Written by Lori Lowe
Years ago, a divorcing friend told me she believed her financial situation would improve after her divorce due to the amount of child support and alimony she expected. Unsurprisingly, her financial situation greatly worsened after she filed for divorce. Within the year, she was filing for bankruptcy while caring for two children, and arguing with her ex about everything from the cost of school clothes to dental bills.
I’m curious about whether at any point she would have liked to go back in time and try to work on her marriage, since her biggest complaint before the split was that her husband just didn’t “get” her, and that they were just too different. I wonder if her previous problems were easier to deal with than seeing her ex quickly remarry, watching her boys raised half the time with a new step-mother with whom she often disagreed, and constantly experiencing money problems.
The moral of the story is that divorce didn’t solve any of her problems; it just created new ones. For some, these problems become so severe that divorced people find they cannot cope, and turn to alcohol or other means of coping. Last I heard, this old friend was using alcohol as her aid, even in front of the children.
The recent recession has made divorce even more of a financial struggle, particularly for women who may have been out of the workforce caring for children. Despite this fact, more than two-thirds of divorces are filed by women—and most of these are from low-conflict marriages, not where abuse was present in any form. But women may not understand the bleak financial situations they may end up in as a result of divorce.
According to a report this week from Reuters, experts say alarming number of women emerge from divorce lacking even basic money management skills, and are deemed financially illiterate. The recession in 2011 has placed added strain on couples and on divorced women in particular. Even for professional women with financial skills, the reality is that a household’s expenses will multiply when split into two separate households. Financial stress and conflict is likely to increase, not decrease, as expenses multiply.
The University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project reports that the divorce rate has closely tracked the roller coaster of our economy during the last several years, with a 24 percent drop between 2008 and 2009 when unemployment rose and many families were facing a mortgage nightmare. In 2009, the divorce rate again dropped, but it is back on the rise as the economy slowly recovers from the recession.
Financial strain and child custody concerns add to the conflict and difficulty of today’s divorce cases. While women file for divorce more often than men, both women and men need to understand they can’t solve their family crises and financial stresses with a divorce. Each spouse needs to have financial understanding of their current situation, even if it’s difficult or complex, and even if professional help is needed to reach this understanding. (Financial advice is far less expensive than a divorce.)
When facing any crisis, couples who view themselves as part of a team (using words like “we” and “us”) working together against a common problem are more successful than those who approach problems individually. See The Power of “We” for details. A pro-marriage counselor can help couples who are at a loss about how to move forward. (Read What’s a Pro-Marriage Counselor, and How Do You Find One?)
If you feel your spouse has been out of line and is too difficult to live with, consider that most couples who stay together during the bad times end up much happier in time if they stay together. (Their children also fare much better.) If you are angry with your spouse, consider the gift of forgiveness, which benefits your marriage, and also helps keep you from having poor emotional and physical health. It’s a gift for the giver and the receiver. Reconciliation and rebuilding a marriage takes commitment and hard work, but forgiveness is an important first step.
Consider that divorce may not answer any questions or solve any problems; it just may create more of the same or even worse problems than you had before. Think instead about why you chose your spouse, and why you fell in love with him or her. Focus on being grateful for the best parts of your marriage and your spouse and how the two of you can be unified against your current challenges. Share your dreams for a better future, one that you’ll share together.