Money and divorce: a combination that gives most people a few additional grey hairs. Knowing what you have, what you don’t and coming to a settlement that feels fair can be seriously hard work. And, unfortunately, it’s even harder if you have ill health. For one thing, your financial situation is likely to be more complex or stretched. And for another, you’re having to do everything while your health is not optimal. At a time you could do with a few more batteries in your system and an extra couple of days in the week, you’ve ended up with less. It’s not fair! Yet, it is what it is. And it doesn’t mean you can’t stay in control. Here’s what you can do to take charge of your finances when you have ill health.
Check how your illness affects your financial situation
If your illness is new, or if you haven’t paid your finances much attention for a while, it’s time for an audit. Having an accurate financial picture is crucial for any divorce. I say ‘never agree to anything without knowing your numbers’ so often I’m sure regular readers will be rolling their eyes!
But this advice is especially vital if you have poor health. Your health may already have affected your financial situation. Over time it’s likely your picture will continue to change – for better or worse. So it’s always wise to check in with your current income and expenses. And whether there are untapped funds you may be able to access, whether it’s from insurance policies, pensions, your local council or charitable grants.
Moneyhelper has a useful guide to potential sources of financial support here.
Keep doing what you’re doing
It can be tempting to cut corners to save money, especially as the cost of living rises and with winter approaching. But always prioritise any expenditure on your health.
When it comes to financial disclosure some women feel nervous about sharing the details of their spending. But spending that supports your health isn’t a luxury. It’s not frivolous, it’s necessary. Don’t skimp on it for fear of what your soon-to-be-ex might say.
If you and your soon-to-be-ex can’t reach agreement over a financial settlement, you will need to apply for a court order. The court will base their order on what they consider fair. And your health situation will be a factor (more on that in a moment).
So don’t be afraid of living and spending in line with the needs of your health. The court will want evidence of how your health affects your financial needs, and health-related spending forms a vital part of that evidence.
What the court will consider
When it comes to financial settlements, the court seeks a fair agreement. Of course, ‘fairness’ is subjective: people can disagree on what it means. So to guide the judge, there are a number of ‘factors’ listed in Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. These s25 factors all work together to help the judge assess the particular circumstances of your case. Ones that are particularly relevant when it comes to health are:
- The income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources which each spouse has – or is likely to have – in the foreseeable future
- The financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each spouse has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future
- Any physical or mental disability of each spouse
As you can see, the court is interested in your ability to bring in money. This may be affected by your health if you are unable to work, or unable to work to the level you have previously. Of course, if you have other income streams, such as disability benefits, a pension or insurance payout they will also be taken into account.
The court will also examine your current and future expenditure, or, in other words, how much money you are likely to need to maintain a similar standard of living to that which you had while married. Health related expenses, such as medicines, treatments, equipment and personal support will all be factored in here. If your health is likely to deteriorate in the future, incurring additional costs, that will also be taken into consideration.
The Matrimonial Causes Act makes specific reference to physical and mental disability, in awareness that any disability can have a wide ranging impact on your current and future life.
Pace yourself and be your own advocate
It can be hard to stand up for yourself when it comes to your health. We have been conditioned to think that the ‘strong’ thing is to keep going, no matter what. To not cause a fuss. To ‘not let’ disability or illness get in the way of doing what you want. In reality, of course, that’s not how it works at all. Your illness, disability or condition doesn’t know or care that you’ve got a divorce to sort out. You can try to push through all you want, and sometimes your body and mind will just give you a firm ‘no’.
So work with where you are. Acknowledge your need for rest, and to go at a slower pace. Acknowledge it to yourself first, if you haven’t already. Recognise what you need, whether it’s time, lower stimulation, rest, medical or therapeutic attention, and give it to yourself.
And don’t be ashamed or nervous to speak up for what you need. Many people experiencing disability or ill health feel a stigma. Hopefully, ableist views are increasingly being called out for what they in society. And having the ability to state what you need and what your boundaries are will help others in similar positions.
If you need more time to complete paperwork, make sure to let your legal team know. Be clear about why. If you need help, ask for it. Depending on your health situation there may be agencies or charities that can support you.
Don’t feel pressured by your soon-to-be-ex. Their timetable is simply that – theirs. Give yourself the time you need to understand your financial situation and the implications for your future before you agree to anything.
Need help navigating your money situation?
I’m here for you. I have a range of 1-1 services to help you get to the heart of your divorce issue and move on with as little fuss as possible. Sometimes you just need setting on the right track. Book in a free consultation to see how I can help you.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com