A Hopeful Future After Divorce

4 steps towards seizing financial control.

As an unknown future looms, it’s easy to feel out of control. To lose sleep. To be hounded by the “what-ifs.” No transition creates more of a freefall than divorce. You’re in a state of fight or flight most of the time. Women (especially) face enormous challenges. In addition to navigating children through the transition—ensuring they are emotionally cared for—most women also face economic survival:

  • How will I manage the monthly expenses?
  • Will I have to sell the home?
  • Will I have to go back to work?
  • How do I invest my money (something I’ve never done) to secure my future?

When I went through divorce, questions like these haunted me. As a financial planner at HT|TC Wealth Partners, I have worked with many women as they’ve treaded the murky waters of divorce. They can feel like they’re drowning. As women, we worry we won’t be able to take care of ourselves and our families on our own, even though we’ve repeatedly demonstrated otherwise. My advice for women in this transition is simple, but not easy: face reality, create a plan to move forward, and surround yourself with a strong support system.

Face Reality

Most women know they’ll need to make some type of lifestyle change. What they don’t realize is just how big that change may need to be. In America, our perception is often distorted by Hollywood and made-for-TV movies. We like to believe that the husband will provide ample child/spousal support for the wife to carry on as she always has. But when the numbers are laid on the table, as required by law, it often becomes clear that the wife will need to carry some of the family’s financial burden. In many cases, it’s unfair (and impossible) to expect the ex-husband to support two households with multiple children. As they say, the numbers don’t lie. You may ask for it, but if he doesn’t have it, you won’t get it.

One client I worked with years ago was accustomed to spending $30k a month, living in a multi-million-dollar home, driving luxury cars, and traveling to exotic places. Once divorced, she assumed she would maintain this lifestyle. But the reality was they had no real assets. There simply was no money to continue on as before. She was going to need to completely change her spending habits and priorities. While this is an extreme example, reality is relative to each situation and the accustomed lifestyle. Hardship is hardship.

Unless there is an enormous disparity in income (in which your husband makes seven figures and you have never worked), you will undoubtedly have to find a job. For women who haven’t worked in years, this can be terrifying. In fact, some women will remain in a compromised situation until it is unbearable—for instance, when a husband is obviously cheating—because they don’t think they are equipped to take care of themselves. In reality, they are more than capable. They just need to believe it.

Fear can be a powerful motivator or inhibitor. Fear of giving up a spending lifestyle is compounded by the fear of giving up a set of values. A stay-at-home mom, for instance, often has difficulty reconciling what her current situation demands with her values of working inside the home.

I counseled one woman in her mid-forties, who knew she needed to get a job. The thought was distressing. She and her husband had decided she would stay home with the children, resulting in her being out of the work force for a while. Fortunately, her skill set and education made it possible to get back to work fairly quickly. And while there can be challenges adapting previous career skills to re-start or invent a career, it absolutely can be done. The first step feels shaky, but each consecutive step towards financial self-sufficiency leads women to a place of greater stability and confidence. They are in control, rather than being controlled by circumstances.

Know Your Support System

In the midst of the uncertainty and turmoil that comes with divorce, women need someone to talk to. But don’t confuse your confidants. When women get divorced, they often mistake their attorney as their financial advisor, their mental health professional, as well as their legal advisor. Unwittingly, they treat their lawyer as the expert who will take care of all of those matters. No doubt there are some attorneys who want people to feel that way—they like that dependency because it racks up a nice fee. But the best attorneys are those who refer you to other professionals with the necessary expertise within their network.

To find the right support, I recommend women assemble a group of people they trust, beyond girlfriends and an attorney. Let your attorney stick to settlements and alimony. A mental health professional will help you through the panic and help manage the distress you may be feeling. A tax advisor can walk you through the tax ramifications of earning and saving as a single person. And a financial planner will provide the financial counseling and ongoing education you need to move forward with financial clarity and confidence.

Plan Your Financial Future

Starting the process of financial planning can be an intimidating step, but the right planner will ease you through the process. You need a financial planner who empathizes—but also helps you plan for many of the what-ifs without losing sight of the here-and-now. The best planner will help you bring together numbers, scenarios, and tangibles so you can take steps toward being in control of your finances.

When I’m getting to know a new client, I ask, “What do you want this money to do for you? What kind of life is this supposed to create for you? How do you envision your future?” On the flip side, the advisor should be ready to answer a client’s myriad questions, “How much do I have to save? How do I save that amount? Should I put the money in a bank account, a mutual fund, stocks, or some combination of these options?”

After a comprehensive assessment of my client’s financial goals, my first word of advice is this: Start finding more ways to save. Open or add to an IRA or ROTH IRA. Participate in your employer 401K plan. Whether it is $10 or $50; it’s the least painful way to start building up a nest egg. Review and assess your spending habits. Forgo non-essential spending; choosing what is most important now for your emotional and financial health.

Next, I suggest my clients work on their bank account. Find room in the budget to put away at least $25 of every paycheck. While this might not build up tremendous resources, contributing even small amounts creates a sense of independence.

Taking responsibility for their finances is key. It’s incumbent on women to know as much as possible about their finances; that knowledge is critical to ongoing financial well-being. I always remind my clients, “It’s your money. Don’t just hope it is all taken care of. Be proactive about interacting with your financial planner on a regular basis. This is at the core of being and feeling in control of your future.”

Give Yourself Time

Even when the numbers start to come together, finding peace post-divorce can be a gradual process. In my case, I started my way forward when I confronted my worst-case scenarios. “What if I don’t have enough money to retire? What if this bad economy causes me to lose my job?” At that point, at 3 am with a knot in my stomach, I would take a breath and remind myself it has nothing to do with today, nothing to do with tomorrow. I can’t worry about what I can’t control.

Yet there were a number of things I could control. I decided to take charge of my finances, take a good hard look at improving my career opportunities and create a thoughtful written plan for my future. These actions quieted my panicked thoughts and gave me the ability to turn away from unproductive worrying. I would wake up in the morning and see that I was, in fact, handling it. I’d always been handling it. And I began to realize I was exceeding my expectations of creating a great life.

As a financial advisor, it is especially gratifying to play a role in helping other women take control of their financial future. The financial planning process is so much more than crunching numbers. You are creating a mindset. You are actively creating your financial future. You are demonstrating that you do have control over your finances—and, as importantly, the true quality of your life that lies ahead.

HT|TC Wealth Partners is a group comprised of investment professionals registered with Hightower Advisors, LLC, an SEC registered investment adviser. Some investment professionals may also be registered with Hightower Securities, LLC, member FINRA and SIPC. Advisory services are offered through Hightower Advisors, LLC. Securities are offered through Hightower Securities, LLC. All information referenced herein is from sources believed to be reliable. HT|TC Wealth Partners and Hightower Advisors, LLC have not independently verified the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this document. HT|TC Wealth Partners and Hightower Advisors, LLC or any of its affiliates make no representations or warranties, express or implied, as to the accuracy or completeness of the information or for statements or errors or omissions, or results obtained from the use of this information. HT|TC Wealth Partners and Hightower Advisors, LLC or any of its affiliates assume no liability for any action made or taken in reliance on or relating in any way to the information. This document and the materials contained herein were created for informational purposes only; the opinions expressed are solely those of the author(s), and do not represent those of Hightower Advisors, LLC or any of its affiliates. HT|TC Wealth Partners and Hightower Advisors, LLC or any of its affiliates do not provide tax or legal advice. This material was not intended or written to be used or presented to any entity as tax or legal advice. Clients are urged to consult their tax and/or legal advisor for related questions.

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