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Becoming Financially Independent After Divorce

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Even though a large percentage of couples live in dual-income households, we’d be foolish to ignore the fact that some households have stay-at-home mothers and increasingly, stay-at-home fathers. In this post, we talk about the stay-at-home moms and dads and the homemakers who’ve been out of the workforce for years, the spouses who are headed for a divorce and thinking to themselves, “Oh my gosh, now I have to find a job.”

If you have been out of the workforce to raise your children, to support your spouse’s career, or to take care of your home so your spouse can focus all their time and attention on making money and you’re headed toward divorce, there’s a very good chance that life as you know it is about to shift, and it may shift dramatically.

Even if you expect to receive spousal support and child support, you’re likely going to need a better plan. Not a backup plan, but a Plan A to become financially self-sufficient. Most dependent spouses need to spring into action and start looking for full-time work, because, it’s better to be trying to do something than doing nothing at all.

Suppose your spouse agrees off the bat to pay you spousal support. Even if you do receive spousal support, it’s probably going to be temporary. In California, spousal support is typically awarded for one-half the length of the marriage. So, if you were married for eight years, you may receive it for four years but that is not guaranteed.

Increasingly, judges want spousal support to be a temporary setup until the dependent spouse becomes financially independent. And, judges like to see dependent spouses taking steps to make that happen. In fact, if a dependent spouse languishes for too long and rides the alimony wave, a judge may terminate the spousal support in an attempt to motivate the receiving spouse to seek full-time work.

When Spousal Support Isn’t Enough

Even if you receive spousal support, it may not be enough to support yourself. Depending on your spouse’s income, he or she may not afford to pay you enough to avoid working. Southern California has a high cost of living. It’s not far behind Silicon Valley and New York City. When a two-bedroom apartment in LA County can easily cost between $1,500 and $3,000 a month, many spouses simply can’t get by with spousal support alone unless their husband or wife is a multi-millionaire.

What we’re saying is often, spousal support isn’t enough to live well, so dependent spouses have to find something else. If they have a college degree, they may go back to what they were doing before. If they don’t have a degree, they may need to work part-time and go to a trade or technical school for a year or two, or enroll in a four-year degree program. Regardless of the options, a return to work mindset is usually a part of the equation.

When You Miss the Way it Was

If you were a stay-at-home parent or a homemaker for years, you will probably experience times when you really miss the way things were. You may miss being there when your kids got home from school. You may miss lazy summers by the pool and baking cookies in the middle of the day.

You may miss going grocery shopping in the morning when the stores are empty, keeping a spotless house, and taking the kids to the park or the library in the middle of the week. And you’ll probably miss being able to stay home with the kids when they’re sick without worrying about missing work. It can be sad but there’s a silver lining to the new normal.

You’ll never want to be in that position you were in when you first realized your marriage was over. “I’m out of work and I haven’t had a job in years, what am I going to do?” Once you become financially independent, you’ll never want to feel that way again: helpless, dependent on your spouse, and unsure of your future.

Even if you can count on some spousal support, you could lose your desire to be dependent on your spouse. You may get to the point where you don’t want to take their money. If you have kids together, you’ll be tied forever, at least until they’re eighteen, but probably much longer, but you may find yourself wanting to cut the financial tie or make it as thin as possible. When you start making your own way, you’ll feel empowered.

Our Top Advice for Dependent Spouses

What’s our top advice to dependent spouses who are getting a divorce? Figure out how you can become financially independent sooner rather than later and then stay that way. This is extremely important and probably the most challenging for stay-at-home moms who don’t have college degrees or much work experience.

Sometimes, women have to be creative. They have to move back in with their parents while they go to a technical school and earn a certificate. Or, they have to move into a cheaper apartment rather than a single-family home so they can use their spousal support as a safety net as they return to the workforce. Just remember that becoming financially independent does not happen overnight.

Depending on your education, work experience and network, it could take six to twelve months. If you have to go back to work and enroll in school, it could be several years before you reach your true earning potential.

Even if you do get child support and spousal support, you still need to be realistic about your living expenses. There is no guarantee that your spouse will pay the payments or won’t fall behind, so you have to rely on yourself. You want to think, “How am I going to survive if I don’t get paid?” and hope for the best but plan for the worst.

We’ve found that our clients tend to experience a huge psychological boost from becoming financially self-sufficient. Our clients who’ve figured it out are optimistic about their future. This comes from knowing that they can take care of themselves and take control of their own destiny. They don’t need to rely on their ex to live comfortably. They can move forward and move on.

Related: Tips for Negotiating a Divorce Settlement


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