With the cost of living crisis, I see many people putting off divorce because it’s an additional expense. And that’s totally understandable. However, all the months you delay your divorce you are also delaying getting on with the life you want to live. So it makes sense to look your money situation in the eye and see what’s holding you back. In this blog we look at everything you can do if money’s holding you back from divorce.
Get clear about your numbers
If you’ve read my blogs or book, or listened to my podcast, you could have predicted I’d say this first! You absolutely need to know what you’re dealing with. What are your living costs? What do you owe? What income do you have? What financial picture does this give you?
If all that sounds overwhelming, start small. Start with what you know and can access easily: look at your bank statements. Remind yourself of your mortgage or rental costs. Check your credit card balance. Build a picture of what money you spend each month, and how much is necessary expenditure versus the nice to have.
Where does all this leave you? It will leave you much clearer on what’s possible financially. If you’ve been worried about paying for the divorce application (£593 in England and Wales) you will have more idea if the funds are available. You may also be eligible for help with court fees if you are on certain benefits.
Of course, divorce will cost more than the court fees. There will be costs attached to you and your soon-to-be-ex setting up separate households. There may be legal fees (unless you self-represent), and a financial settlement. But before you can make decisions on any of this, you really need to know your current financial position.
Work on your money mindset
We all have an emotional response to money and our personal finances. If it’s something you fear, because you’ve not given it much attention before, or because it’s always felt like there’s not enough money to go around, now is the time to work on your money mindset.
I am not going to pretend that simply being more positive about money will mean you’ll suddenly find yourself awash with riches. But, as you divorce you need to step into the mindset of a CFO – Chief Financial Officer. You are the CFO of your divorce and that calls for calm, rational thinking. It calls for you to work with where you’re at and make the most of it. And when you pay more attention to money it follows that you’ll manage it better, and be able to do more of the things you want and need to do.
What does this look like? It involves stepping away from fear, or catastrophising about worst-case scenarios. It involves focussing on what you have and what you can do with that. Money is morally neutral – it’s what you do with it that counts.
Once you can enter a calm relationship with money, you can take charge. If there’s not enough to do what you want, then you can take deep breaths and work with that scenario – take a look at some of the options I give below. You don’t have to do this alone.
Maximise your money
If you don’t have enough money, then there are two options: boost your income and/or reduce your expenses. Think about all the ways you can access additional money. Are there benefits you are entitled to that you are not claiming? Take a look at your benefits eligibility here. Are you eligible for free childcare so you can go and work?
If you have been out of the workplace for some time, while your spouse works, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to continue that arrangement, unless you and your soon-to-be-ex come up with a rock solid agreement. You will most likely need to move towards financial independence – and the same is true if the situation is reversed and your spouse is used to depending on you for money.
This can feel scary, but, again, take it slowly. ‘Calm’ is your watchword, just as it is when you examine your money situation. Create a quiet, calm space to think through your work options. Are there career paths you could return to? Is there work locally you can do that fits with your other commitments? Remember, nothing has to be forever: you can look for a short term solution while working on your longer term gameplan. If it helps, talk through your options with a trusted friend or careers adviser (more on that shortly).
If the funds in your marriage allow, you can also negotiate for your spouse to pay spousal maintenance for an interim period while you gear up for paid work. Remember, if you haven’t been doing paid work because you have been managing the household and caring for the children, that is also work, and the court would see it as such.
Use free and lower cost resources
There are a range of agencies available to support those on low incomes. Take a look at:
- Citizens Advice: they have a wealth of online guides and resources, and also a network of advisers to help with all sorts of money and legal issues
- Gingerbread have advice and support for single parents, and cover a wide range of topics
- The National Careers Service has resources to help you explore training and employment options
- Legal Aid no longer covers court costs for divorce, but if you on a low income or on benefits, you may qualify for legal aid to go to Family Mediation. You can check whether you might qualify here.
- A number of solicitors offer a free 30 minute consultation. The time will go quickly, so do your homework before you go! Think about the questions you need answers to right now, about your particular situation: I provide more pointers to guide you in this below.
And don’t forget to call on loved ones. They may not be able to help you with specific expertise related to divorce (and beware if they try – they mean well but may not know what they’re talking about!), but they will be able to help in all sorts of other ways. Maybe you can ask them to regularly check in to keep you grounded, and know you’re cared for. Maybe they could provide practical support with your home or children. Maybe they can help you let off steam. Whatever it is, your circle is priceless.
Think about your future
It can feel overwhelming when you are trying to get through divorce, especially if you are doing it on a shoestring. When things feel too much, picture the post-divorce life you want for yourself. This isn’t a Hollywood fantasy, I’m not asking you to envisage you living it up on a private island if that’s worlds away from your current life.
But think about future-you, living in a new place, or in the marital home without your ex-spouse. Think about the work you’ll be doing, confidently and competently. Think about how you’ll be living within your budget, and even if it might be tighter than you’d like at first, it’s yours and you can choose where your money goes for yourself.
Once you have your vision of the future in place, you can work backwards. What do you need to do to get yourself there? Do you need to agree an interim financial arrangement with your ex-spouse? Do you need to enlist in training to enhance your career prospects? Do you need to move to a different area or compromise in other ways to reduce housing costs?
Once you know what you want and need, you will have a scenario to talk through with a solicitor. Put yourself in your soon-to-be-ex’s shoes too: how might they envisage the future? How will that affect their behaviour in divorce? Use the free consultation for all this – have a sense of what you want and what you need to know, and be specific.
Get my help – free
There is a wealth of information on this blog, and in my Six Minute Divorce Podcast, covering all aspects of divorce. You’ll get insight into the legal process, as well as direction on how to manage your emotions, communication and mindset to have the best (and most cost-effective) divorce possible for you.
And if you’d like my help 1:1, or as part of my membership, I’m here for you. Clients save thousands on legal fees by working with me, and I’ll love to help you too.
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