Jess Bost, COO, Wealth Advisor
In 2018, there were over 2.1 million marriages, and 782,038 marriages ended in divorce or annulment. Although both parties of a divorce can struggle with the process, women can feel like they get the short end of the stick.
Because of the gender gap in work experience, pay and literacy, the effects of financial separation have the potential to unequally devastate not only women’s’ current quality of life but also future retirement expectations as opposed to men.
While continued awareness and advocacy efforts are crucial to close this gap as quickly as possible, here are three money moves every woman can take now that will help her attorney seek fair and equal outcomes throughout the divorce proceedings.
1. Categorize Your Expenses
Statistics suggest that only about two-thirds of Americans budget their expenses. If you don’t, you can still make a big move here by doing this simple exercise.
Gather Bank Statements
Log in to your spending accounts and/or call the bank and get a statement of all household expenses for the past three months – yours, his, the kids’, pets’ etc. You’re going to need it all, so be thorough in your accounting on this.
Though you may want to utilize a budget in the future (Mint provides a free option), for now, you’ll create four categories:
- Household needs – food, housing and utilities
- Household quality of life – soccer dues, vacation and continuing ed
- Her non-essentials – everything leftover for you
- And, his non-essentials – everything leftover for him
It may be tempting to skip this, but as my friend discovered when her then-husband listed out a $2,000/month food budget (for himself), you may end up being thankful to have the facts in hand.
Tip: If you or your husband have insurance, savings or other expenses deducted from your paycheck, you’ll want to include those here too.
2. Know What You’re Worth
While this is an incredibly important exercise in many other areas, right now let’s talk about your financial worth.
List Your Assets
These are the things that you alone and you both own – house, property, car, boat, retirement accounts, etc. Include everything that has monetary value, and make a note of the items that may have sentimental value to you so that you can be prepared to discuss the true dollar value of the items you want to maintain after the divorce.
List Your Liabilities
Credit cards, student loans, mortgages – anything for which you or you both owe a dollar amount.
For each of these items, dedicate some time to gathering a recent statement or estimate of value.
Tip: Find out your credit score by visiting www.freecreditreport.com and monitor it by signing up for a Credit Karma account. Seek debt counseling to mitigate any accumulated debt that could potentially cause financial stress in the future (and to figure out how to improve your credit score if needed).
If you discover any credit cards or other accounts that were opened in your name without your consent, be sure to discuss these ASAP with a debt counselor and/or your attorney.
3. Advocate For Yourself
You will always be your biggest advocate in the room, so do the work ahead of time to set yourself up for outcomes that will support your financial stability both now and in the future.
How Have You Contributed?
Take 10-20 minutes and make a list of ways you’ve contributed to the family bottom line that may have negatively impacted on your net worth or earning potential compared to his, or has provided a low-cost alternative to an expense your family would have otherwise incurred if you had both been working.
- Did you postpone your own secondary education so that he can advance his?
- Do you have less in a retirement plan due to unequal wages and/or a decision to prioritize his 401k over other savings alternatives?
- Did you homeschool the kids?
- Are you the one exclusively preparing home-cooked meals for the family?
Do a deep-dive on Google and get to know the real dollar values. If you both work, what is the annual gap in pay, and is the gap expanding each year or is it contracting? How much more would you be earning right now with an advanced degree? What’s the compounded cost for sending your kids to private school over the years (the closest equivalent to a personalized homeschool experience)?
In what ways have you optimized the dollars spent in your home by doing the cooking, cleaning, etc.?
During the divorce proceedings, your attorney is there to represent you and your needs, and it is crucial for them to have thorough and reliable information in order to help you achieve the outcome that sets you up for a successful future.
Project your spending needs and quality of life expenses in the future, and write down these dollar amounts (annual totals) for reference. Next, consider the division of assets and liabilities, and the impact of continuing to pay for assets you’ll keep. And finally, advocate for yourself by researching the real and potential dollar value of your contributions to the family in your area.
As you face decisions about how to separate and divide all aspects of your family’s life to this point, be sure to carefully weigh past impactful financial decisions and current gender gaps that make for greater risk of financial failure for women.
If you need help working through the financial decisions of this time, let’s get in touch and start the conversation.