing to file for divorce. Find what works best for your relationship, so you can begin to secure a firm financial future yourself.
Shawn Leamon, MBA, CDFA is the host of the “Divorce and Your Money Show” and Managing Partner of LaGrande Global, with offices in Dallas, New York and Hanover, New Hampshire.