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Other things to keep in mind when divorcing:

June 22, 1997|KATHY M. KRISTOF

* Close joint accounts. Debbie Mollura, a Virginia Beach, Va., divorcee, says a handful of her friends have been cleaned out by vindictive spouses who went to the couple's bank or brokerage house and withdrew all of the money in their joint accounts. If your ex is the vindictive type, you might want to close or put holds on such accounts.

* Cancel joint credit cards. When both names are on a credit application, both spouses are responsible for the debts--no matter who did the charging. Even before the divorce is final, it's smart to cancel joint accounts.

* Consider filing taxes separately. If you sign a joint tax return, you are also jointly and separately liable for any tax that's due now or after an audit. When in doubt about your spouse's veracity, the safe course is to use the "married, filing separately" tax status.

* Count all assets. Some oft-neglected assets--for example, the value of employee benefits such as sick pay, vacation time and stock options; frequent-flier miles; club memberships; season tickets; time shares; and prepaid insurance--have real value and should be considered when dividing property in a divorce, says Victoria Felton-Collins, author of "Smart Ways to Save Money During and After Divorce."

* Think long-term. When splitting property, realize that your divorce is lasting. Your settlement should meet your long-term as well as your short-term needs, says Joseph DuCanto, a partner with the Chicago-based law firm Schiller, DuCanto & Fleck. It's shortsighted to give up tomorrow's pension assets for higher income today.

Indeed, you should be considering what you'll be doing in five, 10 and 20 years before you complete your divorce, says Violet Woodhouse, a Newport Beach-based attorney and author of "Divorce & Money." Supported spouses should consider taking advantage of career training and education opportunities while they're receiving regular income, because eventually that income will end.

* Understand the Social Security ramifications. There's a little-known Social Security law that affects stay-at-home spouses. Specifically, if you were married 10 years, you are entitled to Social Security payments equivalent to half your former spouse's benefit amount. (This doesn't affect the benefits paid to the former spouse.) However, if you were married nine years and 11 months, you are not, Felton-Collins says. If you're close to the 10-year minimum, it makes sense to wait out the marriage a few more months.

* Leave the children alone. Even if you hate your spouse, you love your children, right? Don't make them pawns in your legal battles. Don't oppose a custody agreement that would benefit them. Don't deny the children access to the noncustodial parent because he or she is late with a support payment. Don't criticize the other parent--or the other parent's new spouse--in front of your children. Degrading the other parent is like telling your child that a part of him or her is no good, Woodhouse says.

And it's far easier to collect child support when the relationship with your ex-spouse is cordial.

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