Ending a marriage is not a quick process, either emotionally or logistically. Some unhappy couples will contemplate divorce for months or years before finally deciding to split. In some ways, this buffer of time is a good thing. It offers couples a chance to weigh the pros and cons of a major life decision and to perhaps try a less permanent measure like legal separation.

But if you have a vindictive spouse, the time between deciding to divorce and finalizing it can be financially dangerous. As long as you share joint bank accounts and other financial obligations, your spouse may be able to rack up joint debt and make other destructive moves. Therefore, it’s important to establish some financial independence as soon as you can.

A recent ABC News article discusses some steps you can take even before you officially file for divorce. If you are worried that your spouse may spend irresponsibly or vindictively, it may be necessary to cancel joint credit cards and close joint bank accounts. At the same time, it’s a good idea to open an individual bank account and get a credit card in your own name.

There is also no time like the present to familiarize yourself with the details of your household budget. Some couples choose to share responsibilities for paying bills and budgeting and in other cases one spouse handles everything money-related. Regardless of your situation, it’s important to gather as much information as you can about your finances. Your attorney will be able to help you obtain this information, but doing some of the work right away will make it harder for your spouse to hide assets.

Divorce is not typically a quick process, but that doesn’t mean you have to just sit and wait. If you are ready to take an active role from the very beginning, please contact an experienced family law attorney to get started.

Source: ABC News, “How to Protect Your Finances in a Divorce,” AJ Smith, March 31, 2014