Separation refers to a process of a married couple taking some time apart. It can be a simple as an informal break or a legal court order. Generally speaking, only a legal separation, which has been approved by a judge, is considered enforceable. However, other types of informal arrangements, such as a signed a separation agreement, may be enforceable as well.

Regardless, a separation can be an incredibly emotionally exhausting time. The added stress of drastic changes in income and lifestyle makes an already difficult situation more troubling. Below is a list of steps to consider following to help ensure ones future livelihood is secured while facing or going through a separation.

Steps to Protect Your Assets

1) Timing Is Everything – in the event of a divorce, when a couple is considered separated will play a huge role in what happens with assets. States vary as to when a "separation" date begins, but are usually noted one of these ways:

  • Physical Relocation: Some states use the date of when the spouses physically split up; this can mean moving out of a house or even simply sleeping in separate beds.
  • Intent to Divorce: Other states use the date a spouse notifies the other that they intend to leave the marriage permanently and file for divorce.
  • Legal Separation: Lastly, some states use a standard where a couple must go through a court process and file for a legal separation before a ‘date of separation’ is official.

2) Keep Tabs on Valuables – start making a list and photographs of each and every item considered personal. This is also important to do with gifts or inheritances, otherwise important family assets may wind up in the wrong hands. Not only can this help take some pressure off of thinking about how unmanageable ones life may be without a partner, but will also help ensure things that are heirlooms or largely important to only one party do not wind up getting taken into consideration as divisible property in the event of a divorce.

3) Gather Financial Documents – getting together bank account information, a list of investments, retirement accounts, tax documents, and even the spousal benefits like health insurance or social security, can not only provide a helpful means of situating ones assets, but in the event of divorce, it can help determine who is entitled to what.

4) Open an Individual Bank Accounts – shortly after separation occurs, creating ones own checking account and even applying for a credit card can be instrumental in establishing ones independence, and can protect one party from the creditors of the other spouse. Moreover, establishing a good line of credit is essential for securing a mortgage or small business loan.

5) Keep Tabs on Property – during a separation, particularly an informal one, it is vital to keep track on property. If a spouse is selling or otherwise encumbering property, taking loans with joint property as collateral, therefore potentially putting that property under a liens, or otherwise doing things without the other spouse being aware of them may have a huge impact on what happens to that property if a divorce occurs.

Seeking Legal Advice

If you are considering separation or a potential divorce, the most important step you can take is to hire an attorney. A local family law attorney will be able to help you successfully secure your assets. In the event of a divorce, your attorney will represent your best interests.