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I'm an excellent housekeeper. Every time I get a divorce, I keep the house. - Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor
Unless you aim to rival Hollywood stars for clocking up reams of wedding vows, you don't think of marriage as a short-term commitment. Statistically, however, only 50 percent of marriages go the distance, with a steady stream of couples filing through the divorce courts.
The end of a marriage is seldom pleasant or amicable. It can be hugely draining emotionally, physically and financially, but if the checks and balances are in place the impact can be greatly lessened.
Divorce is an expensive business. Especially when long-standing relationships end, assets and personal wealth get diluted, and there are now two separate homes and lifestyles to consider.
If you are in a situation where one party did not contribute as much as the other, you, or they, may feel justified in holding back money. The main breadwinner may panic when faced with rehabilitative (support while the partner with no means of supporting him or herself up-skills or looks for a job) and child maintenance. And many struggle with the desire to end a bad relationship with a "let them have it all, I just want out" attitude. This is a huge mistake. You owe it to yourself and any children to remain on a secure financial footing.
And beware of insisting on keeping the home in lieu of any other financial consideration. If you have a large bond and you have to take responsibility for it you may find it is too big a burden - a house is not an asset if it is fully bonded.
Know what you have
The day you realise divorce is on the cards is the day you need to start getting your affairs in order.
- Make a list of joint assets and liabilities. Call your financial advisor and request an update.
- Also request to be alerted to any changes requested by your spouse.
- If you have a home loan keep an eye on the statement to ensure no money is being moved out of the bond. Better still; inform the bank manager you want to be notified if an application is made to withdraw money from the bond.
- If your spouse is a business owner make copies of the financial statements and/or bank statements pertaining to the business.
- But do be discreet - he/she may deny access to important documents.
Stash some cash
One of the biggest issues facing many during divorce is cash flow, especially for those who do not have jobs. It is vital to find a way to build cash reserves.
- Start putting away small amounts, reel in your spending and look for assets you can sell.
- Find a part- or full-time job.
- If you do not have your own bank account or any credit or retail cards in your name, get a move on. You need to establish a credit record.
Now is the time for cool heads. Find a lawyer you are comfortable with and ask them what you can reasonably claim. If you try and claim more than your fair share, you could find yourself with legal bills that may exceed the assets you are trying to claim.
So what can you claim?
What you end up getting depends a lot on the type of marriage agreement you have.
- An ANC (ante nuptial contract) with accrual means that what you went into the marriage with is yours and, depending on the split, you will get a portion of the assets accrued while you were married.
- An ANC without accrual means that whatever assets were accrued after the marriage are owned solely by the person who bought them.
- If you get married in COP (Community of Property) your assets will be split down the middle regardless of who accumulated them. A word of warning: you will also share all liabilities.
A hugely contentious situation is where a wife works informally for her husband. If she is not on the payroll she will have a hard time proving she has contributed to the family finances.
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