Just as finances can be a major source of contention in a marriage, they can be even more so during a divorce. Disentangling your ex-spouse’s finances from your own may be no simple task, especially with shared assets like home and vehicles, or with shared debts. This process can be even more complicated with an uncooperative ex, or one who happens to be fiscally irresponsible.

You might be tempted to avoid or procrastinate the task of financial disentanglement, but resist this temptation to protect both your assets and your credit. Some of the details of dividing larger assets will obviously be worked out during the divorce settlement negotiations, but for now, here are some steps you can take now to begin disentangling your ex-spouse’s finances from your own.

Set up your own bank accounts

If you haven’t done so already, open up a basic checking and savings account in your own name, and start paying bills and depositing paychecks into that account. If you still hold joint bank accounts with your ex, close these accounts as soon as possible, but do not attempt to withdraw funds without talking to your divorce attorney first, as these funds may be restricted until a divorce settlement is reached. When it comes to your own income, however, you should gain sole control of these funds as quickly as possible.

Separating credit card accounts

For any revolving credit card accounts you share with your ex, take these steps now to begin the disentanglement process:

•    Close any joint credit cards you have with your ex-spouse as soon as possible. This protects you from being held responsible if your ex decides to go on a shopping spree.

•    De-authorize your ex on any credit cards for which you are the primary cardholder.

•    Disentangle from joint cards with existing balances by opening up new cards separately and performing balance transfers. You and your ex will need to agree to how much of the debt each of you should pay, but once that’s decided, transferring those balances to your own individual credit cards will start the process of separating your shared credit history—plus, you won’t have the added worry of making sure the joint cards are being paid on time.

For larger assets like homes, cars and shared business interests, disentangling your finances will be a more complex matter reserved for the divorce settlement negotiations. But taking steps now to separate finances on a smaller scale can help you get a head start on financial stability as a single person.

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Photo of Cynthia J. Brown Cynthia J. Brown

“Some lawyers play a lot of games. That’s not my approach. There is a lot of gray area in the law, but I try to keep things relatively straightforward for my clients. That way, we can all focus on what’s really important: getting…

“Some lawyers play a lot of games. That’s not my approach. There is a lot of gray area in the law, but I try to keep things relatively straightforward for my clients. That way, we can all focus on what’s really important: getting matters settled fairly and cost-effectively. We’re certainly ready to litigate, but favor empowering clients to control the outcome of their case.”

Cynthia is a founding partner with the Brown Law Offices, P.A. She is a graduate of the University of South Dakota and William Mitchell College of Law. She publishes extensively on divorce and family law issues.

Cynthia Brown was admitted to practice in 1998. After graduating from law school, Cynthia served as the law clerk to the Honorable Timothy R. Bloomquist, retired Chief Judge of Minnesota’s Tenth Judicial District. Upon completing her clerkship, Cynthia practiced family law with a well-known firm in Cambridge, Minnesota. She founded the Brown Law Offices, P.A., in 2003.

Early in her career, Cynthia served as a prosecutor and public defender. In the last decade, however, Cynthia’s practice has focused primarily on family law. She has handled a wide variety of matters throughout the Twin Cities, and greater Minnesota, including divorce, custody, child support, alimony, paternity, step-parent adoption, harassment and grandparent rights.

Cynthia publishes extensively on divorce and family law issues. She is a contributing author to the Family Law Forum, the quarterly publication of the Family Law Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association. Cynthia also writes a bi-monthly family law column for the Minnesota Lawyer newspaper, and monthly articles for Divorce Magazine.

Cynthia obtained her Bachelor’s Degree, magna cum laude, from the University of South Dakota, Vermillion, and her Juris Doctorate from the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul.

Cynthia founded the Amigos de Guatemala Foundation in 2007. She is a former Board Member and President of the Foundation, which provided educational, health and financial resources to underprivileged Guatemalan citizens. Her interest in serving the impoverished began with a medical mission trip to Honduras in 1994.

When she is not practicing law, Cynthia enjoys scrap-booking, soap-making, beading and spending time with family. She and her husband, Jason, also an attorney, have two children.