15 Ways to Protect Yourself in a Divorce in Minnesota
Going through a divorce can be an incredibly difficult and stressful time. Your whole life is about to change, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed about what the future will hold after splitting up with your spouse.
While a divorce formally dissolves your marriage, it also involves dividing up assets, dealing with debts, arranging child custody, and more. With so much at stake, it’s crucial to protect yourself, your children, and your finances during this process.
If you’re considering divorce in Minnesota, here are some important ways to safeguard yourself legally and financially before, during, and after the divorce proceedings.
1. Consult with a Divorce Lawyer in Minnesota
One of the first things you should do if you’re contemplating divorce is to schedule a consultation with an experienced Minnesota divorce attorney. An attorney can advise you on your rights and options under Minnesota divorce laws.
They can also provide guidance on steps you should take to protect yourself based on the specifics of your situation. A divorce lawyer can help ensure your interests are represented properly throughout the divorce process.
2. Document All Marital Assets
In a divorce, marital property like your house, vehicles, bank accounts, retirement funds, and other assets must be divided equitably between you and your spouse. To protect your rights to an equal share of marital assets, take time early in the process to document all joint and separate property.
Make a list of all assets and debts, including:
- Homes owned together
- Bank accounts (joint and separate)
- Investment accounts and retirement plans
- Businesses or partnerships
- Vehicles and other valuables like jewelry or collectibles
- Credit card and loan balances
Gather statements and records for all accounts going back several months, if possible. These records will help your lawyer accurately determine the marital property that can be divided in the divorce settlement.
3. Open Your Own Bank Account
If you still have joint bank accounts with your spouse, open a new account in your name only and transfer half the funds from joint accounts into your separate account. This ensures you have access to cash that is legally yours during the divorce process. Let your spouse know if you withdraw funds so it doesn’t appear you’re hiding money.
4. Make Sure You Have Access to Important Documents
During a divorce, you’ll need access to important financial and legal documents like:
- Tax returns
- Pay stubs
- Loan applications
- Mortgage documents
- Car titles
- Wills, trusts, and estate plans
- Social Security cards
- Insurance policies
Make copies of these documents and keep them in a safe place where your spouse won’t have access. A safe deposit box at your bank is a secure option. You may also want to give copies to your divorce attorney for safekeeping.
5. Cancel Joint Credit Cards
If you and your spouse have joint credit cards, call the credit card companies to cancel the accounts and have new cards issued in your own name only. This prevents your spouse from continuing to accumulate joint debt during the divorce that you could be liable for.
It also ensures you have your own credit card available if your spouse suddenly cancels cards you previously had joint access to. Be sure to notify your spouse before canceling any joint credit cards.
6. Check Your Credit Report and Score
Order a copy of your credit report to understand how divorce may impact your credit score. Check for any errors on your credit report and settle outstanding debts in your name so you have a healthy credit standing post-divorce.
You may also want to put a credit freeze on your report to prevent your spouse from opening new joint accounts without your permission before the divorce is finalized.
7. Consider Mediation for an Amicable Divorce
Mediation is often a faster, less expensive, and more amicable way to finalize divorce terms than traditional litigation. In mediation, you and your spouse work with a neutral third-party mediator to negotiate a settlement you agree on.
If you want to avoid high legal fees and the stress of court appearances, discuss mediation with your divorce lawyer to see if it may suit your situation. The key is both spouses must be willing to compromise and negotiate in good faith.
8. Discuss Child Custody Early On
If you and your spouse have minor children, child custody must be addressed in your divorce settlement. Rather than letting the courts decide custody, try to work out an amicable joint custody arrangement and parenting schedule directly with your spouse.
A family law attorney can help you negotiate fair custody terms and formalize them in your divorce agreement. Focus on providing stability for your kids by keeping consistent routines and minimizing disruption during this difficult transition.
9. Create an Exit Strategy if You Feel Unsafe
Unfortunately, for some couples, divorce can increase the risks of domestic violence. If your spouse has been abusive in the past, have an exit plan in place so you and your children can quickly and safely leave the home.
- Know where you’ll go to get help or shelter if needed.
- Have emergency cash, copies of documents, and essentials ready to bring with you.
- Alert people you trust about what’s happening.
- Consider getting a restraining order.
Your safety and your children’s safety should be your first concern. Speak to your divorce lawyer about measures to protect yourself.
10. Adjust Beneficiaries on Accounts
Once you’ve filed for divorce, review all your insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other assets that have designated beneficiaries. Change the beneficiary from your spouse to another family member, trusted friend, or your estate.
This ensures your assets go to the beneficiaries of your choice rather than defaulting to your ex-spouse after the divorce is finalized.
11. Be Cautious When Signing Legal Documents
Before signing any written agreements or filings related to your divorce, have your lawyer thoroughly review them first. Be wary of any document your spouse pressured you to sign without sufficient time to review it or have your attorney look it over.
Never sign away your legal rights without understanding the implications. For example, signing quitclaim deed documents could remove your ownership rights to marital property.
12. Don’t Liquidate Retirement Savings
You may be tempted to cash out a 401(k) or IRA to come up with extra money during the divorce process. However, withdrawing retirement funds before age 59 1⁄2 results in tax penalties. It also reduces assets you’ll have available to live on later in life. Try to avoid liquidating retirement accounts if possible.
13. Avoid Social Media Venting
While a divorce is certainly frustrating, try to avoid venting negative emotions about your ex on social media. Disparaging remarks or threats could be used against you during divorce proceedings and child custody disputes.
Keep your public posts positive and focus private conversations on moving forward productively. Vent to a therapist or trusted friends instead of posting angry rants publicly online.
14. Don’t Make Major Money Moves Yet
Hold off on making any big financial decisions or purchases until after your divorce settlement is finalized. Now is not the time to buy a new house, luxury car, vacation home, or other major assets that will complicate the property division process. Wait until your finances are stable after divorce before making major investments.
15. Change Beneficiaries and Update Your Will
Once divorced, your former spouse will typically be removed as the beneficiary of any life insurance policies you have. Be sure to update policies and your will to name a new beneficiary for assets that would previously have gone to your ex-spouse in the event of your death. You’ll also want to assign a new healthcare power of attorney, executor of your estate, and guardian for your children in an updated will.
How a Minnesota Divorce Lawyer Can Help Protect Your Interests
Although you have the right to represent yourself in a Minnesota divorce, having a family law attorney on your side is extremely beneficial. The compassionate divorce lawyers at Martine Law have years of experience guiding clients through all aspects of the divorce process in Minnesota. We will fiercely protect your rights while minimizing the stress you face during this difficult time.
To start safeguarding yourself and your family as you divorce in Minnesota, contact our office online or call to schedule a free case evaluation.