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How can an attorney help you if you and your spouse separate

For many couples, separation is a precursor to divorce. For others, taking some time apart helps them reevaluate their relationship, resolve their issues and build a stronger marriage. Regardless of the eventual outcome, separation from your spouse is no small change -- particularly when you have children together.

Even if you and your spouse haven't decided whether you'll eventually divorce, it's wise to take inventory of your finances. It's always better to do this sooner rather than later. If you proceed toward divorce, your communication may deteriorate and it may be more difficult to have full transparency of your marital assets.

It's essential to know what assets and debts you and your spouse share. Make sure that you know where all of your joint accounts are located. Be certain that you know what credit cards and loans your name is on. Make sure that your spouse isn't emptying out your savings or racking up considerable expenses on your joint credit cards. It's also wise to get a copy of your credit report and keep an eye on your credit score.

This may be a good time to open an account and/or credit card that's solely in your name. Even happily married couples often keep some assets and debts separate.

If you and your spouse separate, it's a good idea to find an experienced family law attorney. They can help as you review your financial situation and provide guidance to help you protect yourself and your children. Hiring an attorney doesn't mean that you've decided to divorce. It simply means that you want to be prepared should that happen.

An attorney can also help you think about what you want from a divorce as far as things like child custody, support and property division and what kind of divorce process you'd like to use. Many couples opt for mediation or collaborative divorce.

If you need financial guidance to deal with complex assets, an attorney can likely recommend a financial advisor who helps divorcing people. It's typically best not to rely on advisors who have been working for you and your spouse.

If the two of you get back together, at least you've built up some confidence that you have a complete picture of your financial health and that you know what your priorities are should the two of you eventually go your separate ways.

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