In many marriages, one party usually manages more of the financial responsibilities than the other. For example, your spouse may pay the household bills and make the investments.

When you decide to end your marriage, you need to get up to speed on financial matters. How should you prepare for the property division phase of your divorce?

Joint accounts

If you and your spouse have joint bank accounts, close them and open new accounts in your separate names. You should also split any income you receive until the court determines how the monthly revenue should be divided. If there is a joint account that you need to retain for the time being, your attorney can draw up an agreement explaining the purpose for the account and stating how the funds should be spent. Checks drawn on the account should carry two signatures.

Credit cards

If your credit cards are held jointly, your attorney can prepare another written agreement concerning any activity that appears on those cards. One spouse should not use a credit card and incur more debt without the other spouse knowing about it. The best course of action is not to use credit cards at all while the divorce is under way.

Possible spouse problems

If you feel that your spouse has been spending money unwisely—for instance, during an extramarital fling—be sure your attorney is aware of your suspicions. If true, your soon-to-be-ex can expect to be penalized during the property division phase of the divorce, either by having to repay the assets or being awarded less in the divorce settlement. Another action you might consider taking is to freeze any investment assets that exist until the divorce is final.

Copies in triplicate

Both you and your spouse should have complete, identical sets of the financial documents pertaining to your marriage, and your attorney must also be provided with a set. Property division is among the most stressful stages of the divorce process, but if you are well prepared on the financial front, it will likely go much more smoothly than you anticipate.