You’re divorce is a golden opportunity to reorganize your life.

Getting a divorce can be one of the most difficult periods in anyone’s life. Aside from the heartbreaking end to the marriage, often there are many difficult decisions that need to be made. Where do the kids live? Who gets the house? How do you divide up the assets? It’s exhausting emotionally and financially and can make an already trying time seem almost unbearable. Sarah and Alicia recently sat down with Alicia’s sister Susan, who after 38 years of marriage was caught off guard by her husband’s plans for divorce and found herself thoroughly unprepared for what came next.

“It was Mother’s Day and my husband of 38 years was in New York on business. I was planning to have a nice day to myself and hopefully catch dinner with him later that evening when he called with the shocking news that he wanted a divorce. I was totally speechless. I never saw that coming. We had raised our family together and were enjoying being grandparents and I just never expected to hear those words. What came next was even more shocking. Sure, I handled the household budget, but he was responsible for overseeing the general finances. I had absolutely no handle on our overall financial picture – things like our bank accounts, retirement accounts, and other financial responsibilities. Worse yet, not a single account or policy was in my name. When he later withdrew money from one of our accounts and then swiftly canceled my credit cards, I was left with virtually nothing. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. Emotionally, I couldn’t get past the fact that the marriage was over, but then when I was left feeling helpless financially. It went from bad to worse and I was helpless. Luckily, I was able to turn to my supportive family and my sisters were there for me every step of the way, helping me get my feet back on the ground. Now, seven years later, I can’t believe I was that person. I tell everyone I know that even if you’re happy and think it will never happen to you, you need to know the basics when it comes to your finances. You just truly never know.”

No matter how happy you are or secure you feel, here are the basics that everyone needs to know to get organized:

1. Be your Own Finance Whiz.

You don’t have to love it, but you do have to learn it. Nobody should be without the basics of their particular financial situation. Don’t let one person handle everything. Set up a recurring “State of the Union” meeting once a year to discuss the entire financial picture with your spouse. It’s more than just the checking account. Find out about your life insurance, retirement accounts, college savings accounts, etc.

2. One-Stop Shopping.

Get organized by putting together a binder or folder that functions as a one-stop spot for your most important information. Buttoned Up’s Life.Doc binder is a perfect example, but anything that keeps track of your account numbers, contact information, policy numbers, and other vital information will work. It seems rather simple, since it’s really just a compilation of information such as bank names, account numbers, contacts and their numbers, but it’s a lifesaver if ever needed.

3. Shore Up Your Support.

This is not the time to be a martyr and go it alone. If you do find yourself in divorce proceedings, you are doing to need lots of advice. This isn’t just about your best friend’s shoulder to cry on (though you’ll certainly need that too), but it’s about finding the right lawyer, talking to the right real estate professionals, etc. Ask your family and friends who may have gone through a divorce for their advice on seeking the right counsel. You’ll also need support in other ways, so see if you can get your best friend to watch the kids while you schedule your conference with the lawyer. Divorce adds a lot of pressure to already busy lives, so be prepared in advance with the right support system.

4. Divorce File.

If you thought your paperwork pile was out of control before, try getting divorced. It is a serious undertaking with plenty of legal documents, correspondence, meeting notes, and other papers. It can be tempting to throw everything in a box. But we recommend getting a binder or accordion folder to keep everything organized. That way, you’ll know you have everything you need where and when you need to access it and won’t waste precious time looking for a piece of paper you know you have but just can’t put your finger on.