You’ve finally found the courage to admit to yourself that your marriage is in trouble. Maybe you’re arguing all the time, you’ve lost feelings for one another or you no longer trust your spouse. Whatever the reason is, it’s over—and you’ve accepted that.
But, now, you’ve got another hard pill to swallow: Your finances. From sky-high legal fees to the loss of half (or more) of the household income, splitting up can wreak havoc on a woman’s finances. Can you even afford to get divorced?
Here’s how divorce can make a monetary impact, and some expert-approved tips on weathering the financial blow of a break up.
If There’s Abuse, Don’t Wait to Leave
Your safety—not your finances—should be your number one priority when you need to end a relationship.
“If you’re being emotionally or physically abused, get the hell out of the marriage regardless of what you can afford,” says Aviva Pinto, a certified divorce financial analyst and director at Bronfman Rothschild.
Ask to stay with friends or family, or go to a shelter, to remove yourself from a violent environment. Getting yourself into a safe, supportive space will help you take hold of the situation and plan your next step.
Figure Out How Divorce Would Affect Your Current Lifestyle
If your safety is not in jeopardy, you’ve got a bit of time to figure things out—but it might not be easy. The legal costs of getting a divorce can climb into the five-figure range. While that’s steep, it’s nothing compared to the potential long-term financial ramifications of a messy ending with your spouse.
The good news is that with some advanced planning, you can make a much more seamless transition to splitsville. Start by taking stock of your current lifestyle, along with the expenses associated with it.
“Your analysis should consider your current assets (liquid and those that can’t be sold until later), along with current and future expenses,” says Pinto. “Examples of future expenses could be your next home, college tuition, weddings for your children, vehicles and health care.”
Don’t forget about long-term changes that may affect your finances. Things like Social Security benefits, possible inheritances, alimony, taxes and inflation will all influence your risk tolerance for investments and your monthly and annual spending, she adds.
As you’re crunching the numbers of what single life would cost, don’t assume that you’ll only need to pay half as much to live like you do now (even if you plan to downsize your home).
“When you’re married, you share utilities, rent, etc., but when you split up, you’ll each have those expenses individually,” says Pinto. “That’s the biggest nut to crack.”
The goal is to get a solid grip on what you’re spending, how much you have in the bank and what you can potentially earn on your own. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider consulting with a certified divorce financial analyst, who can review your financial documents and help you make sense of the numbers. You don’t have to do this alone.
Plan Your Next Move
After you have a clearly defined picture of what living on your own may cost, you have some decisions to make. Should you divorce right now (despite an uncertain future), or wait it out until you can put some extra money in the bank?
“Maybe it’s better to get out of the marriage and you don’t care about your lifestyle as much. But other people suck it up and stay married, because they want to maintain their lifestyle,” says Pinto.
It may be worth buying yourself some time to get organized, build savings and develop a plan before divorcing. This might mean separating emotionally, while still living under the same roof.
“Some couples who hate each other but have no financial alternatives can successfully co-exist. They are able to achieve this by basically staying away from one another,” explains Melissa Fecak, a divorce attorney at South Jersey Divorce Solutions. “They may work different hours, keep separate bedrooms or make other arrangements that allow for them to limit contact with one another. While not an ideal situation, it can allow the parties to make do until their financial circumstances change.”
That situation probably won’t last forever (nor would you want it to), so take advantage of the amount of time you have left in your marriage to prepare for single life. Spruce up your resume if you haven’t worked in a while, open new bank accounts to start separating your finances and cut back on unnecessary expenses.
But, if you feel like you can’t afford to divorce—and you can’t stand the idea of spending another day with your spouse—your finances may need to take a short-term hit. While not easy, asking for help from people you love might be necessary.
“Find ways to squirrel away money to save up, and ask your parents or siblings if they can help you out in the meantime while you get back on your feet,” says Pinto.
Finances should never hold you back from leaving an unhappy marriage. While buying yourself some time before a divorce will help make things easier when you’re eventually on your own, the emotional toll it takes might not be worth it. Be smart about your finances, listen to your heart and remember: This challenging time won’t last forever.