Facing a divorce? Protect your finances

Divorce is in our face every day. The broken marriages of Hollywood stars and political power couples fill our TV screens and magazine pages. Our email and Facebook accounts reveal that a friend's "perfect marriage" wasn't what it seemed.

You may shake your head and think "not me." Then there you are.

During my time as a financial advisor I counseled many clients about their money as they went through a divorce -- and I even experienced one of my own. Most of us anticipate a certain level of emotional turmoil. But are you prepared for the financial fallout?

The good news is you can avoid most of them with a bit of diligence and planning. If you're currently facing a divorce, here are some things I'd suggest:

1. Do your homework. It's critical to assess how your divorce will impact both your short and long-term financial goals. Take time to account for any household items that you'll need to replace and evaluate how this will affect your immediate cash flow. Understand your total net worth (assets and liabilities), and other significant financial obligations including mortgage or rent payments, retirement plan contributions, child support and alimony payments. If you have young children, project future expenses including car insurance, tuition and other large purchases which often accompany the teenage years, as well as more immediate needs such as daycare.

2. Understand your assets. Not all assets are created equal. Instead of allowing emotions to drive your decisions, carefully evaluate the financial benefits and consequences of different assets before you negotiate your settlement. It's tempting to ask for the house, but your residence, while valuable, is an asset that requires mortgage payments and a considerable amount of upkeep. Instead, consider requesting a portion of your spouse's retirement plan - a tax-deferred and potentially appreciating asset.

3. Update your financial accounts. Immediately revise the beneficiaries on your checking and savings accounts, investments, retirement plans and life insurance policies and update your will. Update all property deeds and car titles - the names of former owners are not automatically removed following a divorce. You may also want to cancel credit cards or ensure your spouse is no longer an authorized user on your accounts. Also confirm that you have been removed as a co-owner on your former spouse's accounts so you aren't held liable if they fail to meet an obligation.

4. Review your insurance coverage. Your insurance needs may change once you're single. Evaluate your life, health, disability, auto and property insurance policies and confirm that you have adequate coverage for yourself and any dependants. Ask the court to require your former spouse to maintain life and disability insurance to protect any child support or alimony that is owed to you, in the event that they die prematurely or are no longer able to work.

5. Seek expert financial advice. Your attorney will play an essential role in your divorce proceedings, but don't assume your lawyer is a financial expert. Consider working with a financial advisor who can help you with all aspects of your financial life before and after your divorce is finalized. This may include determining fair separation of assets, evaluating cash flow and liabilities, recommending budgets, examining your protection needs and identifying favorable tax strategies.