As a several-decade veteran of financial planning and wealth management for women, I can tell you that divorce is devastating for the female population. Thank goodness this has never happened to me, but I do hold the CDFA® designation (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst) that qualifies me to help women after a divorce.
Often, women neglect their finances during a divorce because their male or female partner is “taking care of things.” But you must know that you cannot neglect your wealth situation! Whether it’s signing up for financial coaching, or developing a retirement plan, I encourage you to take the first step. This article will help you survive divorce.
Divorce, Drama, and Women
“Divorce” is a word that conjures up images of high drama, public breakups, and teary-eyed reality TV. American culture has sensationalized the end of marriage so much that it's easy to forget that divorce is actually a serious life event.
When two people separate, they do more than just moving into different bedrooms. Divorce is both emotionally and financially challenging for those involved, often resulting in financial ruin for one or both parties. But despite all the media hoopla surrounding divorce, if you're going through this experience yourself, there are steps you can take to survive it with your head held high.
This guide provides seven steps women can take to survive divorce as smoothly as possible:
1 - Women Can Take Care of Themselves
You're going through a lot, and it's essential to take care of your body, mind, and spirit. Eating well, exercising, and sleeping are just a few ways to keep your energy up during this time. If you can't exercise, find other fun activities or meditate daily for 10-15 minutes. Don't forget about your mental health either. Find things that make you happy so that when times get tough, those positive moments will help get you through.
Focus on the positives in life, and there are plenty! Maybe this is the wake-up call you need. Take advantage of what's already been given instead of always thinking about what could be taken away.
You need to focus on building your support systems even stronger than ever before because, during divorce proceedings, it can feel like everyone else has left your side. There's also nothing wrong with having "alone" time every now and then. Having built-in support systems throughout our lives isn't always realistic. That is due mainly to circumstances outside our control. The point is to reinforce your own mental, emotional, and physical strength so you can overcome this challenge and be better for it in the long run.
2 - Build Your Supportive Female Community
You will need people to talk to, have fun with and help you. You will need people who are listening and supporting you during this time. You will also need people who love you and are there for you when it feels like no one else is around.
As I said before, the divorce process can be challenging for anyone, but especially for women who tend to put others first in their lives and sacrifice their own needs at times. It is important that we take care of ourselves as well as our children during this stressful time so that we don't become overwhelmed by our circumstances or make poor decisions about what is best for us!
Schedule brunches or ask your friends to go for a walk together. Be sure to ask about their lives just as much as you rely on them to hear about your pains and situation. Friendship is a give and take, and they will be more willing to help you if you are showing genuine care for them as much as a need to have a shoulder during this process.
3 - As a Woman, Secure Your Personal Finances
Divorce is going to make a significant impact on your finances. It does not matter who in the relationship earned more money. You are both going to experience some kind of financial upheaval.
Start by taking stock of your income and expenses, and then outline your assets and debts. This will help you form a workable budget so you can realize the correct level of income you need to support your lifestyle. This is also relevant to your divorce proceedings. There are usually discussions of spousal support, child support, who gets the house, etc. Having a budget shows the court and your legal team how serious you are about moving forward.
Other financial things you may want to consider include:
- Get a credit card in your name only
- Get a bank account in your name only
- If you suspect your spouse is hiding assets from the divorce proceedings, contact a forensic accountant to investigate
- If you suspect that your spouse used joint accounts for fraud, direct the bank to freeze those accounts
4 - Start Building a Warchest
Building a warchest is an essential part of the divorce process. In fact, it’s one of the first things you should do when you realize that your marriage is ending, that way, if things get ugly and you have to leave your home quickly (or if your spouse decides to use the money from a joint account to start paying for his new girlfriend’s car payments), you won't be left stranded with no resources for yourself or your children.
You need a secret stash of money hidden away somewhere other than in a joint account. Something that would be incredibly hard for your ex to access should they decide they want more than half of everything in it. This savings account can be as simple as cash kept under the mattress, but it's probably better if it's in an actual bank where they'll hold onto it until there's some sort of legal resolution between the two parties involved. I have many clients that use online high interest-yielding savings accounts and maybe a small amount of cash on hand or a safety deposit box is somewhere hidden away.
If at all possible, try not to keep this fund in any form other than cash. You do not want any of your hard-earned savings to become a target for creditors who want what isn't theirs due to your ex’s poor spending habits.
5 - Women Should Maintain a Divorce Calendar
One of the most important things to keep track of during a divorce is deadlines. It's easy to lose track of time and feel like you're spinning your wheels, but there are some things that have to happen on certain days, or else you risk losing out on rights and opportunities.
For example, if you don't file for divorce within a certain amount of time after separating from your spouse (this varies by state), then he or she could argue that they didn't agree to be divorced yet and stop the process altogether.
To avoid this happening, it's essential that both sides know when the separation actually took place so that neither side has an excuse not to move forward with their lives as independent individuals. Have a digital or physical copy where you track every appointment with your lawyer, court date, and point of contact with your spouse outside of arbitration or legal proceedings.
6 - Stay Organized and Keep Everything Document
It's crucial during this time of transition (and after) that women stay organized and keep everything. You must maintain copies of all legal papers (divorce papers, letters from attorneys) as well as financial documents (bank statements, credit card statements).
When possible, keep copies of correspondence between yourself and others—especially if they relate in any way to your divorce or property division issues. Keep tax returns from the last few years as well as insurance policies, both current and expired. You do not want anything overlooked during negotiations with an attorney. That way, you avoid problems later on down the road when determining who gets what in terms of assets earned during marriage vs. pre-marital assets brought into the marriage by either party involved.
7 - Women Can Stick to a Routine
You can't be a wallflower right now. You have to get up and out of your chair with the intention of doing something. Your job is to stay busy, so you might as well have fun doing it!
Take up a hobby or sport you've always wanted to try but never had time for before, like tennis or painting classes. Try not to let yourself fall into a rut, though. If tennis is boring after three weeks, try something else.
Volunteer at your local animal shelter or soup kitchen. This will keep your mind off of things by giving you something important to focus on (otherwise known as “the greater good”). Plus, just like exercise, volunteering helps reduce stress levels, so it's a win-win. You need to occupy your mind so you can get perspective and begin to heal.
This is also a great way to build out your network because you can invite friends or meet new people during these pursuits.
For Women, Having a Positive Mindset about Money Helps
Don't get caught up in everyone telling you what to do with your money. They don't know how much debt you have, how much your ex will be paying, or what will happen for your retirement years. Only YOU know these things about yourself.
When you have a bad physical injury, you contact a doctor. When you are suffering emotional hardship (like right now), you reach out to a therapist. When you are trying to protect your financial future from a soon-to-be-ex, you need a professional finance coach like our team at Meyers Financial.
We have spent years working with women just like you as they transition through divorce and out to the other side. We work hard to help create strategies, budgets, and wise choices so you can enjoy the life you want with the newfound freedom away from a bad relationship. Time to move on, and our expert advisors at Meyers Financial are here to help!
Lillian Meyers CFP®, CDFA®, EA is a Financial Planner for Women in Sonoma, California helping clients live their best life through the use of financial planning, investment management, and other sophisticated financial options.