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One of the hardest decisions of life is the one to end your marriage. Both spouses are in the same situation emotionally, no matter how strong we may appear, and the settlement process isn't easy for either party.

That said, women generally face a more difficult economic challenge post-divorce, and, as a result, we must be extra careful in protecting ourselves, especially when we have left money management to our husband.

Here's a mini checklist for women to consider in making an appropriate settlement:

  1. Gather recent financial statements of banking, CD's, investments, credit cards and loans.
  2. Check into your spouse's retirement benefits, 401K and IRA accounts and bonuses.
  3. Credit card debts should be paid off prior to the divorce. If not possible, the agreement should indicate who will be responsible for which debt. Both spouses are liable for joint and individual debt.
  4. Get an appraisal of the family home. Determine the equity amount and whether either party will remain in the home. Should it be sold? If one party is to stay in the home, insist that they refinance the mortgage to remove the name of the other so both parties are not liable.
  5. Should you keep the martial home? Can you afford the upkeep of the family home considering your potential income? If not, it might be better to sell it.
  6. Create a projected budget, anticipating income and expenses as a guide to post-divorce money needs. Can you get a job or will you need some retraining? This will help determine a request for spousal support for a limited time.
  7. Determine the value of personal property, investments, and automobiles for decisions about their division.
  8. Look beyond the divorce — if you have been married 10 years or more, you qualify for half of your husband's social security benefits when you reach retirement age. If half of his benefits are more than your own, you can receive his instead. Survivor benefits are yours at age 65 if he dies.

It is imperative that women do their homework preparatory to making a settlement agreement in a divorce.

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