- While a divorce action is pending, it is critical to protect assets and income from a spouse's out-of-control spending.
- Cancel joint accounts while making sure not to leave your spouse without child support or the means to pay necessary expenses.
- Consider a postnuptial agreement and keep documentation of all spending patterns.
As a matrimonial and family law attorney and a certified divorce financial analyst, I often meet with people concerned about financially protecting themselves from a spouse’s out-of-control shopping habits while they are divorcing.
Challenges related to divorce and finances are difficult enough to navigate, but if you add the stress of dealing with a spouse who is suffering from mental health challenges, the anxiety can sometimes feel like too much to bear.
I work with mental health professionals regularly. One symptom of a manic episode, though it is not true for all people suffering from issues of mania, is poor decision-making. This can include spending sprees. The emotional stressors that imbue the holiday season, combined with the in-your-face advertising campaigns of most retailers, can trigger an episode that could add another financial challenge to what may already be a source of stress.
You can do a few things to legally protect yourself and your finances when married or through a divorce with a spouse who suffers from bipolar disorder or another mania-related disorder. (Please note that not every person with bipolar disorder or any mental health disorder has these symptoms.)
Consider a Postnuptial Agreement
If you have decided to remain married for now and are not yet filing for divorce, you have the option of entering into a postnuptial agreement with your spouse, delineating and dividing assets and income during and in the event of a divorce and or the death of either you or your spouse. A postnuptial agreement is similar in concept to a prenuptial agreement but is executed during the marriage instead of prior to the marriage.
The postnuptial agreement can specify what assets are to be divided now and in the future and how and if support is to be paid for a spouse. If you and your spouse already have children, you can also determine such issues as custody and child support.
Terminate Joint Accounts
Very importantly, you can protect your assets and future income from manic spending episodes with indemnifications and the termination of joint credit cards or lowering the limit of your spouse’s credit line if they are a secondary card holder, terminating joint accounts, and ceasing to pool income.
If You Are In the Process of Divorce Action
Typically, the period between filing for divorce and the signing of the final settlement agreement will take many months—and for more complex matters, perhaps years. During that time, both spouses are required to file detailed “financial affidavits” with the court, attesting under oath to their expenses and individual finances in a document known as a Statement of Net Worth, which ultimately forms the basis for setting child support, alimony payments and equitable distribution of assets and liabilities.
Tell Your Attorney About Manic Spending Concerns Immediately
While a divorce action is pending, it is critical to maintain the financial status quo, and it is also imperative to protect assets and income if one spouse has a mental health challenge that manifests in out-of-control spending. If you are already working with an attorney, let your attorney know of your specific concerns immediately. You may want to show your lawyer recent credit card statements and bank account statements and provide specific documentation illustrating your concerns. Your attorney can file a Summons with Notice. That generally sets a date to value the assets and liabilities and should, in most cases, end the spending down of joint accounts.
The date of commencement of your divorce action sets a date to determine assets (brokerage accounts, retirement assets, banking and savings accounts) and liabilities (credit card balances and Home Equity Lines of Credit, etc.).
If you cannot accomplish this in a timely way, you must make clear to your spouse in writing that spending from any joint account is not allowed as of a certain date or that expenses must be capped at an agreed-upon dollar amount.
Communicate With Your Soon-to-Be Ex
Whatever you do, make clear to your spouse that the financial status quo must be maintained, and that he or she cannot spend joint resources without your knowledge and consent.
Consider Enlisting the Help of a Mental Health Professional
In addition to working with an attorney, it may also be helpful to work with a mental health professional to address some of these issues. As I always say, it is most important to make the safety and mental health of yourself and your children a priority during this incredibly stressful time.
Note: This post is not intended to serve as legal or mental health advice. Each situation is unique. Please speak with a local mental health professional or attorney to address your issues specifically.
To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.