By Yosefi Seltzer, Fort Meade Legal Assistance Attorney
If you are thinking about legally separating from your spouse, there are several steps you should consider to protect your property and residency interests.
Ideally, both of you should enter into a written Separation Agreement to clearly define your rights and responsibilities:
- Address housing responsibility.
If you own a house or rent an apartment with your spouse, decisions will need to be made with regard to who may continue to reside in the house or condo as well as who will be financially responsible for the mortgage, rent, taxes, insurances, utilities and repairs.
If you rent, each of you will have to determine where you will live before the lease expires. If one of you wants to remain in that home, that party will have to negotiate a new lease with the landlord that relieves the other spouse of any responsibility or occupancy rights.
You will need to discuss who will retain each vehicle and who will take responsibility for the car payments, repairs and insurance.
- Storing household goods
If one of you is moving out of the marital home, be careful about the personal possessions and financial/personal documents you leave behind. Your spouse may attempt to sell, donate or dispose of them.
If these personal items are important, take them with you or make arrangements to secure them elsewhere.
- Credit cards and banking
Any credit cards or bank accounts that list your spouse as a joint account holder or authorized user permits your spouse to continue to make purchases, write checks or withdraw funds.
It is recommended you contact your credit card company and bank to attempt to remove your spouse as an authorized user or joint account holder, close the account, or at a minimum, freeze new activity that can prevent new purchases or withdrawals.
- Change passwords.
In order to protect your privacy, it is recommended that you change all of your passwords for electronic banking, email accounts, social media and online shopping.
If your spouse has access to those passwords or to a family computer that saved your passwords, the spouse can continue to monitor, use and tamper with those accounts.
- Update your estate plan.
If you have a medical or financial power of attorney, it is advisable to select a primary agent other than your spouse when you are considering divorce.
If you have children, consider updating your will to properly designate testamentary trusts and select trustees other than your spouse to manage assets you intend to leave to your children.
- Update beneficiaries.
If you named your spouse as a beneficiary for life insurance, bank accounts or brokerage accounts, you will probably want to select someone else.
If you have minor children, the money can be designated for a testamentary trust established in your will and you can select trustees other than your spouse to manage those funds. Don’t forget to update Servicemembers Group Life Insurance as well.
- Immigration visas
If you (or your spouse) are not a U.S. citizen, the spouse who is a U.S. citizen has an affirmative obligation to provide notice to the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service regarding the legal separation.
This could impact the non-citizen spouse’s rights to proceed toward legal permanent residency, naturalization or remain in the U.S.
If there are children from the relationship, custody will have to be addressed, particularly if the non-citizen spouse intends to return to their country of origin.
There are many serious implications that affect property and residency interests when you separate from your spouse.
To discuss your personal legal questions and Separation Agreements, call the Legal Assistance Division to schedule an appointment with an attorney at 301-677-9504 or 301-677-9536.