If you’re planning on splitting up after the holidays…

If you’re planning on splitting up after the holidays there are few practical things you should consider now to make 2021 go a little more smoothly. 

First, decide what “splitting up” means to you; Will you be telling your spouse you want a divorce? Will you be looking to physically separate and need to find a new place to live? Will you be telling your partner that you want an open relationship? Do you have kids and family you need to break the news to? Are you open to reconciliation?

 If you can’t get clear on what “splitting up” means to you find someone to speak to who can help you get clear with your thoughts, issues and goals.  This can be a family therapist, psychologist, divorce coach or trusted advisor from a church. I don’t recommend talking to friends and family at this stage because often those close to you will bring their own needs and opinions into the situation and that is not the way to achieve clarity.  You need time to hear your thoughts, to think through what the issues are and to understand whether ending the relationship is really a needed step to resolving your issues.  

If you’re clear that starting fresh and moving on from your relationship is what is best for you take the holiday season as on opportunity to get organized. 

1) Make a copy of the holiday card list.  If you send out holiday cards or have mutual friends and family who you don’t have access to now is the time to create a list for yourself.  As you move through the transition of partnership to single life you may find that you want to continue relationships with friends and family who you are connected with through the relationship.  Having access post-break up can offer you a chance to have a choice in how you move forward and heal rather than having communication avenues cut off and out of your control. 

2) Watch your holiday spending.  If you’re used to extravagant gift giving during the holidays and  then paying down debt well into the new year now might be a good time to budget more smartly.  You don’t want to be stuck with Christmas debt in July of 2021 when you are trying to get accustomed to life on one income and also splitting debt between you two.

3) Speaking of income… If you’re not working now is a great time to work on your resume and to take a look at your personal network.  Scroll through your phone, take a look at the holiday card and gift list, check out your friends lists on social media, how do you know these people? Would any of them be able to connect you with a new position? Would they be willing to be a reference for you? Do they have access or knowledge of updated skills that they might be able to share with you to make you more marketable to employers? The richness of your personal resources can be the difference between starting fresh with a versatile and reliable support network or starting over from scratch. This holiday season especially people are home and looking for ways to connect and make a positive contribution from the safety of home, you’d be surprised how many people are willing to take a call or set up a zoom to share their expertise – take advantage of it!

4) Understand your credit.  I hear this far too often from smart, educated, motivated women of all ages: “ I don’t have access to our bank accounts, I don’t have a credit card in my name, I don’t know what my credit score is, I don’t know what my health insurance costs, I don’t know what my husband earns, I don’t know who our mortgage company is, I don’t know if we own our cars or lease, I don’t know…”   Use this time of year to get in the know. 

Start simple by getting an app to monitor your credit.  While many apps aren’t 100% accurate it will at least give you a glimpse into your financial health. You’ll need to know your credit score if you are planning on renting or buying so this is a critical first step. If your score is so low you can’t move out, you might want to rethink your timeline for initiating the break up. 

Next, make a copy of your mortgage statement or your lease.  Keep this hardcopy somewhere safe but also (if your phone is secure) make a folder on your phone and take pictures of accounts, balances and available credit.

Also, call your credit card companies. You can find the number of the back of the card. What you want to do is speak to a representative and find out if the card you have is in your name as  the primary account holder or if you are an authorized secondary cardholder.  If you are a primary card holder – ask if there are any authorized secondary card holders on your account.  A primary cardholder is responsible for the debt accumulated on the account. An authorized secondary card holder is not responsible for the debt accumulated on the account BUT their credit score is impacted by the balance and payment history of the account. Understanding which you are and how much of your available credit is really yours and what you might be legally responsible to repay is very important to plan your finances moving forward. Consider getting a credit monitoring service – I will always remember the woman who told me that she had found out her husband had opened multiple credit cards by forging her name and ran up the balances over their limit. When she confronted him he told her he had lost his job nearly a year prior and he was taking cash advances on the cards to deposit into their account to make it look like he was getting paid every 2 weeks.  She was devastated and was stuck paying off that debt for years. 

5) Plan for splitting up the sentimental things.  This one might sound strange, but as we begin to pack up ornaments and decorations when the holiday season winds down, you might want to consider dividing up the ornaments into separate bins.  So many times, sentimental “Babys first” and heirloom ornaments go missing or are forgotten during the division of larger “more important”assets.  Grandmas special christmas cookie recipe and cookie cutters, the ornament with the photo of you and your siblings that your mom gave you, the handprint cookie dough ornament from your first born are not items that you want to have tossed or lost.  Take time now to sort and label.

6) If safety is a concern, document now.  I recently learned while speaking with Sara Gallardo, Founder and Executive Director of Sara Speaks Up, that journals can be submitted to a court to document abuse.  If you are concerned about your safety or about the loss of access to funds, etc begin to document your daily experiences and keep track of the financial information you are gathering and whether it changes; especially if debt suddenly increases or if savings decreases.  

7) Try to avoid alcohol this season.  While a pandemic and a failing marriage doesn’t exactly make for a relaxing holiday season avoid the temptation to unwind with alcohol.  Drinking can bring up a myriad of problems from emotional outbursts, physical altercations, regrettable decisions like saying too much before you’re ready or reaching out to seek comfort with someone new.  Sobriety is your friend as you gear up for a big change, a clear head at all times will never let you down.

8) If you have kids, they are watching you. This is hard holiday even in the happiest of families. If things are tense at home know that your kids are already picking up on your tone and the behavior between you and your spouse. Do your best to keep things light and don’t put blame your feelings on others. If you’re sad, own it. A simple statement like, “Mommy is a little overwhelmed right now, can I get a hug?” or “Things are feeling heavy, lets play some good music,” can do wonders for lifting the spirits in the home. What you don’t want to do is have the child associate a joyful holiday time with a traumatic family shift, so do your best to keep it light.

Remember that the starting over period is hard, but it is temporary.  No matter you decide to do 2021 will look differently for you.  There will be days when you question your decisions, on those days remember what you’ve gained and cherish the little things. Take a walk to clear your mind and know that you only need to deal with the present, not the future or the past.  You’ll notice I didn’t include any information in here about interviewing attorneys or real estate agents. At this point, I truly recommend trying your best to get YOU organized and to try to enjoy this odd holiday season we are entering. Stay safe, stay home, and gain insight and knowledge that you will need for when you are ready to talk to lawyers and real estate agents who are here to help you transition from this chapter to the next.