Tag Archives: divorce

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.

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.


Getting Through The Weekend

I’ve always loved the weekend. The anticipation of that last period on a Friday afternoon in high school, when our French teacher let us read old copies of Paris Match, instead of having to endure learning verbs or vocabulary or translating French to English or vice versa.

And then that drag on the stomach on a Sunday evening, listening to ‘Sing Something Simple’ on the radio, driving back from a day out on the coast, knowing school beckoned the next morning.

Or when the kids were young, and Friday afternoon meant the freedom of the weekend, just hanging out and enjoying being with them, before the Sunday evening routine of making sure homework was done, bags packed and clothes laid out for school next morning.

When it was just my husband and I, Friday evening meant going out for dinner with the weekend ahead to just hang out, sitting out on the deck with a glass of wine, shooting the breeze, going to a movie, visiting the kids, having our granddaughter for a sleepover, having the family round for Sunday brunch or a barbecue. Weekends were… perfect.

And then my world dissolved and everything went topsy-turvy. Now I dreaded Friday afternoon when everyone went home to relax. Friends who’d been available for coffee during the week were now tied up with their own husbands and families.

The weekend now emphasized just how alone I was. If I’d had a job, things might have been easier, but very often at this age we are retired, or have not worked in years. Now I couldn’t wait for Sunday evening when the world went back to ‘normal’ and I could, once again, look forward to meeting with my friends.

Two years in, I don’t dread the weekend any more. I’ve established new routines, but those early months were hard. Very hard. But you’ll get through them. I’m not pretending it will be easy, but you will.

Here are some ideas to help you.

Make Saturday and Sunday your days to do your grocery shopping and clean the house.
Sleep in.
Pay your bills.
Catch up on e-mails.
Go to church.
If you live in a city, buy a book on local urban walks and go exploring.
If you have a bike, pump up the tyres and see where your wheels take you.
Go window-shopping downtown.
Visit a museum.
Wash your car.
Read a book. (Caution, I know of many women – including myself – who were unable to sustain the focus to read a book for more than a year after being abandoned. If reading used to be a passion, it might take a while for your concentration to come back.)
Veg out on the sofa and watch all the shows you’ve recorded from the TV that week.
Work in your garden (if you have one).
Have a sleepover with your grandkids.
Go to a movie with a friend. (Don’t go alone – unless you go midweek – until you feel comfortable doing so.)
Cook (or bake) lots of food and split it up into portions which you can freeze for the upcoming week.
Go for a drive in the country.
Visit a historical site.
Volunteer with your local pet society and walk a dog.
Have a movie night – at home – with another single friend, either at your house or theirs.
Go shopping at thrift stores.
Sewing and craft projects.
Join a fitness centre and take a class.

Runaway Husbands

RUNAWAY HUSBANDS: The Abandoned Wife’s Guide to Recovery and Renewal by Vikki Stark.

Website: http://runawayhusbands.com

I love this book. It was my ‘bible’ in those first few months after my husband walked out on me, assuring me I was not alone, and talking me through the healing process. Even now, two years later, I’ll pick it up, and read through a few pages. There’s always something in there that helps me see how far I’ve come, in both practical and emotional ways, but still acknowledges the hurt and loss that will probably – to some extent – always be with me.

Written by a therapist, who was blindsided when she found herself in the same situation as so many of us, she gathered together the stories and thoughts of over 400 women who had also been abandoned. Patterns emerge thoughout the book, both of pain and healing. You – and we – are not alone. Other women have walked this path before us. Their stories are painfully recognizable… and their healing and transformation inspiring.

Close to the beginning of the book, Vikki Stark gives the 10 Hallmarks of what she calls Wife Abandonment Syndrome. Working my way through the list, I ticked off nine-and-a half of them. (I was fortunate – my husband didn’t leave me destitute.) I found the list extremely helpful as it left me feeling less stupid. I wasn’t the only person who had been manipulated by a man I loved.

Here is Vikki Stark’s list. I hope it helps you the way it helped me.

1) Prior to the separation, the husband had seemed to be an attentive, emotionally engaged spouse, looked upon by his wife as honest and trustworthy.

2) The husband had never said that he was unhappy or thinking of leaving the marriage, and the wife believed herself to be in a secure relationship.

3) The husband typically blurts out the news that the marriage is over out-of-the-blue in the middle of a mundane domestic conversation.

4) Reasons given for his decision are nonsensical, exaggerated, trivial or fraudulent.

5) By the time the husband reveals his intentions to his wife, the end of the marriage is already a fait accompli and he often moves out quickly.

6) The husband’s behavior changes radically, so much so that it seems to his wife that he has become a cruel and vindictive stranger.

7) The husband shows no remorse; rather, he blames his wife and may describe himself as the victim.

8) In almost all cases, the husband had been having an affair. He typically moves in with his girlfriend.

9) The husband makes no attempt to help his wife, either financially or emotionally, as if all positive regard for her has been suddenly extinguished.

10) Systematically devaluing his wife and the marriage, the husband denies what he had previously described as positive aspects of the couple’s joint history.

Friendship is a Lifeboat

Now that the “battle” is over (I have been officially divorced ten months), I have my future in my own hands: I have a life to live, a future to embrace. Right? Well, maybe not exactly quite there yet.

I had thought I was coming to grips with the rejection and grief that official court-signed document had delivered when I first read the words: Certificate of Divorce. Yet more and more I realize I have been withdrawing into myself. Was I depressed? Yes. Was I anxious about this wide-open future? Absolutely terrified, to be honest and still am. I’ve been taking a mild anti-depressant for over a year now and that helped me to stop bursting into tears at little or even no provocation, but the grief over the death of my marriage, the fact that money is a constant worry. No little pill can make any of that go away.

I was drifting further and further into the hinterland of aloneness, staying home, not answering letters, turning down coffee meets with friends, even family. I’d say I was busy, but the truth was I just couldn’t get out of my misery and into the world. I didn’t want to hear one more person tell me that I’m better off without him. I know that but why can’t I get over the stupid, senseless grief?

About one month ago, I caught a shining sliver of light at the end of the dark tunnel.

I sit on the Board of a local writing group and one morning I found myself obligated to attend a Saturday meeting. I guilt-talked myself into going to do my duty as Secretary but in reward, I would leave right afterwards before the monthly workshop began. And worst of all, it was to be some sort of “touchy feely” workshop in which we were all going to–God forbid–discuss and record our writing goals and dreams. Write them down and put them in a homemade “Dream Box.”

I had once wanted to be a writer, but all I’d written for the past four years were lists, emails to lawyers and endless, fruitless job applications. My writing goals and dreams? Vanished into the mist of the past, just like my marriage.

Oh, I was really on a sorry-for-myself roll. I dragged myself around the house to shower, got dressed, drove to the meeting and sat down.

But…just before the meeting began, one of my writing friends commented that I looked tired. “Yes,” I answered, “I am tired today.” (Setting up my exit for after the meeting, you see.) And oh sure, there came the ever-present tears. I WAS so very very tired–all the time tired. This gentle person standing in front of me said something, I’m not really sure exactly what: a simple comment (not pity) about depression, about how the miracle was that one day, unexpected, the heavy cloud will be gone. She understood, didn’t try to “jolly” me out of it, but in a few words let me know that I was not alone, that we are all together in this soup of life.

Suddenly I didn’t feel so lonely. Some of the weight in my heart did miraculously lift.

I stayed after the meeting and I made the flipping dream box complete with someday writing goals that I dredged out of myself. I talked for a long time with a writing friend I have known for more than 20 years. Divorce, loneliness, none of these topics were mentioned directly, but my friends were there, offering their presence to me like a warm soft blanket. Not a cure, but such a comfort to be around people who care…about me, of all people! I think I needed to know that I wasn’t completely rejected, not hopeless, not unloved.

That day my friends picked me up, dusted me off and sent me back out into my new world without seeming to do anything. I want to remember this: how simple words can mean so much, how it isn’t a weakness to reach out but rather just part of being human. And maybe most important of all, not to be afraid to accept love.

Legal Realities

By the time a settlement was reached, almost four years from the start, I had retained three lawyers and spent a staggering amount of money on legal fees. In Canada, for the most part, a divorce can be accomplished with minimal use of lawyers, a do-it-yourself kind of thing. If I had known then what I know now….no, I would still retain a lawyer, but I would also be more aware of just what a lawyer can and cannot do.

Each of my lawyers was capable and supportive. They all followed procedure, trying to get everything in place within the guidelines of divorce law to bring us to an agreement for the division of assets. However, my husband did not want to come to an agreement; he wanted his idea of an agreement or none at all. He refused to disclose his assets. The next three years were an endless trail of emails, phone calls, court orders, even mediation. No settlement, not even close.

My first lawyer I fired out of frustration when she basically told me she couldn’t go further without his compliance and could suggest no effective course of action. My second lawyer, after a year and a half of the same runaround, took a leave of absence, turning me over to a junior lawyer in the same firm. After taking three months to “get up to speed,” this new, younger lawyer told me this was a waste of time and money, a power play that could go on until all the assets were used up in legal fees. What about making a proposal that I could live with based on what information we did have?

Three hours later, it was done.

We aren’t talking about millions of dollars in assets here, but we are talking about a man who would not be told what to do. He would “give” me what he felt I deserved and not a penny more. And there was no way to force him to comply. Letting go of trying to establish an equal division of assets and simply finding a financial solution to get on with my life was a huge relief for me even though I was left with barely enough money to get by on as I neared by 65th birthday.

The Legal Balancing Act

Lawyers must work within The System; that doesn’t necessarily mean they are looking out for your best interests. You need to know this. My first two lawyers should have explained to me what they must have realized early on: that there is no way to force someone to cooperate in coming to a settlement if they don’t want to. Instead, they led me on through years of frustration, fear and near financial ruin. Only my last, less experienced lawyer was upfront enough to get me out of the hopeless, expensive corner I had been shoved into. And honestly, I think it was in a large part because she didn’t want to see me continue to suffer.

If I could go back…I would try to get some distance, try to remove the emotional colouring and really see what was happening and what was likely to happen. I would have talked to others with experience in the system. I would not look upon my lawyers as my defenders, but as tools for me to use. I would try to be realistic.

I believe in our legal system; I believe, essentially, it is right and fair–or tries to be. But as someone recently told me, “The legal system is not a justice system.” I needed a lawyer to guide me through the system, but after that, it was up to me to be strong, to become informed and fight for myself, and to find some measure of justice that I could live with.