Money & Divorce: What to Consider Before You Walk Out the Door

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When a marriage dissolves, it isn’t simply the reversal of a happy ending. When the emotional commitment is severed there are a series of financial commitments that need to be considered. Eva Sachs founded Women in Divorce Financial to provide a safe, comfortable place for women to discuss money. Here, she discusses the biggest concerns her clients have, and where to start when you’re considering divorce.

Q: How did you come to launch a women-focused business?

A: The two big issues in divorce are kids and money. My clients are realizing that they need to be better informed on the money part. Women have all sorts of issues with money, and I wanted to provide them a place where none of the questions would be stupid questions. Most of my clients are smart, working women, but there’s still some psychological sense around family finances.

Q: Do you find that a lot of the women who come to you have left the family finances to a male partner?

A: Yes. I think what happens in a lot of marriages is that when people first get married they assign family tasks. I’ll take care of the kids and buy the groceries and go to the PTA meetings and I’m also going to work, and someone’s got to pay the bills which typically gets assigned to the male. Further on in marriage, we don’t have the time or energy to switch these roles. Women are feeling uncomfortable with that role because they haven’t had any practice.

Q: What are some of the biggest concerns women have when they come to see you?

A: Their main question when they walk in the door is will I be ok? They need me to quantify what ok means, and ok is going to be different for every person. What am I going to get or give up and what am I going to end up with? Will I end up with the house, RRSPs and my pension or will I have to give those up? All of that is discussed in the normal divorce process, but it’s like an equation that doesn’t have the other half. Knowing what you’re going to end up with is meaningless unless you know what you need for going out that other door. If I’m going to get so much in support payments, it’s a meaningless number if I don’t know how much I need. I answer the other side of that equation.

Q: Is it tough for people to separate the financial and emotional issues when they come to see you? Do they expect you to play the role of a therapist?

A: No, but a lot of people ask me that. If women have gotten to the point where they’ve realized they need me they’ve already separated the financial and emotional processes. When they come in to see me they’re coming in much stronger and they realize that now that we’re dealing with the financial stuff they’ve got to leave the emotions parked at the door. I’ve got Kleenex and they don’t use it that often, [but] they may cry when they get into their car after they see me. Their discussions with their lawyers might be much more emotional because they’re going into the reasons why their relationship ended. Part of my process is to break this down into bite-size pieces they can handle, and we don’t try to tackle it all in one day.

Q: If you’re sitting at home right now contemplating a divorce, what kinds of things should you be thinking about in terms of a financial picture?

A: I think the first thing you should do is have a conversation with your spouse to say, ok, this is coming to an end and are we on the same page. If you’re really at that early contemplating stage, make sure from an emotional or financial perspective you can afford it. There are practical, financial consequences. Can one of us really afford to move out? I have a lot of clients come in and say my husband moved out three months ago, so they have a whole bunch of new expenses but the same old income is coming into the family. Something’s got to give somewhere. You might be spending $2,000 a month on another household, and six or twelve months later it really starts to add up. How are you going to account for that? Most people I talk to have never thought about that. They think it will all just work out.

Q: Do some people come to you for advice and then decide against divorce?

A: Yeah, they can’t afford it. And when you look at the economy we’re facing now it gets even more complicated. The assets I have aren’t worth as much, and we’ve got to sell our house and it’s worth a lot less than a year ago. I want to keep the house and have to pay off my husband, but the bank won’t lend me money. The downturn in the economy is going to have an impact on whether we can afford to divorce or not. You might need to sell the house, but what if it just doesn’t sell?

Author: Sarah Treleaven

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