No matter what the circumstances, divorce is never easy. Both sides have to deal with heart-wrenching personal and financial decisions, but women in particular often find themselves in need of solid financial and emotional advice.
Divorce financial analyst Stacy Francis and psychologist and author Debra Mandel offer their advice on how deal with divorce on both fronts.
Protect yourself financially
After a divorce, a woman's cost of living can increase dramatically, hence the reason why court-ordered alimony and child support payments most often go to women. Even so, experts report the average woman experiences a 45 percent decrease in her standard of living after going through a divorce. Meanwhile, the average man experiences a 15 percent improvement in his standard of living.
Divorcing women often react financially to their feelings. They operate from a place of feeling hurt, angry and unappreciated, and that influences spending — for good and bad. They may overspend to compensate for their feelings of loss or fear becoming a bag lady and eat nothing but Ramen noodles to save money. This is a time to look realistically at hard-core finances, and Francis recommends taking the following steps:
- Create a budget
Look at what expenses can you eliminate, what you can reduce. Budget knowing you won't have the same standard of living. Look at your income, investment income, alimony, child support. If you have credit card debt, it means you're overspending. Stay on budget. Many women underestimate household expenses — mortgage/rent, utilities, repairs, insurance.
- Emergency fund and health insurance
Take any money you receive from your divorce and build an emergency fund — three to six months of your living expenses. Financially protect yourself and your family in case something happens and you can't work. Learn not to become dependent on using credit during financial hard times. Build this fund even before you invest.
Make sure you have medical insurance in place. You can continue coverage under a husband's group plan for up to three years after the divorce, but you pay the premium. You may need to find a lower-priced policy on your own.
- Invest your settlement
Once you have your emergency fund in place, invest a substantial portion of your settlement. This is an opportunity to secure your financial future and achieve long-term financial goals, such as purchasing a home, sending your kids to college or retirement. Work with a reputable financial planner to help you invest it properly.
Getting over the emotional pain
No matter whether he wanted it, she wanted it or it was a mutual breakup, there's no such thing as a divorce free of emotional pain. A mutual decision leads to the easiest recovery, but this is rarely the case. Sometimes there are feelings of deep betrayal because of an affair, or because promises and commitments have been broken. For both, the emotional consequences can be very painful.
Mandel says it's important for a recently divorced woman to understand what type of emotions to expect:
- Expect a range of feelings
Understand and recognize that it's normal to have a full range of feelings, regardless of the circumstances, such as betrayal, guilt, sense of failure, abandonment, rejection, anger, despair, hopelessness, fear of the unknown and relief.
Betrayal is often the most difficult. If there's been cheating going on in the marriage, there's a betrayal of trust and confidence. There can be any number of betrayals — fidelity, financial, responsibility, having a partner believe you're someone you're not.
- Take time to heal
Don't jump into another relationship. When we haven't resolved feelings from a dissolved relationship, we're likely to flock to the same kind of partner the second time. First, take responsibility for your mistakes. Learn from them to prevent creating the same kind of scenario.
We have this notion that time heals all wounds or that you need half the time of the failed relationship to recover. But that's the wrong way to think about it. We need to actively heal our wounds. Time is in our favor if we are actively healing, rather than just sitting around waiting for things to get better. Learn to forgive, let go, move on.
Signs that you're over it: You're no longer bitter, able to own your own part in what went wrong. You don't put all men in the category of being jerks; you like men. You feel hopeful. You have a sense of lightness.
The time frame varies. If you don't feel you're healing after six months or a year, approach self-help or move up the ladder to support group or a therapist for a couple of sessions.
- Expect the aftermath to linger
Divorce aftermath can last a long time. Sometimes you're divorced even before custody and financial issues are resolved. If you're raising kids together, you continue to be connected to your spouse long after divorce is over. You will be placed in circumstances that cause you to relive the experience of living in the marriage. When in these situations, don't personalize how your ex is responding. It's not about you, but how he responds in that situation. Accept and deal with how this person is behaving, and don't let it get to you. Accept this is now, and part of the aftermath. Don't expect a neat ribbon and bow when you get those papers finalized.