Divorce can be difficult even in the best of circumstances. One of the common challenges I see clients face is dealing with the household budget during divorce. In my experience, people who proactively budget during a divorce can help create a better outcome for themselves. These outcomes are a result of planning, spending intentionally and preserving important lifestyle choices and assets.
Here are some personal financial considerations that I have found useful for people going through divorce, especially if you have a tight financial budget.
Be Practical and Realistic
It’s hard to be practical at an emotional time, but it’s important to recognize your financial situation. I’ve seen people make short-term decisions that cause them long term hardship.
One of the first things people learn in divorce is that separating means you are likely going to have to support two households on the same income you had before. Divorce may also create lifestyle changes needed to support the children, a new career, education or downsizing life to fit your future budget. You’ll also have to find money to pay legal fees and/or make the time to properly represent yourself in your legal case.
Wouldn’t you rather plan and control for change than accept the consequences later?
Identify Changes That Need To Be Made Soon
Think about what immediate changes that might need to be made. Two things to keep in mind:
- Don’t worry about every possible thing that ‘could’ change, instead focus on things you feel are very likely to happen in the next few months and those with the biggest financial impact.
- Don’t plan for changes occurring after the divorce (yet), just focus on your immediate financial needs for the next few months.
Here are a few common considerations to help get you thinking:
- Is one party planning to work more or less now? Will that affect income or expenses?
- Is either party planning a major life transition such as going back to school or leaving the area?
- Is either of you moving? How much will that cost?
- If you are separating, will you now have to support an additional household? What about furnishing the new residence? What about deposit and rent costs; how will those be paid?
- If either of you is hiring a lawyer, who is going to be paying for that and from what money?
- Will big things need to be sold soon, like a house, that neither of you will keep? If so, what are those financial impacts?
- Are there any debts that will become a problem soon? An example may be a foreclosure or a debt in collection.
If you have children:
- Do you expect new daycare, transportation or school changes that may affect the budget?
- Will work schedules have to be changed to accommodate new time-sharing with the children?
Understand Your Current Finances
Get an understanding of your current household finances. Without it, it will be difficult to evaluate if anything needs to change, or if so, what changes or how much is needed.
In Florida, you’ll have to complete a financial affidavit when getting divorced. If you have already done one, then you already have most of what you need! If you haven’t, then put together a list of the following:
- Identify your take home income (including any support you receive)
- Identify all of the expenses you’ll need to pay (include expenses for your spouse if that is the current arrangement). If you are planning to make changes, like moving to a new residence, you can estimate what you think those expenses will be.
- Identify your marital assets. These are things you own like your home, car, bank accounts, household items, etc.
- Identify your marital liabilities. These are things you owe like credit cards, mortgages and loans.
Subtract your expenses from your income. This will show what income you have left over after paying your expenses.
If it’s negative, then you are spending more than you make. If you continue this pattern, it will increase your debt and/or reduce your assets.
If it’s positive, congratulations! But keep reading!
Consider Your Spouse’s Finances
Do you have any understanding of your spouse’s income and expenses? Will their actions be impacting you? Would they make big financial decisions without discussing them with you first (ie, selling a retirement account, quitting a job, buying a new car, making big purchases)?
Prioritize what matters most
Think about what aspects in your life matter most. Here we are not talking about finances. Examples of priorities might be keeping a home, getting children into a certain school, a desired time-sharing schedule with the kids or moving to a new city. If you haven’t done so already, consider setting goals for your divorce case!
Knowing your priorities will help you decide how to adjust your budget. You might want to review some of our goal setting information here on our website as well!
Adjust Your Budget
Now that you know where you are financially, what your priorities are and what your short-term finances are like, it’s time to adjust your budget. Make changes to try to keep expenses within your available income and avoid depleting your hard-earned assets or adding new debt.
You should also re-work your budget as the divorce case progresses. Ideally you should leave the divorce process with a budget in place for the future!
I have seen too many people damage themselves financially in a few short months by making too many unplanned, emotional and impulsive decisions.
This is a great time to seek advice from a financial planner; especially one who is experienced working with couples going through a divorce. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from an experienced attorney or financial expert!