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Handling Money When Navigating the Divorce Process

MoneyWhen I was going through the whole devastating separation/divorce process, I felt like I was drowning in emotional pain and fear about my future – specifically my money future.

I was the typical stay-at-home wife and mother, so when divorce hit at the ripe old age of 64, I hadn’t worked “outside” in any serious capacity for almost 35 years. That meant no recent job experience, no “proof” that I could take on work, and I was well beyond the best by date for anything that paid better than minimum wage. (And I’d be lucky to even get that!) Or did I have to get a job – could I get by without it? How much money did I even need?

Money was and still is a problem for me, but I think I could have handled some things  better and perhaps spared myself a few sleepless nights. So here are a few things I learned that can maybe help you.

Get Financial Help
In the early stages, before anything is settled, find a financial professional who can help discover and organize marital assets, make negotiating plans and strategies, and then later help you plan within your changed financial situation.

This, I think, is vital and something that I didn’t do. Yes, your lawyer (if you’re using one) can offer some advice but that’s not her expertise. I tried to figure things out myself, learning about retirement plans, pension plans, insurances, taxes in the middle of an emotional storm. As a result, I didn’t always make good decisions.

Make and Understand Your Budget
Another thing I didn’t do – at least not at first. I really had no clear idea about how much money went where. How much did I spend a month on groceries? On gifts? On clothing? You need to do this, no matter how scary it might be. Because once you know what you’ve been spending, you have a starting place for what you want from the settlement.

There are several free online budget programs that aren’t difficult to use, such as mint.com – one that I’m working with.
Banks, lawyers usually offer budget worksheets for their customers, or make up your own in a notebook.

Money is scary. Not understanding money is terrifying. If you can, get someone close to help you. Face the fear.

Get Your Bank
If you haven’t done so already, you need to open your own bank account, preferably a different bank from the one used in marriage. Make an appointment with the bank’s financial advisor and introduce yourself, explain what you’re going through. If you don’t feel comfortable with this person, be brave and try someone else. It’s important that you have someone you can talk to and feel confident about. Even if you know you aren’t going to have much money, it’s still YOUR money. That was one of the most difficult things for me to truly grasp: I was responsible (and in charge).

Know Your Benefits
As I mentioned, I didn’t work outside the home for many years, so had no pension of my own and no money of my own, but I did qualify for many seniors’ benefits even before I was eligible for Social Security/Old Age Pension. Banks, restaurants, pharmacies, grocery stores, hotels – many offer discounts and specials. Once I started looking, it was quite surprising what is out there. I had to cut back on many expenses, yes, but I found I could also save quite a bit of money if I became aware.

Furthermore, if money is really tight, there are many government and social agencies that are there to help those with low incomes. Take advantage of everything you can, especially as you are finding your way through. Grab hold of every life raft that comes by and keep yourself afloat until you reach shore. There is no shame in surviving.

Re-evaluate
Don’t make hasty decisions. Try to understand your finances, prospects–what will your new “single” life look like? Maybe staying in your marital home is no longer an option or if it is, is it the right option?

If at all possible, try to look at your situation as you might look at a business, keeping emotional issues out of the picture as much as possible. Easier said than done, believe me, I know this. Just remember: you are not powerless. One step at a time, forward into your new life.

 

Letting Go and Moving Forward

How many times have I heard those words from friends, even strangers or read them in so many different books and articles? I know everyone means well, but really, how does one “let go” of 37 years of marriage as if they were no more than an old pair of jeans that no longer fit?

For better or for worse, in sickness and in health. How on earth does one let that go? It happened. You can’t erase the past.

And “move forward?” Against the binding ties of so many years of life together? Impossible.

For a long time, it truly did seem impossible as I struggled through each day of fear and hurt and bewilderment, only to relive it all night after sleepless night.

It wasn’t until it was over, the divorce final, that I realized I truly was on my own. To be honest, I was terrified. For more than half my life, I had defined myself in terms of being part of a unit, one half of a marriage. And that was gone. Whatever had or hadn’t happened in the past–it was gone. There was no going back. No do-overs.

I wrote on a long sheet of white paper: Today is the first day of the rest of MY life. I read it every day. I tried to believe it.

But who was this person left in the wreckage? Where would she go? What would she do?

For me, that journey forward started with spotting a pretty pink armchair at the local recycling shop. It had curvy, soft lines and it made me feel good to look at it. Not trying to sound too pathetic, but back then, feeling good was sadly a rare occurrence. The chair was inexpensive, fit into the back of my old SUV and once I got it home, it became my place to sit with a cup of coffee in the morning. Just for me.

My husband would have hated that chair, but that didn’t matter anymore, did it? I could do whatever I wanted, couldn’t I? For the first time, that thought felt good instead of frightening.

Next I found some lovely lacy curtains (again at a thrift store – hey, I didn’t end up with much money but there is also power in being frugal). I checked out a DIY site on Google, then sanded and refinished the kitchen table. I dug out some fabric I had stashed for decades in the basement and recovered the chairs that went with the table. It was pretty. It made me happy.

I was making MY home.

Over the years, without consciously realizing it, I had shrunk my world to fit the confines of an unhappy marriage, trying to be someone else, someone that he would love. All I had accomplished was to lose little bits of myself along the way.

The joy I felt every time I saw sunlight filtering through those lacy curtains was opening a path in my heart. A path forward to myself that is reflected in how I go out into the world, what clothes I wear, the food I eat.

No way it’s an easy path. The thorny brambles of the past will always show up along the way. I stumble a lot, but I am moving forward into MY life.

Believe me, I’m not some paragon of strength and determination. It’s taken me five years to get to this point. But even a quivering sparrow of a woman can rise up from the cold ashes of divorce and grab hold of the joys that are out there in every day/

Well, I am here, alive and even thriving, and I am telling you: it’s all out there, waiting for each of us. One step at a time, right?
Yes.