Here’s the thing about divorce: you have to rewrite a whole new script for your life.
The life you expected to have when you walked down that aisle didn’t look like this. Instead of two people aligned in their vision for life, you have one person with a whole new set of decisions to make.
Sometimes that feels exhilarating. Sometimes it feels crushing.
And somewhere in the midst of that emotional rollercoaster, you need to put all the pieces back together.
The first step: don’t be afraid to grieve for what you lost. I spent so much energy on being fierce, forward-focused and independent, that I didn’t really allow myself that space for a long time. It wasn’t helpful.
In my case, I was giving up the vision of the white-picket-fence, and the children that would be part of it. Getting divorced at 36, with no interest in another relationship, I knew kids would now be off the table.
It is what it is. No matter how many people helpfully tell you about Celebrity X who had a baby at 45, I didn’t want that. So I made my peace with that loss.
Nobody walks away from a big breakup without losing something like this. Maybe it’s a family of beloved in-laws, maybe a comfortable house and lifestyle.
My friend who said ‘freedom is expensive’ walked away from a huge, newly-built house. Another friend left a big house for a tiny beach cottage. Both of them did it to save their sanity and both are far happier, despite the smaller footprint of their homes. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt.
By the way, if you have kids, they will grieve too. Even though I was 18 when my parents divorced, I was sad for a long time about the family unit that I lost. (It’s weird being an adult/child of divorce.) Give them time and space for that too.
Anyway, this is all a long way to say, don’t put pressure on yourself to do the next thing or take the next step until you’re ready.
Take a breath
Rachel O’Connor, our favourite financial adviser, from Flourix Wealth, has worked with many women who are rebuilding after a divorce.
She says, “It’s ok to take a breather and focus on your mental health. There’s no need to make knee jerk financial decisions. Remember that the divorce and the financial settlement can be done at different times.”
In my own case, I filed for divorce after about a year before the financials were all done and dusted.
Rachel says you can also take on different financial tasks at different stages.
“Some things you might want to organise first [like banking], but then you may want to wait a year or more to sort out things like super. Prioritise what’s most urgent,” she said.
If you haven’t yet split up, Rachel recommends getting finances organised early (as does family lawyer Tessa Kelman).
“It’s good to know what your finances look like and to get your ducks in a row before things get messy. Know where all the money is and what your debts are. Try and get a folder of paperwork together while you’re still in the house or on reasonable terms. If it gets to a point where you’re not speaking, it can be hard to find some details,” Rachel said.
Also, be ready for the possibility of STD’s – sexually transmitted debt.
“Any debts that are in both of your names are your liability; it doesn’t mean it gets split in half. And if you have a credit card in your name and your ex has access to it, the debt still belongs to you.”
If you have a car loan in both names, even if your partner keeps it, you are still liable for that debt just as much as them. (There is nothing as delightful as knowing you have a big debt in your name for a fancy 4WD you never wanted and aren’t allowed to drive!).
A word to the still-happily-married – avoid shared debt, especially for unsecured loans like credit cards.
The next step is really sorting out a settlement, which I covered in Pt II. Oh, and a hot tip – be sure to get any settlement documented and a deed of release signed. Without that, your ex-partner may have the ability to come back down the track and ask for more. (Nuts, I know).
So let’s pretend that was all fine and not at all stressful, and you’re now sitting around with a chunk of cash or a big new mortgage. Or both.
I had enough from the sale of our joint property to buy a new one on my own. It was the first step in my rebuilding journey (which, by the way, took a few years to nail).
My friend Amara (a bad-arse finance guru) says if you do anything as a woman, try to own a home. Our entire tax and social security system is set up for it, and favours homeowners. The fastest group of homeless people in Australia are older women, and it’s often because they have lost their homes in divorce and been unable to afford a new one.
So, try everything to hold onto one, or stretch yourself to buy one. It could be the best way to set yourself up for the future.
But hey don’t take my word for it. If you need a guiding light to help you map out the future, this would be the time to engage a financial adviser.
I was lucky enough to be mates with an adviser at work, and over a coffee and cake he did some back-of-the-envelope calculations. It made total sense to buy my own place.
I just needed someone to give me the validation that I was doing the right thing – and that’s why an adviser can really help when you reach a crossroads in your life. Otherwise, talk to some trusted friends or family and stress test the plans you have in mind.
You got this
The key for many women is to become confident about making decisions on their own.
“A big break up can really knock your confidence, and it’s common to feel vulnerable or even a bit dumb about money. But that doesn’t mean you are! You have all the tools you need to take charge of your finances, you just need to take it one step at a time,” said Rachel.
Nobody said it would be easy.
But rebuilding your life exactly the way you want can be hugely empowering. These days, I spend save and invest how I like. I’m sure I don’t do a perfect job of it, but that’s totally fine. There is no ‘perfect’ life plan, financial plan or any other plan for that matter.
All we can do is our best. And you will too. I can’t predict how your life will turn out but I can tell you that the courage to do hard things, learn new things and totally nail the next stage of your life!