How to divorce when money is tight


One of the biggest worries when it comes to divorce is money. There is no getting around the fact that divorce costs money (though you may be eligible for fee exemptions and other support). And there’s no getting around that for many divorcing couples, money is one of the big flash-points for conflict. 


If there’s not a lot of money to go around it can leave you feeling stuck. You’ve decided you want to divorce, but now what? You don’t have money to throw at legal battles; you can’t afford to set up home on your own. 


It is not impossible to divorce when money is tight. In How to divorce when money is tight we explore all the resources you are likely to have available for free, or at low cost. So you can still take control of your divorce, in a way that works for you. 


Know what money you have

I always tell women they need to know their numbers. And that’s true even when money is tight. Especially if money is tight, actually! You might think, “Well my ex will just keep it all so I’m not going to fight.” But know that you don’t have to walk away without anything. 


Now is the time to get a handle on your financial picture. What are your assets (what do you own, individually, and as a couple?)? This includes belongings and any valuable items like jewellery or heirlooms. It also includes any savings, pensions or trusts. 


Then turn to your liabilities (what do you owe, individually, and as a couple?). Any debts, including your mortgage, fits into this category.


Start to get your figures together. Even if you don’t have all the answers straight away it’s useful to know where any gaps in your knowledge are. 


Know what money you need

How to divorce when money is tight – it’s a good idea to get a handle on what sort of income you are likely to need in the future. Now is the time to be realistic. Don’t pitch for an unattainable goal like a 5-bed house in the country if that’s not within the financial gift your marriage has. But don’t underestimate what you need either – a one bed flat is not appropriate if you have children, for example. 


So think about what your reasonable financial needs will be. Think about your outgoings – going through recent bank statements will help here. Think about house prices and rental costs in your area. 


Make sure you take into account all the necessary areas of your life. If you have a car that you need for work and school runs, you need to factor in those costs, not assume you can do without one, for example. 


Read my book!

“Of course she’s plugging her book!” you might be thinking! She wants my cash! How to divorce when money is tight – educate yourself!


To be honest with you, book sales are not how I earn my living. I wrote How To Be A Lady Who Leaves because I want as many women as possible to make smart choices when it comes to their divorce. I’d love divorce to feel less overwhelming and less lonely for everyone – whether you work with me or not. I encourage women to pass on the book to others in need when they’re finished with it, so you may find a secondhand copy somewhere! 


This book is your one-stop-shop information and support centre when it comes to divorce. It takes you step by step through what you need to do, in what order. And how to do the inner work to get yourself in the right headspace for making smart choices. 


If money is tight, this is £14.99 well spent – it’s likely to save you a fortune over the next few months. 


Use free resources

How to divorce when money is tight – use your free resources! Unfortunately, legal aid for divorce is now only available to those in abusive situations. If that’s you, you can find out more from the Money Advice Service here. If you have a low income you may still be able to apply for legal aid to help with mediation costs. 


There is a lot of free information and support available on the Internet, of course. Google and YouTube can be your friend, but they can also be your enemy! So do your homework.  


For every piece of information you read, make sure you know who has written it and whether they know their stuff. Make sure it also applies within the legal jurisdiction you’re part of – you don’t need advice from USA lawyers if you’re in England!


Here are some trustworthy resources:


Make use of your support networks

How to divorce when money is tight – make use of your support networks. I always caution against getting legal advice from friends. Your friend might have got divorced two years ago and know how the system works – or thinks she does. 


Her experience is absolutely valid, but it is simply her reflections on her own divorce. It does not replicate the years of training and diverse experience that a legal professional has. So, by all means, listen to your friends, but double check any information. And take any advice with a pinch of salt. Just because they had a dreadful experience in court, for example, does not mean you will. 


Where friends can come into their own is with emotional and practical support. Do not hold back from asking for what you need. Honestly, your friends will not consider you a burden. If this pandemic and lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that we like to be connected to others. So allow yourself to connect. 


Maybe you find it stressful going through paperwork, and want someone with an eye for detail to help you. Get your super-organised friend on the case. 


Maybe you need childcare to attend a mediation appointment, or simply to get some headspace. Ask. You can always return the favour another time.


Maybe you want to vent over a bottle of wine for a few hours. Choose your nearest and dearest (following the latest social distancing guidelines of course) and set the world to rights. 


Understand your values

It can feel like your life is coming apart at the seams when you embark on divorce. Everything is thrown up in the air and the future feels unknown. And it’s true – you might not know where you’ll live, how much money you’ll have, or when you’ll see the children.


But you can tap into what’s important. No one can take that away from you. It’s a foundation for the life you want to build – during divorce and after. And it doesn’t cost anything. 


Your values are like a compass in the world. A direction rather than a destination. So take some time to figure out what’s most important to you. A helpful way to start is with a value sort exercise – and you can find a free one here. It’s developed by Harvard University so has pretty strong credentials! 


Once you know what values are important to you, you can start to bring them to life. You don’t need money for this. It’s about how you are in the world, rather than what you buy. 


Prioritise your investments

It’s highly likely you are going to need to spend money somewhere along the line. So take the time to weigh up your options and decide where to invest. Think about what’s needed, and how your own time and attention is best spent. 


One thing you should definitely not do is instruct a solicitor straight away. Solicitors are expensive! And yes, you may decide to invest in legal representation rather than self represent at some point. But do so once you’ve figured out what you want and need from the solicitor first.


And if you do self represent, you may decide to invest in support to ensure you’re on the right track. This could end up saving you thousands if it means you get a fairer settlement than going in blind. 


I have a variety of services to help you navigate your divorce. You already know about my book. Here are some other ways I can help you:


For free: spend some time searching through these blogposts! There are hundreds in here now, and with the search function at your disposal it’s a treasure trove of information. You can also join my free Facebook Group Ladies Who Leave for support and information.


In a community: I have an active membership community, The Absolute Academy, and that’s where you’ll most often find me online. We have weekly calls, I’m on hand to answer questions and you are in the company of other women committed to getting their divorce done. It’s £147 per month, which is around the hourly rate of many solicitors, so great value! 


On programmes: Get Divorce Ready is a programme that takes you step by step through everything you need to get divorced. I’m with you over the eight weeks, answering any questions and keeping you on track. Anyone joining The Absolute Academy by 26th October can sign up to the programme. 


1:1: I offer a range of packages to help women through divorce – whether it’s a one-off 90-minute call to work through sticky issues, to regular support as and when you need it.


If you’re curious about how I can support you to navigate your divorce as smoothly, and cheaply, as possible, I’m happy to chat. Just book a call in with me here.

About Emma

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is 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. To find out more visit

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