All The Single Ladies
I received an email in August from a woman who finds herself moving on from a 20 year marriage. She is discovering the freedom of now going it alone, but the journey is certainly not an easy one. She wrote to me just to say thanks for the stuff I write, and that it has helped her; she is feeling confident. She is excited for her financial future because her ex was a spender who was rubbish with money and she was not and she sees her financial future as being so much better without him.
Through her email I could feel her steadfastness to not let this situation beat her, to not let her ex cheat her out of anything that is rightfully hers. She is one powerful, feisty, determined chick I tell you.
Queue power ballads!
Kelly Clarkson - Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)
Beyonce - Irreplaceable
Christina Aguilera - Fighter
Taylor Swift - We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
Her email had quite an affect on me and it continued to play on my mind. So, I reached out to a number of women I know who have also been through marriage breakups and this blog post is for all of those woman out there who had planned to grow old with their husband, but now find themselves suddenly single.
Grab a wine and have a read…
Dealing with divorce and money brings out a particular vulnerability that we will probably not be exposed to at any other point in our lives. If our marriage ends, which is tough enough, it is sometimes a double blow to find that when we divide up all the relationship property, we are also financially ruined too. How on earth can we prepare for this? For starting again both emotionally and financially?
In 2017 there were 8001 divorces in New Zealand, quite a hefty number so it is therefore not surprising that I know a number of divorcees.
I’ve got sisters, friends, subscribers and friends of friends whose relationships and marriages end up in divorce for one reason or another and many of them gave me some insights for this blog post. Some have been extremely amicable and smooth whilst others turn into years of meetings with lawyers where each spouse develops a deep loathing of the other. Where when all is said and done there is that cruel finality of “I’ll take the dog, you can have the cat. I’ll take the washing machine, you take the fridge. I’ll take the three seater, you take the two, I’ll go rent, you stay in the house with the kids, OR, we need to sell the house outright”...
Everything you ever did was together, now everything you had gets torn in half, or if your ex is a particularly narcissistic w**nker, quarters. Three for him and one for you. Sadly in a divorce all too often the marriage does not just end and we move on, but instead both parties burn every bridge that bound that marriage together as they walk out the door.
It’s a long, winding and emotionally charged road that leads up to any split but what’s done is done and how on earth do you move forward from that?
You know how I bang on about budgeting and planning and above all becoming debt free as soon as you possibly can? Well there are a million great reasons to put debt behind you once and for all and the possibility of divorce is certainly one good reason. I blogged about marriage being the riskiest investment you will ever make almost two years ago: The Riskiest Investment: AND most of us will do it...
And that post ended with this:
So my answer is to accumulate as much wealth as you possibly can while you are at your happiest in your marriage... so that if your relationship does go belly up then at least you both (and any dependents) have enough to survive on. Don’t save for your retirement (well, actually you should do that too), instead save for your get out of jail/marriage fund. Do the leg work early on and build up the coffers as much as you possibly can. If you break up you are both going to get more or less half anyway. You might as well get half of a decent sum right?
Pretty simple strategy? Get out of debt and build wealth as early as possible in life. Heck, being debt free is going to probably remove one of the major stresses people have in marriage anyway: money! Then if a divorce is something that occurs you can each have enough to buy your own house and move on with life. I would rather divide up a networth of $1,000,000 than $100,000. Oh but life is just not that black and white and extricating yourself from your significant other is a long and winding road indeed and the women I have spoken to had a few pointers to share.
Kate’s financial knowledge was zero long before she got married, thanks in part to an upbringing where there was little financial education from her parents. For her, handling money just seemed too difficult, not to mention tediously BORING so she just left it up to her husband once they tied the knot. Then she kind of completely lost her voice over money so it seemed even more pointless learning how it worked. So between the two of them they just blew through their cash without giving it much thought.
Another woman, Louise, now in her early 50’s, was great with money going into her marriage but not so her spouse. The warning signs were all there with her future husband; in his early 30’s he had NOTHING but student loan debt and he lived payday to payday. But these alarm bells are so easy to overlook when you are in LOVE. After they were married they pulled out her superannuation money that she had diligently saved for her future retirement to buy their first house and his parents chipped in with some cash too. Then they added some children to their family and they just pretty much lived their twenty years together well beyond their means, always spending much more than they made. In the early years Louise strongly felt that this wasn’t right or sustainable and she spent A LOT OF TIME AND ENERGY trying to reign in her super spender husband but after a few years of feeling “tight and mean” and just battling him all the time about spending money they didn’t have, she just gave up. And what do you do if you can’t beat em? You join em, hence years of living far far beyond their means.
Another woman I spoke with, Jane, went into her marriage in a similar way to Louise. Their first house together was in her name and she also provided the hefty deposit by selling the home that she fully owned. Why? Because her husband had so many debts he could not get a mortgage. His desire to only work 2.5 days a week didn’t help matters much either but she worked full time and over time they combined all of her assets into both of their names.
Each of these women’s opinions about how to handle money were silenced in their marriages by spouses who thought that they knew best when it came to handling money. So the first thing Kate said she would change, and the first thing she DID change when she found herself single again was to
get herself financially educated and EMPOWERED.
Handling money in a relationship should be a shared exercise, not a job that is handed off for one of you to manage without the other having any input. It’s OK if one has more interest in the day to day details, in my own marriage I’m always looking at our numbers, just as long as we
BOTH make the decisions about how money is used.
For Jonny and I every decision we make is discussed and we don’t do ANYTHING until we are in agreement and sometimes that may mean changing what we were originally planning to do in order to reach consensus. If we didn’t do it this way I could see that it could easily create resentment and personally I would not be able to stay in a relationship where my partners actions had the potential to ruin my financial future.
For Louise her turning point and her saviour after her split was rediscovering how “bloody great she still is with money and what a brilliant saver” she is. All that common sense she possessed prior to saying “I DO” has come back with a vengeance and although she has a mountain to climb to recover financially from her divorce, she reminds herself just how far she has come in the 20 months since her breakup. It’s because of this progress she says she is “not quite in the financial position she should be in at her age, but all is not lost”. Her momentum is building!
For Kate, who is now mid forties, divorcing (although hideously painful emotionally) was a great way for her to wake up and be in control. For the first two years post break up she spent some money on herself; on yoga, facials and massage, because she just needed to feel better so she found the money to make these things happen. She also found a wonderful female counsellor who helped her find some remnants of self worth and this helped her build herself back up again. Her path back has been a long and emotional one but ten years down the track she is finally feeling AWESOME! An additional piece of advice she offered is that now she is the sole breadwinner in her life, and she has shared custody of her child, she
made sure she got income protection insurance
to protect her income if she becomes unable to work for any reason. A very good point because as many of these women pointed out, the realisation that YOU ARE IT when it comes to paying the bills is a tough one. Going from a double income to one means a lot of things need to be cut from your budget and buffers built into it to cope with lean times. And that planning is down to you and you alone. Kate took full control of this fact and
now she keeps a tight budget
and knows down to the dollar how much she has and where it is going and that gives huge peace of mind and is crucial in helping you plan your future.
Louise walked away from a 20 year marriage with nothing but a half share of the business they owned together. Because of their passion for travel, none of which they could actually afford, they amassed a lot of debt. By the time their marriage ended they had six personal credit cards, each maxed out and also a mortgage and business debt. When they split they sold their house and using the equity they had built up paid off the six credit cards they had maxed out. There was JUST ENOUGH to set them both up in a rental property, hers with their three children. After all those years of paying a mortgage she had absolutely nothing to show for it and she was back to square one. Less than square one actually. “What a bloody waste” were her words.
Two years after they separated she is still extricating herself from the business they own together and she told me that “believe you me jointly owning and running a business with your ex ain’t a whole barrel of laughs either!” This continues to be a source of stress and anxiety and she can’t wait to end that chapter, something she is actively working towards. So while Louise has complete control over her personal finances and she is really positive about that, she still has a financial connection to him via their business and she can’t wait for the day when she is fully independent of him.
She said she could not begin to even describe how stressful and soul destroying this process has been as their separation turned from amicable to ugly. One of the first things they did was
set up new personal bank accounts and insurance.
After the first year things between them began to turn to custard and she suffered massive anxiety and panic attacks trying to deal with a future that was no longer the one she had planned for. To lose the security of a friend and husband and another income was a big blow. She said she still has moments of panic when she thinks “what happens if I get sick and can’t work”?. But, like Kate regaining control over her personal financial situation, Louise found that rediscovering the knowledge that she always had has been a game changer and very empowering. Louise said that you don’t realise how financially damaging divorce can be. It’s incredibly scary to be on your own and having to start again from scratch.
REGRET is ever present over the decisions and choices made in the past and all the money spent and wasted but Kate summed it up well when she said it’s time to
stop apologising for your past
and the decisions that were made at the time under different circumstances. You cannot change them so it is best to look forward instead.
Today it is ten years since Kate’s marriage ended. She said it took her about five years to feel good about herself again and now she feels AWESOME! Now she is very frugal but it doesn’t come from a place of poverty. After her divorce she did some very hard yards in some pretty bad rental situations but she went on to finance and build her own small home which is her sanctuary today for her and her daughter. And she has a good relationship with her ex husband. She said it’s empowering to work towards becoming mortgage free and when she pays off that final dollar she will know that she did it herself. She has full control over her financial situation and understands exactly where every cent is coming from and going to, which is a remarkable turnaround from just ten years ago.
Louse is only two years into her journey and she has learned that one of the important things is
being strong and standing up for yourself
when a split happens. She walked away the loser in the deal when they split their personal debts/assets, mainly to ‘keep the peace’ as it was important to her that their split remained amicable. But afterwards when she looked around the house that she now rented and she looked at the ‘shit I ended up with’ it made her so very angry. Thankfully, in the beginning they were able to work together to do what needed to be done as far as each moving out, setting up two houses to rent, getting their house sold to pay their debts but over time that has turned to custard as she said her ex is definitely all about looking after only himself now. She said, “so believe you me, when it comes to the business selling and splitting the proceeds I’ll be standing up for every little penny that I’m entitled to. I’ve learnt my lesson big time!”
Several of the women I spoke with stressed that we should all
iron out inequalities in pay DURING a marriage.
For Louise, although both husband and wife worked full time in the business, that they co-owned, for some inexplicable reason, he received a higher salary. In another instance the wife had stayed home to care for their children, stopping her own career which allowed her husband the time to ‘climb the ladder’ at work and invest heavily into his own superannuation scheme and NOT hers. When divorce rolled around these inequalities became glaringly obvious. It took a long and expensive legal battle in court from this feisty woman but it was worth it as she now receives half of this pension because when you think about it, had they stayed together that is exactly how it would have worked, they would have shared it as a couple and it would not have mattered that she had no superannuation of her own. But once they separated it mattered a great deal.
Jane, was gobsmacked when while watching TV one night her husband turned to her and said “I want a divorce”. Three days later he had created separation papers and put this extremely detailed document in front of her detailing the division of assets listing every chattel they had, the value of each (that he had calculated), and how he had divided it between them. Very calculated. Very calm. His friend stood close by ‘as a witness”. Numb with shock, she signed it, agreeing to all his terms, because she also knew that if she had fought him he would have “gone mental”, so a large part of her was thinking of self preservation and “I just want to get out”. He had all the facts and figures laid out and in his mind's eye he had all that money earmarked, he had his next house planned and his future all mapped out, there was just the matter of a little paperwork to be done first.
He did offer for her to stay in the house and take over the mortgage payments but because they had recently moved cities so he could pursue HIS career, hers had taken a back seat. Previously in a well paid, stable job she was now working jobs on short term contracts and based on that she could not secure a mortgage to pay him out and keep the house. There was no choice but to sell it. She then spent the following couple of years boarding with a family as she found secure work and eventually her own flat to rent. He on the other hand, who brought NOTHING into the marriage, took all the money he could get and moved on very quickly.
Four years after her split, the moral of Jane’s story is to
always have some of your own money.
She said that it just gives you your own independence when you have your own money, which you can manage however you please. The irony for Jane was that in every other relationship she had been in she had always kept herself financially separate, but with marriage she made the decision to share everything. And it certainly came back to bite her. Today, four years later she has finally purchased her own home again which after some extremely careful money management and moving to a town with cheap housing she has done it with cash and she is determined to never make herself that vulnerable ever again. She still has a long way to go, there is a retirement to plan for and she is still pursuing getting her career back, but she has stopped going backwards now and slowly she is well on her way both emotionally and financially. Incredible.
Time and time again we hear that woman walk out of a marriage with less, just to get out, get gone, protect children and above all keep the peace and avoid the tension escalating. My observation is that in many instances the male in the relationship seems to take a more calculated and clinical approach, focuses on money, and emotion stays out of it, that is certainly what Jane’s ex did. Another friend I approached said that her ex husband “was a very factual person and could easily separate from his emotions” when it came to the financial settlement but at other times he would explode with anger. Many were facing an extremely angry ex, especially when he didn’t get the settlement that he had decided he wanted. Many of them said it is very easy to feel intimidated and bullied and to consider doing what you are told just to shut him up and avoid conflict.
And while I am pretty sure that for many, if not all of these women, there were some pretty full on shouting matches where each side gave as good as they got as emotions took over,
physical violence is never OK. Ever.
So one thing I wanted to note here is that several of the women I spoke with mentioned how angry their spouses had become when it came to sorting out the separation agreement and the spouse didn’t get what they had demanded. They told me of spouses throwing their toys out of the cot and raging, ranting, demanding, intimidating and bullying. Having someone up in your grill displaying these behaviours, in my mind, would be absolutely terrifying. For one of these women in particular her husband took it a step further and physically threatened her. She rang the Police and laid charges against him. Always ring the Police and lay charges. Always. I can’t stress that enough and because I know this woman personally and remember them as a happy couple it is so sad to see that their relationship has broken down to such a level where he thinks physical violence is the way to solve a problem.
Many of these women took the settlement that was offered, but was unfair, and walked away just to keep the peace but later realised how much worse off they are and that they have a much longer road ahead of them to recover.
In the words of one woman “I am absolutely determined that I am going to stand up for my rights, like you wouldn’t believe. And I think that's my biggest advice to women who are separating. Do not let the man in your life be a manipulative prick!!!!”
Stand up for what you're entitled to.
All of the women I engaged with for this blog post said that starting again, all by yourself is a nerve wracking proposition. Louise said that if you add emotion and regret over all the “stupid financial decisions we’ve made over the years” while married to the mix she knows she has a very steep hill to climb when retirement is just 11 years away. But boy is she fiesty and despite initially settling for less than she should, just to keep the peace, dividing up the remaining spoils of marriage will be a more equitable split that she is prepared to fight for. Now that she is back in control of her income and her personal bank accounts she is hitting the ground running and already finds herself in a far better financial position. She has built up a savings buffer and she said the security of having savings has been massive and she now knows that with planning she will be able to buy herself a house that she can own outright as soon as possible if she continues on this path of being great with money.
Kate strongly advises to any woman going through a divorce,
get a good female counsellor, don’t just listen to your friends.
Others have found the support of practical friends who offer constructive advice immensely useful, so I guess it’s just a matter of finding the right friends to support you through. The advice she gives to young women that she meets is to get financially educated and to get empowered ASAP before going into a relationship. Some approached lawyers and found them to be a place of last resort where the lawyer advised them to fight it out amongst themselves and if they have no luck to come back to them. Others have through sheer luck or good management hit upon the perfect lawyer for them and even though this cost them money at the time, at the end of the settlement process they secured a more equitable deal and paying a lawyer was worth it.
I’m a practical person, I’ve never experienced such a huge emotional loss as a divorce, but I strongly believe that if your marriage has gone up in smoke, the biggest thing you have to lose is your future. From hearing from these women I have learned that at every turn protect your children from emotional harm and:
- Stand up for yourself
- Get educated about money
- Be organised
- Be strong
- Be decisive
- And above all fight for what is yours
- Get help from a counsellor, trusted friend and/or lawyer
Creating a plan and a strategy for coping helps me and will help you map out the next day, week, month or year. Your strategy won’t be the same as mine so you need to create something that resonates with you. Put the ‘jobs’ that need doing NOW at the top of your list and only once you have completed them do you move onto the next job because if you try to organise your entire life at the same time you won’t be able to mentally or physically cope.
It might look something like this:
- Sort out a place to move to OR if you are staying in the home, get him moved out quickly
- Stabilize your income and hours so you can provide routine for kids if you have them and know you have money coming in
- Visit your bank and set up new accounts for yourself
- Reassess your insurance needs
- Get a settlement agreement finalised with your ex and have an end date to work to
- Most people end up having to take on a mortgage to get a house, so visit your bank and buy the cheapest house that will keep you warm and dry
- Once all these needs are taken care of start to plan for your financial future
From those I spoke with they told me that divorcing, although hideously painful, was a wake up call where given time they felt in control of their own lives again. Try not to get stuck on all that you are losing. It’s lost, so begin to let it go. I know it’s hard to think clearly with a broken heart but try instead to turn a corner and see what you have found. Easy for me to say I know, but looking at Louise 20 months post separation, Jane, four years post separation and Kate, ten years post separation, they have each built momentum and are moving into a much more positive space. Each are happy to share what they have learned so that others may be able to avoid some pain.
And finally, Kate said that if and when you meet a new partner one day, because you have your ducks in a row with your money you will walk into that relationship as an independent woman and that’s a freeing and powerful position to be in. She said that once you have built yourself and your net worth back up, anyone who comes into your life is a bonus, not your reason for existing. THAT, she told me is FREEDOM!
Thanks to all of the woman who emailed and spoke with me for this blog post, definitely one of the harder ones (and longest) I’ve written because I’m extremely aware that emotion has such a massive role to play and a marriage ending is not just an exercise in splitting the money. And I’m also obviously aware that I’ve only talked to women which was deliberate on my part. If a bloke wants to write about divorce then I would be happy to accept a guest post, but being a woman, I wanted to speak to women. For all the single ladies, check out the links below of books that others thought you might enjoy.
LINKS that have been suggested as being useful:
I talked to a divorcee in one of my podcasts and this was her experience:
03. Investing for an Early Retirement
A Woman’s Worth - Marianne Williamson
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything - Elizabeth Gilbert (some love this book some hate it!)
Brene Brown - Author of many books
The Barefoot Investor - Scott Pape
Your Money or Your Life - Vicki Robin
Gilmore Girls (I was told that “seriously Lorelai is an amazing role model!”)
Find it on Netflix