Divorce — for better or worse — means a lot of change. Sure, it means a change in how you relate to the world. But it also means a change in how you relate to your wallet — especially for women.
According to a study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, women’s household income fell by 41 percent, on average, after divorce. In a heterosexual marriage, this large dip in a woman’s income after losing her spouse can be largely attributed to two societally-rooted issues — the pay gap and traditional gender roles.
In general, thanks to the pay gap, women make less than men in similar roles. This gap grows larger as you move up the career ladder. As a result, in dual-income households, losing a male partner can often mean losing a salary that’s larger than yours. Women are also more likely than men to take care of children and elderly or sick family members — often taking a hit to their earning potential. Stay-at-home moms or women who took significant breaks in their career to caretake are at risk of losing a large part of the income they depended on for their quality of life.
Women who divorce individuals who are not men also face similar struggles. The pay gap affects all women — no matter who they used to be married to — and can make approaching that dual-income annual salary more challenging for women than men. Not to mention the fact that Americans are not fully protected from employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the majority of the United States.
On top of this drop in income, divorce is expensive: the average divorce in the United States is $15,000 per partner. While the financial changes that come with divorce can be challenging, there are ways to make it easier. We spoke to several divorcees about how they approached their finances after their major life shift; here’s their best advice.
1. Realize you’re approaching a new life, and ask yourself how you can get there. Then, put a plan in place.
“Ask yourself what you want your life to look like in 5 years, 10 years… maybe more depending on how old you are. Here’s the thing: divorce is overwhelming. Thinking of a new life can feel like an anvil around your already downing body, but stick with me! It might seem scary to look at what your life may be like as you feel like you had it all planned out before, but be your best friend and ask yourself, if you had a fairy wand, what would you be doing? Where would you live? How are your finances? Then, look at steps to get there. Maybe you want to make a certain amount of money per year, but know that at your current job, that will never happen. What can you do to change that? Create the picture you want to be in, then take the steps to get there. Create a new dream.” — Paige Harley, divorced mom of three kids and divorce transition specialist.
2. Take a look at your month-by-month spending over the last year. Then, take is slow and set a monthly budget based on your new cash flow. If you need extra cash, consider a side hustle.
“Transitioning from two incomes to one can have a dramatic effect on your spending ability. You’re probably going to want to reevaluate your budge to account for this change in cash flow. Consider taking the time to sort through your expenses from the past several months and compare that to your monthly take-home pay. If you’re struggling to balance your budget, you may have to adjust your contributions to savings plans and investments or pick up a side-hustle to boost your cash flow.” — Leslie H. Tayne, a divorced mom of three, author and esquire.
3. Rethink big purchases that feel good in the moment.
“After my divorce, I made a few large purchases including all new bedroom furniture. While it felt good to redecorate the bedroom, my timing was terrible. I had to get used to paying bills on my own, and figure out what my new "single mom budget" would look like. The last thing I needed was to add extra bills into the mix. I now encourage my clients to avoid making large financial commitments until they have a sound financial plan in place. That way they know whether or not they can really afford it.” — Leah Hadley, President of Great Lakes Divorce Financial Solutions.
4. Give yourself time.
Nicole Middendorf, a certified divorce financial analyst at Prosperwell Financial, says that women she has seen with liquid capital tend to fare better after a divorce. She advocates that women need to “stand up for themselves” and attempt to get all of the assets that they can. She reiterates that having a solid budget, and cutting back on living expenses if necessary, is crucial. Maybe most importantly? Don’t give up on hope. Nicole suggests that it takes most women around “three years to get back on their feet.”