On a Budget: Making Ends Meet After Divorce

Posted on Jan 18, 2013 by Katie Carter

One of the hardest things to face, when your marriage starts to go downhill, is the fact that you can’t remove your husband from the picture and then go on with your life as-is. Things are going to change and, no matter what the reason for the breakdown of the marriage, you’re going to have to make some major compromises.

One of the first things women realize is that the family budget is going to undergo a major overhaul. Depending on what you receive for spousal support and child support, and what you’re capable of making on your own, your finances could change a lot. That’s going to require you to make some major changes, too. I always advise women to start thinking early on about what their budget will look like, and how they can cut expenses if they need to. Living on a budget is second nature to some of us and like pulling teeth for others, but the reality is that once you’re a single mother (or just a single woman), his income won’t be there to fall back on anymore.

The problem is that you and your husband have a finite amount of money, and divorce will divide that amount between the two of you. You automatically have less than you used to, just because what you had is now divided. The judge (and your attorney) can’t make more money exist than there really is. You have what you have, then you divide it, and then you pay your attorneys–if you and your husband can’t get along, you may pay your attorneys a LOT. Whatever is left over is what each of you will have to live on. If you have children and you get custody, you may receive a larger share of the income, but it’s still less than you’re used to–because your husband still has to have a place to live, food to eat, and heat to warm his home, too. What used to go into maintaining one household now has to suffice for two.

Will you be able to stay in the marital home? Can you pay the mortgage yourself? Even if you weren’t previously involved in the financial aspect of the marriage, you should try to figure out exactly how much it costs per month to live in your home. That means the mortgage and all the bills–water, electric, cable and internet, etc. A lot of women want to stay in the marital home, particularly if they have children, because the home keeps the kids close to their friends and current school. It’s difficult for children to be uprooted, particularly in light of all the other stressors in their lives. If there’s equity in the home, can you afford to buy out your husband’s interest in the home? Will you qualify to refinance to get his name off the mortgage and the deed? If there’s no equity in it, do you really want to be saddled with a major financial liability–alone?

It sucks to be a girl on a budget, but I think you’ll find that you can make do with far less than you’re used to. Most of my clients are panicked when they first hear what they can expect to receive in child and spousal support, but ultimately they’re able to make it on less. For most of us, there are places we can cut extra spending to make our budgets work. It’s much more difficult to cut back after you’re used to a certain standard of living, but if you’re miserable, you may find that you relish the independence, no matter how hard some of the other things are. Divorce is an expense and, at some point, you have to ask yourself–is it worth it?