On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Saturday, February 9, 2013.

When you are thinking about divorce for the first time, your head may be swimming with questions: are you certain you want to your marriage to end? Can it be saved? What will happen to me? Can I afford this? When you decide it’s time to see a divorce lawyer, there are five essential things you should do.

Know What Assets You Have. Before you come in to see me, have a good idea of you and your spouse’s net worth. Know what investments and other assets there are; including any businesses and real estate, cars, boats, collectibles and jewelry. Divorce settlements should equitably distribute these assets. But, until you know how big the pie is, you won’t know how to fairly cut it.

Understand your Debts. Your house may be worth $1 million if you sold it today, but if your mortgage balance is $900,000, and your home equity credit line is another $100,000, your home’s real net worth is zero. A divorce settlement divides both debts and assets, and that could leave you with less than you’ve imagined. A good way to understand your liabilities is to list your family’s debts on a spreadsheet.

Learn your and your spouse’s current earnings. Increasing how much money you earn now may help you decide whether to walk away from your marriage without worrying about how you’ll pay your bills. Higher income can also allow you to hire legal and financial specialists to maximize your settlement.

Secure important papers and accounts. Make copies of your tax returns, paystubs, insurance policies, retirement account statements, passports, bank and investment account statements, deeds, and mortgage documents. Copy those papers, and store the originals in a secure place, such as a safe-deposit box. Secure your email, cell phone, your individual online banking and investment accounts by changing the passwords. You’ll want privacy from here on in, so create your own accounts where necessary, and change the passwords on existing accounts in your own name.

Check your credit. This is not a good time to be late with paying bills. You may need to borrow money to cover living expenses, or pay for lawyers and experts, and you may need to rely on your good credit. Also, a high credit score will help you make the transition to single life.

These five tips don’t mean you are going to file for divorce. They are just sound home finance practices. If you decide to reconcile, understanding your financial position will help you build a better marriage. If you divorce, following these tips could help make the transition to being single.