How to Prepare and Protect Yourself In Case You Get Divorced

This week, Maggie sits down with family attorney Rebecca G. Neale to talk about how to protect yourself financially during marriage and divorce.

Join host Maggie Germano as she interviews family attorney Rebecca C. Neale about divorce, pre-nups, estate planning, and managing money within a family.

What to Gather in Preparation for a Divorce:

  • 3 years of tax returns

  • Bank statements (online access to bank accounts, at least)

  • Credit reports: www.annualcreditreport.com

    • One when you are getting ready to file

    • Another a year later

  • Deed/mortgage (available online or at the registry)

  • Paystubs and spouse’s paystubs

  • Open your own personal bank account

Resources:

Rebecca G. Neale has years of experience advocating for clients in the courtroom and the conference room, and enjoys helping people navigate some of the most difficult chapters of their lives.\ \ As a Staff Attorney at Legal Aid of Northeastern New York, she represented and advised over 300 clients in housing proceedings, Social Security appeals, and more. Rebecca has represented homeowners in nationwide class action lawsuits against banks and small businesses in contract disputes, and clerked for the highest state courts in New York and California.\ \ She practices domestic relations and estate planning law in a small Massachusetts town called Bedford.

To learn more about Maggie and her coaching and speaking services, visit www.maggiegermano.com.

To get more involved with Money Circle:

The theme music is called Escaping Light by Aaron Sprinkle. The podcast artwork design is by Maggie’s dear husband, Dan Rader.


TRANSCRIPTION

Maggie Germano: 00:00 Hey there and welcome to the money circle podcast. My name is Maggie Germano and I am your host. This week I sat down with Rebecca G Neal who is an attorney and we talked about the happy topic of divorce. Uh huh. All jokes aside, divorce is something that happens quite often actually in our society. So it’s the kind of thing that you want to potentially be prepared for, especially in terms of the financial implications of divorce, not only the cost of the divorce itself, but also having access and knowledge of the family assets that are available. So, uh, Rebecca and I talked all about, you know, the how much divorce typically costs with the different approaches to divorce might be the ways that women in particular can be preparing and gathering information if they do plan on pursuing a divorce as well as more hopeful topic of, uh, how to talk about and manage money within your marriage from the very beginning so that, um, you maybe prevent some of those arguments and disagreements over money and maybe prevent one person feeling like they’re a little less in control in terms of finances.

Maggie Germano: 01:29 So, um, we also touched on prenups and when those may be a good idea and basically why you might want to get an attorney to be helping you in these different steps along the way. So whether or not you are married, whether or not you plan to be married and whether or not you plan to get divorced someday, I think that this was an incredibly helpful, uh, episode and, um, she answered a lot of really helpful questions and I learned a lot and I’m happy to share that information to everybody else. So take a listen and I hope you find it helpful.

Maggie Germano: 02:15 all right. Welcome, Rebecca. Thanks so much for being here.

Rebecca Neale: 02:19 Thanks for having me.

Maggie Germano: 02:21 Um, so why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and the work that you do?

Rebecca Neale: 02:26 Sure. I’m a Massachusetts lawyer. I focus on divorce and estate planning and I do some mediation. I’ve been practicing for over 10 years and before that I was a peace Corps volunteer and I did public health education.

Maggie Germano: 02:42 That’s great. So you’ve had kind of a little bit of a range across your career. Um, absolutely. Yeah. So how did you find yourself in not only law but family law specifically?

Rebecca Neale: 02:54 Yeah, so I’ve always wanted to work in public service and I started in health public health and health education. Um, and after a few years in community health education, I thought that I could make a bigger difference if I did something like impact litigation or policy work. So I went to law school with that, with that goal. Um, and uh, after law school, you know, I focused on public service the whole time. After law school I clerked for a few years at an appeals court and then I went and worked for legal aid where I worked directly one on one with people solving problems that had a huge impact on their lives. And I thought, Oh, this is great. I really like this work, but I’d love to be an impact litigator. I love to work for the ACLU or plaintiff’s class action firm. So I did that. I worked at a plate, this class action firm.

Rebecca Neale: 03:51 I spent some time at the AGS office in Massachusetts and I realized that that work, although very important is just not my strong suit. It’s kind of boring because those cases last for years and years and years and you only work with a few clients when you’re representing a whole class of people. And so I wasn’t getting as much client contact so, uh, I happened to get a job in family law. Um, and in family law you’re working with clients on a weekly basis, you’re in court, um, not on the same case of course, but you’re frequently on court. Um, I’m, I usually in court once a week at this point on different cases and I, I love litigation. I also just love problem solving with parents who are struggling with a lot of different, um, challenges in their life and helping them navigate those challenges, which is also why estate planning is a nice fit for me because it’s another topic.

Rebecca Neale: 04:54 Death is a topic people try to avoid talking about just like divorce. Um, and I don’t, I’m not afraid to talk about these sticky, emotional things that also are tied up in some very important legal decisions and rights and responsibilities. So that’s what, uh, led me here is just kind of a, um, I can’t think of that word, but just, uh, I wanna I want to say circumstantial, but that’s not quite that for legal term. Just, just I happened to get this job in family law and it, and I realized what a great opportunity it was, how much I loved the engaging work. And so now I’ve gone out on my own and I had my own firm for over three years, um, and really enjoy it. Uh, because I get to work with people I get to litigate and use those skills.

Maggie Germano: 05:48 That’s amazing. That’s a really interesting career trajectory that you took and I love that every step of the way. When you realized maybe what you were doing wasn’t really what was either right for you or what you enjoyed or were like amazing at, you were able to try to figure out the next step and figure out where it actually suited you. And that’s great that you were able to continue doing that.

Rebecca Neale: 06:14 I’m very, very lucky

Maggie Germano: 06:16 and it also is amazing that you obviously care so much about helping people on a personal level and making an impact that you can actually see and feel every day. So, uh, I relate to that as well, so that’s great to hear.

Rebecca Neale: 06:31 Yeah, I call it, um, doing well while doing good. You know, because I’m not a nonprofit. Um, but in the process of the business that I’ve made, I’m able to take on a pro bono client, which is a free client through the women’s bar foundation of Massachusetts. And I can also take on some clients that, um, other attorneys may not take on because I’m, uh, I find it’s really important to help people who are in real need. One need that some clients sometimes have is they have no access to the marital assets or to funds. Um, and unfortunately I see this over and over again. Uh, this financial abuse that happens between couples, um, all too often, uh, in Massachusetts, um, you can ask for attorney’s fees, uh, pendant daily day and other legal term. But it’s essentially you don’t have any attorneys fee way to pay your attorney’s fees.

Rebecca Neale: 07:29 Now you can still bring an action in court. You can still get a divorce and you asked the court to take some of the funds that your spouse has access to and pay your attorney from those. So that’s another way that I can help people who might otherwise not, uh, be able to get representation because I can take on a few of those at once or are maybe one to pay pending on what my business looks like at the time. I kind of, you know, it’s like a loan of my time until we can collect those fees cause it does take a few months for that to process. So, um, I’ve found some great ways to do, do good while still doing well.

Maggie Germano: 08:05 Yeah. And that’s really important and I, I have wholeheartedly agree with that too. Like the idea of having to kind of financially suffer while doing good in the world is, um, it’s prevalent I think, especially in people who are mission driven and all of that. And so I think there’s definitely a way to still be able to support yourself and make money and grow a business while also helping other people and making an impact. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. Um, so who is your, do you have a typical client that you tend to work with or does it, is there kind of a range?

Rebecca Neale: 08:39 You know, it’s funny, um, a lot of my clients are women, but I obviously I don’t exclusively, uh, represent women. You know, uh, in the divorces. I think that, um, my typical client is somebody who, who just wants this divorce to get going and get concluded so they can move on to the next chapter. It’s, um, and that just happens to be a lot of women who are just finally fed up. It’s like a light switch turned on and now that the light switch is turned on, they’re like, let’s get going and get this over with. Um, I think that my style is very much to that, um, inclination. And I’m also open to not just coming in with the scorched earth kind of mindset that says, you know, we’re going to get everything you’re entitled to and more and we’re going to make the other person suffer for it.

Rebecca Neale: 09:33 That’s just not my style. So the clients I attract are not those clients. And I’m super happy with that because that’s not the kind of work I want to do. You know, I want to solve problems, not make them. So, um, so that’s my typical client. Someone who wants to get through this with a reasonable result. Um, someone who wants to minimize their attorney’s fees because I’m, I, I’ll always review with my clients, okay, if you want to do this, this is how much this is gonna cost. Um, and I, um, if my clients, if their case is appropriate for mediation, I do always suggest that because with parents, once you get divorced, you still have to deal with them for the rest of your children’s lives. So yes, you can disentangle your finances and you can start seeing other people, but you will still have to work with that other parent. On some other levels. So if you can mediate, you’re going to have a better co-parenting relationship afterwards than somebody who had some sort of scorched earth litigation where there a lot of hard feelings.

Maggie Germano: 10:37 That makes a lot of sense because yeah, you do have to see this person regularly. And if you were being as mature as possible throughout the process, I’m sure that makes it a whole lot easier to deal with.

Rebecca Neale: 10:48 Yeah. So, yeah, and, and I think that I’m, I can be guilty of this too. I have to check my litigation instincts where I’m like, yeah, let’s do this, this, this and this and we are going to just, you know, wipe this clean. You know, I have to check myself and remember this is somebody’s life. This is somebody they’re going to have to see, you know, for the next few decades. So, um, I think that other attorneys also fall into that trap where we think of all the litigation things we could do to get this person to behave or whatever. Um, the truth of the matter is, you’re never going to get somebody to do what you want. You know, people want this result to be like, well, after this I want him to, you know, I really want him to communicate better about the kids and I have to say, you know what, that’s not going to be the result, but here’s what we can do. So, um, so yeah.

Maggie Germano: 11:45 Yeah. So, so kind of laying out the things that your client, you and your client actually can have some control over versus more of the emotional and the behavioral side of things where there’s a little less control.

Rebecca Neale: 11:58 Yes, absolutely. Yeah. Hm.

Maggie Germano: 12:01 Yeah, that’s important. Um, so you mentioned trying to be very clear and upfront about how much things cost and um, like what the different options are and the avenues if you’re going through a divorce. Can you talk a little bit about what some of those options are and what the typical costs might be for going through a divorce? I know it probably varies, but just definitely totally varies right?

Rebecca Neale: 12:25 It varies on what your goals are of course, because, um, because if you want to scorch doors, sure you can have a scorched earth, it’s going to cost you tens of thousands of dollars if not more. Um, so I actually have a post on my website that says how much does a divorce cost, where I break down those, you know, at every, almost every point you have a decision to make that’s going to impact your costs. So you can get through this with a $200 filing fee if you like. What result would you like from that though? Uh, I find that people who write their own divorce agreements are not thinking about all the things that an attorney would think about. So in my opinion, the minimum amount a divorce should cost is $1,000. So you can review or have an attorney, uh, draft your separation agreement. Okay. So a thousand to 2000. Um, that said, so that they can not necessarily go and fight for you, but at least advise you of your rights and your responsibilities. My typical litigation client will cost me, will cost, it’ll cost them, um, 10 to $20,000. Um, these are high conflict divorces and it can absolutely go higher than 20. Um, if you go to trial. But those, those cases, we find a way to settle, um, if they don’t have the funds to go to trial. So that’s what we’re looking at in Massachusetts. And honestly, my fees are pretty low. So I would estimate that if you have a high conflict divorce, you could be paying 30 to $40,000, um, before trial, honestly.

Rebecca Neale: 14:11 So pretty high. That’s scary. Yeah. And that’s before like all this, like who has to give how much to the other person that’s like just for paying your fees.

Rebecca Neale: 14:23 That’s who wins in that scenario. The attorneys. So that’s each party paying each attorney. So that’s another reason why I try to encourage, um, people who can go to mediation to give it a try. And I know it costs money up front to go to a mediator, $1,500 for mediation sessions, you know, um, and then, and then you want your attorney to review the final agreement, but it’s going to save you money in the long. And I know that people balk at that kind of cost in the beginning, but if you have a high conflict divorce where mediation is just not going to work, my philosophy is to prepare for trial and you will settle. But if you prepare for settling and you don’t set up those boundaries like, no, actually we need though that information. No, actually you can’t do that during parenting time. It’s not appropriate. If you don’t set out those boundaries at the beginning, you’re going to set yourself up for a lifetime of, of conflict and problems. Now, some cases you’re going to have a lifetime of conflict because this spouse is abusive. But in other cases, sometimes if you can set those boundaries up early than you will be better set up, um, after the divorce is final actually. So that’s why the fees rack up because sometimes you just need to put those boundaries out and get the court involved when someone isn’t, um, acting appropriately.

Maggie Germano: 15:47 Hmm. Yeah. And that’s really important. And I, I think that could be something that people might forget about, that when emotions are high, you never know what another person might do in that scenario. So having those kinds of boundaries and the protections in place of like you said, the court and your attorney can be really helpful in the long run.

Rebecca Neale: 16:07 Yeah. The way I look at it is with when people are, um, dealing with all these kind of minor infractions and these minor breaches of the separation agreement, um, it takes a lot before they get to an attorney, before they say, I’m going to call Rebecca again, or I’m going to call an attorney to help me enforce this. But during the divorce process, you know, it’s on a 14 month track here in Massachusetts and you have at least six months to be working on discovery and things like that. So during that time, I’m already, you know, on retainer, you know, you already, I’m already familiar with exactly what’s going on. It’s so much easier to start to enforce those things during the divorce process, then pick up the phone and call me year, two years later. Um, and hopefully it will in the end come out with a better outcome.

Maggie Germano: 16:57 Yeah. So it sounds like if you know, you have an attorney while you’re going through this divorce process being in touch as often as possible since you’re already paying and you’ve already hired this person that you should be reaching out as much as possible.

Rebecca Neale: 17:11 Yeah, I mean with within limits, but yes, a once a week day I try to make sure that I’m in touch with my clients, but at the same time, you know, I don’t want to be, if things are just kind of moving along just fine, then I’m very hands off because I’m sensitive to my clients. Um, you know, uh, fees need to keep the fees low.

Maggie Germano: 17:33 Yeah, no, that’s good. And it’s good that you’re thoughtful about that too. Cause I’m sure that that can, that can get really high, very fast, very easily,

Rebecca Neale: 17:41 so quickly it adds up. So yeah, because every court hearing I go to, it’s about two grand for my clients just because have to wait in court so long. Um, and the process is just so tedious, um, that typically every time we go into court, that’s what it’s gonna cost them at least.

Maggie Germano: 17:59 Wow. Okay. Yeah. Oh, um, so you started, you mentioned, um, that there’s a process of discovery and there’s, um, like information that people need to insist on getting and boundaries and things like that. What might some of that information that people should be gathering be, especially if they’re maybe not already in the divorce process, but they’re thinking that that might be happening down the road, especially women that may be in a precarious situation within that marriage. What are the kinds of things they should be gathering to be prepared for that whole process?

Rebecca Neale: 18:34 Absolutely. So I’m the state by, it’ll state by state requirements for what documents you have to exchange will change. So I can only speak from a Massachusetts perspective, but what’s required. But I will say that it, and it’s always a good idea to get three years of your tax returns, make sure you have those, um, to get, uh, your bank statements or access to your bank accounts. Uh, some people don’t even have access. Uh, you get online access and just download all the statements. You can put it in a hard drive or put it on the cloud, on a cloud, um, storage so that you have access to it. Um, another thing that I suggest that, you know, Massachusetts or courts don’t require anybody to exchange credit reports, but I find it really useful to go to annual credit report. Um, is that a.org or.gov

Maggie Germano: 19:32 .com.

Rebecca Neale: 19:32 Okay. So that’s the government site. Um, that’s the government mandated site. It’s free to get your credit report, um, once a year from all three credit bureaus. So it’s really important to just do it right from the get go. It’s, um, pretty easy to get it. And then you review it. You see if there’s anything open. That’s surprising. Are you seeing any balances that are surprising? And actually I want you to keep it because a year later I want you to grab them again, see if anything’s been going on, especially if you’re not ready to file yet. You want to see if there’s been anything that’s changed once you do decide to file. So you want to keep a close eye on what, um, what credit is open in your name. Um, documents, you know, things like your deed and your mortgage. Those are usually available, at least in Massachusetts.

Rebecca Neale: 20:23 They’re available online or you can get them from the registry. So although that’s a pain in the neck, you know, if you leave in the middle of the night because you have safety concerns, you can, you can acquire those. I mean, safety planning is one thing and preparing financially is another. Um, but I would say, uh, bank statements, pay stubs, if you have your copies of your spouse’s pay stubs, you really want to get that, um, because you, it’s helpful to have a snapshot of what kind of work and how much everybody was earning during the marriage. Um, that’s what I typically recommend. I also suggest opening up an individual bank account. Uh, no one’s asking you to hide money in it, but you can’t, you can put money in it, uh, to help fund things. Because if you do separate and you are the lower wage earner in the, in the family, you’re gonna have some time between when, uh, your spouse is ordered to pay child support or spousal support and, um, and when you need to file, pay your attorney, um, and take care of life.

Rebecca Neale: 21:29 So if you can put money into an individual account, that’s definitely recommended. And I’m not saying that you would be hiding it from anybody, um, because once the divorce process starts, you can be totally upfront and honest about how much money is in that individual account. But it is really important to have your own account to start yourself on credit. Um, if you don’t have any credit cards solely in your name, you might want to open up one of those. Um, also because, uh, if you don’t have a robust job history in the past two years and you find that you want to refinance that home or you want to buy a new home out of the proceeds of the divorce, the mortgage company is going to need certain information about your income. They’re going to need tax returns, they’re gonna need a child support order or spousal support order. And the more you’ve been working, the better you’re going to be able to, um, fair with the, with the mortgage refinance or with, uh, with a purchase of a new home. So let’s see, credit report, individual bank account, credit, individual credit card, um, and grab those tax returns and W2’s or pay subs if you can. Another thing is you got to know what the health insurance is all about. How much does that cost? And, um, that’s usually on a pay stub.

Maggie Germano: 22:49 Yeah, that, that’s super helpful. Cause I mean, I don’t even think I would’ve necessarily thought of all of this. Like just making sure that you’re having all of that financial information, especially if you’re the person in a relationship who’s maybe not earning all the money and not managing all of the money and might not be just fully aware of how all of that is working. I think getting that awareness even just, I mean all the time but also especially if you’re about to start down the divorce process, having that information because I’ve definitely heard horror stories of women just having no idea of what’s even out there so they don’t even know what they can claim and what they have the right to and all of that.

Rebecca Neale: 23:33 Absolutely. Um, and it’s honestly and unfortunately very common for me to hear that, um, from my clients or prospective clients and I to emphasize that if you can’t get that information on your own and you have any safety concerns about kind of pushing for it, that there are legal ways. Once the divorce process has started, I can, we request those things from the other party if you don’t have access to them, if the other party stonewalls and doesn’t respond to your request, you also have, again, this is like boundaries, right? You try to enforce those requests and if they continue to give you a hard time when you work with an attorney, that attorney, at least in Massachusetts, I’m not sure how it works in other States, but I can subpoena bank records, I can subpoena employment records, you know, I can subpoena credit card statements.

Rebecca Neale: 24:28 Nobody wants to go that route because it costs more money my time and Constable fees for service of process, but it’s available. So don’t, so don’t let your inability to get the information stop you from making the decision to move forward on a divorce. And in fact, I have some clients whose, or in the past whose spouses are making really poor financial decisions without their input. And if that’s happening in Massachusetts, at least once you file that divorce, there’s a restraining order on finances. Okay? So it happens to everybody. It’s not like a restraining order that you go to court for, it automatically happens. All right? Um, and what that means is people can’t go and sign you up for new credit. They can’t go spend a bunch of money on something. They can’t close any accounts. And this is again in Massachusetts, but so you look into your state’s laws on what happens when you filed a divorce for divorced as do you then have a restraint on financial obligations, opening new ones and closing old ones.

Rebecca Neale: 25:37 Um, that might be wanting one of the tools you can use to stop someone from, for example, if they have a substance abuse problem, a gambling problem, if they are just really terrible at making financial decisions, they go invest, you know, $10,000 in a really shady investment and they lose it immediately. Or they tend to buy a lot of consumer products that you’re not interested in, like motorcycles or things like that. That really does happen. Some people just go out and buy things and don’t consult with their spouse, you know, and if that’s your spouse and you really should look into some way to protect yourself.

Maggie Germano: 26:15 Yeah, that’s really important. And uh, I think knowing that that is an Avenue like that you will have that automatic kind of safety with th the halting of those decisions. Um, that’s really helpful just to know. And would it also be then a good idea for someone, say if they needed to open their own bank account or open their own credit card doing that before they start the divorce process just in case they’re not able to open anything new?

Rebecca Neale: 26:45 Absolutely. And I always suggest that to my clients. Again, they’re not hiding anything. They just want to be independent and eventually they will be independent. So it’s just setting yourself up for, you know, as lawyers we look at the end result, you know, you’re just setting yourself up for good end result. You know, you’re doing something that you would be doing anyway. Yeah,

Maggie Germano: 27:03 yeah, yeah. That, that’s a really important way to think about it too. And, and like you said, they don’t have to be hiding the money completely. It’s just a way to start preparing and protecting themselves as they’re planning to go down this road.

Rebecca Neale: 27:17 Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. And sometimes people, you know, you mentioned they’re not ready for divorce. And I, I do get that. And I, uh, in my old career as a public health educator, I helped educate people on how to quit smoking. And they would say, you know what, I don’t want to quit. I just want to not be smoking anymore because quitting is this process that nobody wants. Right? They just want to be done. And I find the same thing with divorces. Sometimes people just want to be done. They don’t want to get divorced cause they’re so nervous about, uh, all the stress. But all that stress is gonna get you closer to your end result. And, and so in particular, when somebody has a really difficult time getting child support, but they’ve already separated or their spouses making a frivolous expenditures, I do suggest that they just file that.

Rebecca Neale: 28:10 They just get the ball rolling. And if they’re, uh, negotiations with their spouse fall through, at least the ball has started rolling. Um, so that’s something that might help those people who were kind of on the fence. Like, you know, I don’t want to be with this person anymore, but I’m not ready for a divorce. Well, what, what is holding you back? Um, and again, I’m not trying to encourage people to get them worse, but sometimes there’s so much holding you back like, Oh, I, I think I can get a better agreement with him if I never file or something like that. And just want to take a look at what’s, what’s holding you back. And if there are some financial protections you can get, uh, by filing and starting the ball rolling.

Maggie Germano: 28:51 Yeah, that’s really helpful. And kind of related to that. Um, so I got a question from a listener a while back related to this topic. And she said, I’d love to hear your advice on managing the separation of finances when someone is in the midst of separating from their partner, but not yet when ready to divorce and how to protect your credit if they might miss payments, how to divide equitably, especially when there’s an income gap. And so I wanted to get some of your thoughts on that.

Rebecca Neale: 29:22 Absolutely. So there’s a lot there. So I mean, if they’re not making payments on your, on things that need to be paid, that’s an issue. And if you don’t have the income to pay that, uh, pay those minimum payments and it’s time to get the court involved, particularly. So not making on a credit card is going to ruin everybody’s credit. Who was attached to that? Um, somebody who’s a financial abuser for example, might have, um, might be using credit cards and the other person’s name and then decide not to pay those but pay their own credit cards. Um, and so that’s definitely some something that the court should get involved in, in order the higher income earner to at least make the minimum payments. Uh, and then when the final, when it’s finally resolved and you sell the home or something, there’s some division of assets, then those credit cards can get paid off with that because even though you’re divorced, there’s no way to divide that credit card debt with the credit card company.

Rebecca Neale: 30:28 You would have to roll it onto your own credit card or pay it off. Those are the two options. So, um, let’s see. So there’s that, but then there’s something like a mortgage or car payment. Those are secured loans, right? They’re secured by a certain property, which is an asset of the marriage. And so if somebody isn’t making the minimum payments on that, it risks losing that asset. And again, the court will be very concerned about that. They’ll want someone to be able to pay, make the minimum payments to maintain the asset until it can be sold or somehow divided. Okay. Um, so those are two times when court intervention is important. As for the income gap. Um, are you, do you think your reader was concerned about spousal support or child support when physically living on their own? You know, some parties do pay that, um, to each other even without the court’s involvement.

Rebecca Neale: 31:25 And I’ve worked with clients who are successful in negotiating that with their spouse without even going to court. Um, and so that’s an important way to, you know, you’ve got to talk about it. You’ve got to bring it up, you know, tell your spouse, um, this is what you’re going to be responsible for after we’re divorced. Please start making those payments or I’m going to have to file sooner than, than I think we’re ready for. Um, and, uh, at least in Massachusetts in some other States that I know of, they have their child support guidelines online with a worksheet and you can figure it out. And if I’m, every state that I know of has a legal aid website with really important information on it. Okay. So at least, uh, with, when it comes to family law, it has information that’s important for people. Um, low income people who are struggling with finances, uh, with um, family law, with death and dying, those kinds of housing, those kinds of topics are all going to be on your local, your state legal aid website.

Rebecca Neale: 32:33 It’s a really good source of information for you. So if you’re looking up legal information online, you need to make sure when it’s divorce related or custody related that it’s state specific and a.org website and nonprofit website is going to be a good resource for you. Again in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts courts, they publish the um, the child support guidelines. So you can go straight there too. And I find that other States have some really good resources online. So that.gov URL is also one that you can trust. You’re also going to find a bunch of lawyers trying to get business and you’re going to find, you know, DIY, um, separation agreements and things like that. So it’s important to take a look at what that at, who’s putting that information out so you can see if it’s trustworthy.

Maggie Germano: 33:22 Yeah, that’s really important. Cause I know the internet, if for any topic really is just, there’s so much out there that it’s hard to even know where to begin. It’s hard to know who to trust and what to even believe. And so, yeah, I think your advice on going to the legal aid website, going to the government website, the court’s website where those are all official information, you know, and they know what they’re talking about and it’s state specific cause not every state is the same.

Rebecca Neale: 33:51 Right. Exactly. I mean definitely in divorce and custody there’s really nothing that’s the same from one state to the other except for some, some very small things.

Maggie Germano: 34:02 And so you mentioned, uh, getting the courts involved if I’m a partner was not making the payments that needed to be made. Is that something that can only happen if you’ve already officially started the divorce process?

Rebecca Neale: 34:16 Uh, I can’t speak for every state. So, um, there is a way to, yes. Uh, well here’s my legal answer. It depends on your set of civic circumstances. So, I mean, there is a way in Massachusetts to file for separate support. It’s called and it’s not technically a divorce. Um, but at the same time, it’s like, why bother doing that when again, looking at the end goal, you know, where you want to be at the end. If that’s divorce, then you’ve got to think about, you know, why would I file this other thing instead?

Maggie Germano: 34:56 Yeah. That makes sense. So, yeah, so thinking about where you ultimately want to end up, rather than like, you know, what are the other steps in between that avoid that thing when it’s like, you know, you know, where do you, what do you actually want to do? What is, what is that end goal and what are the steps you need to take to get the ball rolling there?

Rebecca Neale: 35:15 Yeah, yeah,

Maggie Germano: 35:16 yeah. Um, and related to what you said about, um, coming to a potential agreement with your spouse, even if you haven’t filed for divorce yet, but they are going to start making payments. I’ve actually had a coaching client in the past who, um, they were separated but they weren’t ready to divorce mainly for financial reasons, for, um, she had been laid off and lost her health care. And all of that. And so staying technically married allowed them to be all on the same health care with their child and all of that. And, and he was contributing to help pay for certain things too. And it sounded like they had a pretty amicable situation going on to make that happen. So not everybody’s going to be in that circumstance, but it’s lucky when it can happen.

Rebecca Neale: 36:01 Absolutely. Absolutely. And I always trust my clients to understand the fight family dynamic and you know, they obviously know their spouse better than I do. Um, and so if they can figure out a way for the couple to, to, um, manage prior to filing for divorce course so that it benefits everybody, that that’s, that’s a great situation. I’m always open to kind of holding my client’s hand through that process. Um, because if you can file for a, a joint what’s called a joint petition for divorce in Massachusetts, if you file jointly, you know, your, your legal costs are gonna be so much lower. So if you can agree on things that in a fair way then, then that’s wonderful. Yeah. Um, yes.

Maggie Germano: 36:48 Yeah. No. So, so it sounds like if, if things are going okay and you can, you know, be amicable with each other and, and go through it together, even though it’s, you’re separating, you’re getting divorced, but you’re doing it, you know, as a team kind of, it sounds like that is the best case scenario.

Rebecca Neale: 37:05 It’s not unheard of. I mean, there are a lot of couples, and again, I don’t see them all because they are doing this, uh, doing a great job on their own and maybe I’m advising them on their separation agreement. Um, but yeah, I mean this is a couple that at least used to love each other and at least used to share the same values and goals. So it stands to reason that they might be able to agree on how to move forward in a way that’s in the best interest of their, their kids. It’s usually when the, you know, the kids are involved, they want to be making decisions that are good for the kids.

Maggie Germano: 37:38 yeah, that makes a lot of sense. kind of on the flip side when it is maybe very contentious or maybe one person in the relationship is abusive in one way or another. Um, and you mentioned financial abuse, which is something that I, I feel pretty strongly about as a financial coach who focuses on women in particular. And um, I was slightly inspired because of, uh, uh, a family friend who went through a divorce when I was young and it was the scenario where the husband was the breadwinner. He made a lot of money and the wife was, she wasn’t a stay at home mom, but she only worked like part time things that she felt like doing. And she, she also did a lot of the spending and so she had a lot of her own credit cards and things that she owed. And so when they ended up going through divorce, he kind of had all of that financial power in that scenario.

Maggie Germano: 38:40 And she ended up having to actually, um, file for bankruptcy after they got divorced because I don’t know if what happened, how things kind of turned out, but she ended up with kind of nothing except for the debt and had to file for bankruptcy. And, um, he ended up with, with everything else pretty much from what I experienced there. Yeah. From what I witnessed there. And, um, I mean, can you talk about like if you had a client that had that similar situation where, you know, she was the lower earner and she had maybe more debt in her own name, what you would kind of recommend in that scenario to make sure she’s doesn’t end up having to file for bankruptcy and ended up with nothing?

Rebecca Neale: 39:21 Oh yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, sometimes they’re really challenging, um, uh, divorces where all they have is debt and you’re essentially dividing debt. But in Massachusetts, you know, if you also have assets, then you dividing the assets equally, usually equally depending on the length of the marriage. And every state has different rules about their equitable division or their community property States. Um, so I would suggest to that person that, um, all hope is not lost. You’re not going to wind up with 100% of this debt. But what I typically tell my clients is we take the debt, we take the assets, we put them all in a bucket, we mix them up and we just divide them in half. But sometimes someone will take out one asset in, in whole like the marital home. Um, but find a way to buy you out of your interest in the marital home.

Rebecca Neale: 40:20 And with that cash, maybe you can pay off some of the debits solely in your name. But the goal at the end is to do a 50, 50 split. This is true Massachusetts, so I don’t know about other States, but in Massachusetts, everything you’ve acquired as a couple, as a marriage, during the marriage is subject to equal division and you can get an unequal division if someone is a really bad actor. Um, but the court doesn’t consider somebody not working full time to be a bad actor. Okay. So stay at home. Moms sometimes ask me, am I screwing myself by staying at home? Um, not necessarily, but you do have, um, a little bit of a harder kind of, um, case to make. Um, in theory everything should be divided equally. But in practice, you know, you’ve got somebody who’s been earning all this money while you’re home for five years and you don’t have the same retirement assets, you don’t have the same, you have a higher level of debt because of some arrangement where you paid off your own debt and he paid off his and you have higher student loans or something like that.

Rebecca Neale: 41:30 So that’s just a, uh, that’s just way to, we can slice that up. We can figure it out. A solution that works for you. Um, in the end, you know, not everybody’s happy. Um, in the end you’re going to make some everybody make some sacrifices. Um, but I wouldn’t say that, you know, if you’re working with an attorney who’s representing you appropriately, you’re not going to wind up with nothing. Will he winds up with everything? Uh, so it’s important to talk to an attorney who’s, again, that’s like the scenario where I take on a case and we ask for attorney’s fees, um, from the other party. That’s typically the kind of case where that happens. Um, so I see that frequently, uh, and we wind up at an equitable division at the end.

Maggie Germano: 42:21 That’s good to hear. And, and I guess that’s the kind of scenario where that community property and that 50, 50 split is actually really important because the person that maybe was staying home and taking care of the kids or has earned less over the course of the marriage will still end up kind of in an equitable situation.

Rebecca Neale: 42:42 Yeah. I mean, again, state by state varies, but in Massachusetts, if you’ve been married for a long time, you’re entitled to everything the other person has. Okay. Half of it, if you’ve been married a shorter amount of time, you’re only entitled to half of what was acquired during the marriage. So, uh, for example, a retirement account, you’re entitled to half of what was acquired, what was earned and contributed to that retirement account during the marriage. So yes, uh, the stay at home mom is going to have a smaller retirement account balance cause she’s not working and when she gets back in the workforce, she’s going to be earning less. But she can also take half of the what they call the marital cupboard, share portion of her spouse’s retirement and plop that in, roll it over, no taxes and no penalties. Um, which is really great because then they haven’t lost that, um, compounding interest over the course of the marriage, you know, um, or they haven’t lost and they haven’t lost those years of contributions because you can never forget another year of, you can’t double your maximum contribution because you got divorced. So it’s something that think about, um, that retirement account. It’s not the most fun to think about. Of course it’s important.

Maggie Germano: 43:55 Yeah, no, that, that is really important. And it’s really good to know that there isn’t going to be those taxes and those fees when you’re getting your half of your spouse’s assets because, um, those things can add up to. And so if you’re afraid of that being the case, you might not take that action to get that. And so it’s good to know that that’s available. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Um, so that, that brings me to the topic of like prenups and post snips. Do you do anything like that for clients?

Rebecca Neale: 44:29 I do do prenups. Um, you know, it’s a good idea, particularly with a second marriage, um, particularly with a later in life marriage where you’re coming into the marriage with a significant amount of assets, um, or it’s like an unbalanced amount of assets. Absolutely. Um, if it’s something that’s important to you, talk to somebody who knows what they’re doing. I have also seen prenups that are made online with an online DIY. Do it yourself thing. Don’t do that. Um, first and foremost, in Massachusetts, if you don’t have a lawyer advising both parties, that prenup, um, is not as valuable as you think it might be. So, so if it’s so important to you to get a prenup, it should be important enough for you to pay the money to get it done. Right.

Maggie Germano: 45:16 Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah. If, if you’re going to go through all that trouble to put that paperwork in place, it should at least be legitimate and useful for its

Rebecca Neale: 45:26 right. I mean, if you really have that many assets to protect, then you should be able to dip into some of it, a little bit of it, uh, just to pay one or 2000 to your attorney and to pay for your spouses, your future spouses attorney as well. Um, you know, I think that also prenups can take into account, uh, your thoughts on co-parenting even if you don’t have kids yet. Um, and kind of memorialize your intent to not squiggly other person over to continue a valuable relationship with the other co-parent and keep communication open. And then when things break down, if they ever break down when they do, you can look back at that and hopefully you’ve set the tone for what things should look like after a divorce.

Maggie Germano: 46:15 Yeah, I like that. And a friend of mine got married a few months ago and they also did a prenup. And, uh, something that she said was that they wanted to come to these agreements, whether it is how to split assets or how to share custody when they were still like very in love and happy and looking at their wedding and their marriage and planning their life together rather than having to deal with it later. So I think that there is a lot of value to that.

Rebecca Neale: 46:43 Absolutely. It’s something about setting expectations from the get go to a that can be very important because when everything is very ambiguous and you have no idea how it’s going to come out, it makes it a lot scarier.

Maggie Germano: 46:56 Yeah, that makes sense. Um, so we talked a little bit about, you know, scenarios where maybe one person in a marriage is not either not earning as much or they’re just not the one managing finances as much and how that can kind of, um, get a little hairy later on with access to that information, access to those funds. Um, what’s your advice when it comes to like protecting yourself from an early, the early stages in your marriage? If maybe something were to happen to break down the marriage later?

Rebecca Neale: 47:32 Absolutely. Because I’m, you know, I don’t think it’s necessarily black and white. This is financial abuse and this isn’t in terms of whether you can recover, recover from it. I think that if you start out your marriage communicating about your financial goals, communicating about, you know, how much is in the bank accounts, what kind of financial goals do you want to achieve and how are you going to get there? If you keep that conversation open instead of avoiding it, then you do have an opportunity to cultivate that good relationship with your partner about money conversations. Because money decisions should be made together. You know, that might mean that one person is literally paying the bills because they, they’re the ones pushing the buttons on your auto bill pay. Right? But that doesn’t mean that you guys don’t have an open sharing of what’s in the bank account and talking about, well, should we really be accumulating this a credit card debt or should we be paying off paying it off?

Rebecca Neale: 48:32 You know, do we take out a second mortgage do to do a renovation? Do we contribute the maximum to retirement? Or, you know, what are we going to do now? So those conversations are really important to continue to cultivate throughout the marriage. And, um, my husband and I, we share a password manager. Like, so all of our passwords, I can access anything of my husband’s and he can access anything of mine. Which, you know, just starting off with that assumption, it’s kind of freeing in that, you know, if he ever has any question about any of our finances, he can go look it up. He’s not very involved in our finances cause I love doing that kind of stuff. But at the same time, you know, he knows exactly where to find all that info. He has all my passwords and we have conversations about, um, um, how we’re gonna spend the bonus, um, how we’re going to, uh, contribute to retirement and things like that. So it should be a communication, uh, and a partnership in that regard. But it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t mean that everybody has to do all the work. Like you don’t have to switch off every month. I pay the bills this month and you pay next month. You know, you can still play to your partner’s strengths. Um, but just keep talking.

Maggie Germano: 49:49 Yeah, I love that. And I’m, I’m a huge proponent to keeping those money conversations ongoing too because having that open communication, the understanding with each other, both sides, just knowing what’s going on at any given time. And like you said, you know, I’m also the money manager of the household. I like to do it. I’m good at it. He doesn’t like to do it. So I’m fine with having the, you know, the main responsibility of that. But I also find that it reduces a little bit of the burden when I can like check in with him and let him know, like, this is where we stand on how much we’ve been spending for the month, you know, Hey, stop bugging me about going out to eat because we like are pretty close to our budget. Um, and then just being able to feel like a team when you’re making bigger finance, financial decisions together. Um, yeah, I think that’s really helpful. And sharing the password manager, that’s a really good idea. Um, because even, you know, if something were to happen and you were not accessible for some reason, your partners still needs to be able to like pay the mortgage or get access to health insurance information and all of those things. So making sure that both people have all of that really important information is, is really, really just so important.

Rebecca Neale: 51:06 Yeah, it’s emergency preparedness. I mean, that’s the other part of my job. What I do is a state planning and yes, I put together legal documents where state planning, but I also talk about things like password managers, like for millennials, you know, that’s a really easy thing for them to do is to just share their passwords with a trusted person. Um, and um, for the older generations a little more challenging because I, they are more comfortable writing them down. When my parents, I actually have some of their passwords into my, in our password manager because I’m like, okay, I don’t want to have to look this up again for you. We don’t, we’re not going to go through this forgot password thing again next time I have to help you with something online. Um, but yeah, that’s my emergency preparedness. My state planning hat is the password manager.

Maggie Germano: 51:55 Yeah. That’s really important. And that’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, not just within my marriage, but also like you mentioned with parents and in-laws and you know, who, who has what in case something happens, what will they need if something happens and how to actually access that information in those funds if, if something were to happen. Right. Yeah. Right. Um, so is there anything else that you want to make sure that listeners are taking away from this conversation? Both in terms of, you know, preparing for a divorce, going through a divorce or just, um, managing money in a responsible way within a marriage?

Rebecca Neale: 52:33 Oh, I love all the things that we’ve talked about. There’s so important. Um, I do think that, uh, it’s really great to have that calm, those conversations with your partner and if you feel like things are getting more and more, uh, secretive to try and open it up and try to, um, continue those conversations so that it doesn’t get to the point where it’s unmanageable. Um, and if you’re contemplating divorce, uh, it’s important to know that, uh, just because you don’t have access to that information or money now doesn’t mean that you’re not necessarily entitled to it. And if that’s your situation, just know that you’re not alone. Uh, but it is, um, something that needs to be navigated carefully and thoughtfully. Um, and I do suggest you work with an attorney who can know all the tools that are available in the toolbox and help guide you through it. Um, so that’s, I know it’s me plugging my services, but at the same time, I do think it’s really important and I, uh, I wouldn’t be doing this work if I, if I didn’t think so.

Maggie Germano: 53:40 Great. Well, thank you. That’s really helpful. And related to plugging your services. Do you have anything you’d like to promote to listeners?

Rebecca Neale: 53:47 Not right now. Um, in terms of, I don’t have any, you know, big project I’m working on, I’m just working on helping my clients. But every week or so I publish something on my blog or I do a Facebook live. So if you want to ever, you know, read the things that I’m talking about or see me on Facebook, just like my Facebook page, it’s facebook.com/bedford family lawyer and a, you can catch some of my Facebook lives. You can comment if you have any thoughts on it, subscribe to my, to my newsletter. Uh, if you like the kinds of things that I’m talking about here. Those are the kinds of things I talk about, um, on the blog.

Maggie Germano: 54:26 Great. And how else can folks get in touch with you directly? Like if they wanted to work with you or something like that? Yep.

Rebecca Neale: 54:34 Um, well so they can call me a very, very antique way of communicating, but it works. It’s 781-499-2016. So two zero one six, that’s 2016. That’s when I started my own firm. So I thought it would be kind of cool since the number was available. Um, and uh, or they can send me an email or look on my website. My website is Bedford family lawyer.com and my email is [email protected] Pretty simple.

Maggie Germano: 55:06 Wonderful. Thank you. You make it easy that which is great for people who need you. I try. That’s the point, right? Yep, exactly. Well thank you so much for being here today. I know that this topic is something that I don’t have a ton of familiarity with, but that I think is really incredibly important, especially for women out there. Um, so I really appreciate you coming to talk about it and answer my questions and just give so much helpful information to the listeners out there.

Rebecca Neale: 55:36 I’m happy to help and if your listeners have questions in the future and you know, shoot me an email and I’m happy to weigh in on it.

Maggie Germano: 55:43 Great. Well thank you so much. Thanks. Bye.

Rebecca Neale: 55:50 Thanks for tuning in to the money circle podcast this week. Make sure that you rate, review and subscribe so that you never miss an episode. It might not seem all that important, but subscribing and rating actually helps to get the money, circle podcasts in other people’s ears. If you’d like to get more connected with money, circle or with me. There are lots of ways you can do that. To join the free Facebook group, visit facebook.com/groups/moneycirclegroup. To stay informed of any upcoming events, subscribe to my weekly newsletter maggiegermano.com/subscribe. If you’d like to join the virtual money circle membership group, visit Maggiegermano.podia.com/inner-circle. To learn more about my financial coaching services, my speaking and workshop offerings, or just to read my blog, visit Maggiegermano.com you can also follow me on Instagram and Twitter at MaggieGermano. Thanks so much for listening. Bye.