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You can't protect assets if you don't know what they are

It happens all the time in marriage. One spouse takes over the role of carrying out certain tasks and duties while the other focuses on other areas of expertise. For instance, how many Illinois couples do you know where one person acts as the resident mechanic, or one spouse does all the cooking while the other takes care of lawn maintenance and trash pickup? Even more common are marriages where one spouse deals with all things finance-related, including paying bills, investing money, purchasing insurance and other related issues.

This may all be well and good so long as a marriage is working; however, if someone files for divorce at some point, let's hope it's the one who knows where all the money is. Otherwise, it may be a tad bit challenging to protect your assets if you don't even know what you own in the first place. This is one of many reasons it's far better to be fully informed, if not actively involved, in all financial matters while married.

Preparing the unprepared

Okay. So, perhaps you've been busy raising children or trying to hold down a second job to help bring supplemental income into your home and haven't really had time (nor the inclination) to worry about things like financial and non-financial assets. You're certainly not the first person to be in this type of situation. Here are a few ways others have prepared for divorce:

  • Make a list: Take inventory and write down everything that has to do with money, property, business, artwork, etc. Basically, create a list of everything you own and also any liabilities for which you may be responsible.
  • Research property division laws: Illinois happens to be one of many equitable distribution states. This means marital property is not necessarily divided 50/50 in divorce, but will be divided fairly, according to the court's discretion. It's always best to seek clarification of such laws ahead of time to avoid negative surprises later.
  • Create an estate plan: If you haven't already executed a plan that includes a will and any instructions pertinent toward the future care of your children, it is typically a good idea to do so before proceeding to divorce court.
  • Determine needs: Adapting to single life after years of marriage is often challenging, especially if you're also becoming a single parent. Assess your and your children's financial situation and determine what your needs are in order to maintain fiscal stability and move forward toward a successful future.
  • Set goals: The end of your marriage need not be the end of your joy or success in life. It's often helpful to do a little dreaming and formulate some personal goals as to where you'd like see yourself in a year, five years or a decade down the line.

Once you are sure you have a clear understanding of your own financial status and what your immediate and long-term needs and goals are for your family, you can take proactive steps to achieve a fair and agreeable divorce settlement. Don't be afraid to state exactly what you need to fulfill basic needs of food, clothing and shelter for your children. If a disagreement arises regarding assets and property division, you have every right to protect what's rightfully yours.

An experienced family law attorney can be a great asset in such circumstances. As a personal advocate, an attorney can see to it that proceedings focus on any children's best interests and provide fair and agreeable solutions to all asset-related problems.

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