Divorce: Keeping Your New Life Private

A lawyer friend remembers a divorcing couple who jealously guarded every bit of personal information from the other spouse
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A lawyer friend remembers a divorcing couple who jealously guarded every bit of personal information from the other spouse. It didn't matter how small or mundane the detail was -- they adamantly opposed any situation that could reveal it.

A carpenter came to fix a lose floor board? Someone bought flowers for the garden? One of them had fish for dinner? Telling the other spouse about these tiny developments was absolutely forbidden, and God help the child, neighbor, or friend who mentioned it in conversation -- especially where the carpenter-hiring, flower-buying, or fish-eating spouse could overhear.

You might not feel quite as strongly about keeping your ex out of matters that would bore even the most gossip-oriented audience. Still, you have both personal and practical reasons to separate your life as a single person from the life you shared with your spouse. Building and maintaining your privacy is part of that separation. As you work to create your solo self, you should:

Set up your own bank accounts. Whether your deposits come from wages, investments, or divorce funding, you'll want to keep your money (and information about its sources) separate from your spouse's funds.

Apply for your own credit card(s). You need to establish credit in your own name. You also need one or more credit cards that your spouse can't cancel, and you'll probably want to keep your purchases private. Big purchases could help persuade a judge that you need less support or that you're capable of paying more.

• Review your "one click" purchasing arrangements. Many online retailers make it easy for repeat customers to buy things without re-entering their credit card information, address, and other details. The same sellers typically offer customers a record of what they've bought, a handy way to remind them what they sent Grandma last year for her birthday. The same list could reveal that you've sent gifts to the new person you're seeing. Create your own "one click" accounts, linked to your own credit card and a private list of the items you've bought for yourself or as gifts.

• Get your own cell phone and equip it with a new passcode. Your ex doesn't need to see the numbers you dial to talk with your attorney, divorce funding firm, business valuation expert, forensic accountant, or new suitor.

• Change your online passwords. Plenty of married couples know one another's passwords for everything from Facebook to online banking, and that's fine --convenient, even, if you'd like your husband to transfer money into another account or ask your wife to post a status update saying that your surgery went well. If you're ending that relationship, however, you want control over everything you do online. Change the passwords, choosing new codes that your spouse isn't likely to guess.

• Change your social media privacy settings. Your life will be easier if your spouse can't see pictures that show how much fun you had hanging out with former girlfriends at your high school reunion.

Don't forget the accounts you seldom access. Maybe you don't check your frequent flyer miles or diner's club card membership information very often. Data in those accounts, however, could tell an ex about the places you've been -- and whether you took a companion along for the ride.

• Consider redirecting your mail to a post office box. Another lawyer tells the story of a woman who had her divorce funding check sent directly to her home address. Her husband opened the mail and found the check and cover letter. Unfortunately, she hadn't yet told him that she planned to end their marriage. Even in less extreme situations, you might like having a private, secure place to receive bills and other correspondence.

• Get a safe deposit box in your own name. It's a good place to store your jewelry and other small items with sentimental value. You don't want to negotiate a divorce settlement with an ex who is holding your grandmother's wedding ring hostage.

Try not to flip out over the harmless stuff. Blowing up when someone tells your ex that she saw you at the library last week serves no useful purpose, and can make you look a little unhinged.

Instead, put the time and energy into protecting the information that matters. It can make establishing your single life that much easier and smooth the way to your final divorce settlement.

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