People who get divorced commonly take a hit to their standard of living. This is largely because you’re splitting the income and shared expenses of a single household. Suddenly, you’ve got the same total income, but you’ve got twice as many people who need to pay for housing, health care and everything else you used to share.
Divorced women tend to see the biggest changes, but women—and men—can take several key steps to protect their financial futures. These start during divorce and carry into your new life. Approaching them strategically can help minimize the financial impact of your divorce.
Financial planning for now and later
When U.S. News & World Report looked at how divorce affected the finances of men and women, they found that women took the bigger hit. Many factors contributed to this difference, including the general income disparity and the fact that women more often put their careers on hold to raise children. But it also owed partly to the fact that men more often managed the household finances.
If you don’t understand your financial situation, you’re more likely to see it slip out of your control. The good news for women is that they often gained a better understanding of their finances after divorce. They gained more control and confidence. With planning, however, you might gain that confidence and control without first taking the hit.
Here are some of the steps you can take:
- Take stock of your current financial picture, including your income, assets, bills, debts and regular expenses.
- Work with your attorney to set clear goals for property settlements, child support and spousal maintenance. Make sure you listen, as well. Every choice has consequences.
- Remove your spouse from any shared credit cards or other accounts you intend to keep. Set up individual savings and checking accounts.
- File a QDRO if you expect to share a 401(k) or other retirement account. Make sure your attorney understands your goals.
- Review your budget and expenses, looking for places to trim away the fat. Expect that you’ll need to make sacrifices.
- Update your will, life insurance policy, health insurance policy and anything else that may name your spouse as a beneficiary.
You want to make sure you work with an attorney who will speak candidly about your choices. For example, you might want the house. Couples commonly fight over who gets to keep the house because houses often carry great sentimental—as well as financial—value. But can you afford the mortgage and utilities? How much will you have left for everything else?
Aim for the future
Your divorce lays the groundwork for your life after divorce. It’s not all about finances. It’s about your new freedoms and possibilities. But a solid financial foundation can certainly help. You deserve a fair settlement and solid launching pad into your new life.