When your biggest divorce stress is money

Want to get divorced but don’t think you can afford it? When your biggest divorce stress is money for you. We’ll look at how to minimise costs, as well as possible sources of funds so you can take action when your biggest divorce stress is money. 

Knowledge is power

Money can be a stress for many of us. For some, that stress comes from not understanding your financial situation. For some, it comes from a lack of money. So the absolute first thing you need to do if money is causing you stress is to pinpoint why.

And to do that you need to look your financial situation in the eye. Even if you’re convinced already you have zero funds to your name, you need to get super clear on your numbers.

What do I mean by that? I mean you need to know exactly what your assets are (how much money and other resources, such as houses, cars, belongings, pensions etc) you have. And you need to know what your liabilities are (how much you owe). You need to look at both your joint and individual assets and liabilities. 

Get started with a financial plan

Looking at finances can feel frightening, especially if it’s not something you’ve paid close attention to before. Was it something your soon-to-be-ex dealt with, or you felt was their territory because they brought in most of the money? You’re not alone. But now is the time to take courage and open the box.

The first thing to do is to track down all your joint and individual bank accounts. Make sure you can access them all, you have every right to look at yours and your joint accounts. Don’t be tempted to hack or snoop into your spouse’s affairs – it will come back to bite you hard! To start with, just gather the information together. Get organised. Make a note of bank details so you can find them again quickly. 

Now think about any pensions or investments. If you have these, track down the paperwork. If you don’t understand them you can always call the provider to talk you through it. Bear in mind your soon-to-be-ex’s financial situation too. You may not be able to access their details at the moment, but it’s useful to have a sense of their financial picture. For example, do they have a company pension? Do they receive bonuses in addition to a salary? Make a note of what you don’t know, as well as what you do – it will be useful for checking and asking questions down the line. 

Take it all step by step. Break things down into bitesize chunks so you don’t get overwhelmed. But, crucially, don’t agree to anything until you have a good sense of your financial situation. And by this, I mean in specific figures: the value of assets you have to your name and the value of your liabilities. 

Do you need professional support? 

Your specific circumstances will determine how much help you need in resolving your finances. It is likely to be simpler to separate out your finances and reach agreement if:

  • The marriage was short
  • You don’t have dependent children
  • Neither of you are economically dependent on the other
  • You don’t have a business together
  • You are not in a high conflict situation

If this is your situation you may be able to resolve your finances between yourselves fairly easily and apply for a consent order from the court. 

Sources of support

If one or more of those circumstances are not the case, the situation becomes more complicated. I recommend seeking professional support if at all possible. 

There are several ways you can seek support:

  • Use a mediator. A trained mediator will help you and your soon-to-be-ex reach a financial agreement and will put it in writing for you. This is a lot cheaper than going through the courts and helps to keep your communication civil. Any agreement you reach with a mediator is not legally binding until you apply for a consent order. Mediation isn’t always appropriate in high conflict situations but hybrid mediation may support you. This is where your lawyers are present in the mediation to assist in real-time. 
  • Book advice sessions with a solicitor. Many offer a free first session, but then, of course, they will start billing. It can be a good, cost-saving options to do your research first so you have specific questions and make the most of their legal advice. Then complete the paperwork yourself.
  • Instruct a solicitor to complete the financial process for you. This is by far the most expensive option. You might find it takes some stress away, but you will still need to be involved. And unless you have lots of money, the bills can create stress in themselves.
  • If you are in a high-conflict situation and cannot afford to use a solicitor exclusively, consider using a solicitor who will ‘unbundle’ their services allowing you to pay them for the work they do as you need them. This can save you mony and allow you to handle aspects of the process yourself.

I advise my clients to use a combination of these options depending on their financial circumstances and the personality type of their spouse. Wherever possible, unless you are in a high conflict situation, it is best to resolve things as collaboratively as possible. Not only does this turn down the emotional heat, it’s also cheaper than having the courts decide. 

Sources of funding

When your biggest divorce stress is money look for other sources of funding. Legal Aid is no longer provided for divorce cases, except for in abusive situations (and you will have to evidence the abuse). If this is your situation I urge you to contact  Women’s Aid for support and information on how to proceed. 

If you’re on a low income you may be eligible for legal aid to help with mediation costs. You can check your eligibility here. 

Depending on your location and particular circumstances you may be eligible for a grant – this might support your living costs rather than your divorce costs directly. You can check your eligibility on the Turn2Us website.  They can also help with debt advice. 

Some clients turn to family and friends to help with the divorce costs. You will know if this is appropriate for you. I highly recommend being clear about when you are likely to be able to repay any family loans. It may not be for a number of years and both you and the person loaning you the money need to enter that agreement with open eyes. Honesty and trust is crucial on both sides. Don’t let your divorce cause damage to another relationship. 

Believe in yourself

You may have hoped that a solicitor would take care of all of the money discussions for you but find you can’t afford it. Don’t worry. Even if you did have oodles of cash to pay a solicitor, you would still need to play an active role in the process. They don’t know your financial history, and, just as importantly, your future financial needs. You do. 

It might not feel like it, but divorce is an opportunity to take the reins. To stop being scared and burying your head in the sand. When your biggest divorce stress is money,  look your numbers in the eye and know you can handle it. Because you can. However much or little money you have you are in a far more powerful position when you know where you stand.

Break things into simple steps. Be persistent and organised. Arm yourself with knowledge and work through your finances steadily. 

Let me help take the stress away – for free

Did you know that as well as these blogs I have a weekly podcast? You’ll find six new bite-size episodes each week. They’re all designed to take the stress out of divorce. And they’re all free. You can find all the episodes here. 

So you don’t need to do this alone. I’ve got your back. And you can book a free 30-minute consultation if you want to know how I can do more to help. 

About Emma

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

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