Q. My husband and I are getting divorced after 30 years of marriage. How can I protect myself financially?
A. Unfortunately, you've got lots of company. The divorce rate among couples older than 50 has doubled in recent decades and now accounts for one of every four breakups, according to recent research. And after a couple has spent decades of saving and investing together, the stakes — and potential financial fallout — can be higher in such "gray" divorces.
Here are six things you can do to prepare:
1. Hire an experienced divorce attorney
Ideally, this person will emphasize mediation or collaborative divorce over litigation. Both spouses tend to fare better in structured processes where they negotiate solutions to their disputes, financial and otherwise, rather than letting a court decide. Get recommendations from friends or at such websites as DivorceNet.com, which also provides information on state laws.
2. Open accounts in your name only
If you're a nonworking spouse (say, a longtime stay-at-home mom), it's important for you to start right away to establish your own credit history in case you later need a car loan or mortgage. Even if you already have a history on file, many lawyers advise freezing or closing joint bank and credit card accounts to prevent you from being responsible for buying sprees by your soon-to-be former spouse. Car insurance policies and the like should also be changed to reflect your new solo status.
3. Take inventory of assets and debts.
With your attorney's help, ask for a full disclosure of all joint and individually owned financial assets so you can know where your money is and where it goes. Make copies for safekeeping of loans and credit card accounts, as well as home equity lines, past tax returns and business debts. You'll also want to get a handle on "nonmarital assets," things considered to belong to only one spouse, such as property brought to the marriage, inheritances and gifts given specifically to one person.