Complications always arise in divorce and money negotiations. If you’re one of the 25% of American mothers staying home to raise a family, the financial implications of a split become more complex. Stay-at-home moms will have to plan their financial futures accordingly.
If you didn’t have an iron-clad prenuptial agreement in place when you married, your divorce might involve a lot of negotiation. Child support, custody, visitation rights, property division, and debt are all going to be on the table.
The questions and answers are different in each case, but one of the key issues is always whether you were a working or stay-at-home mom. That factor can determine how much you know about your household’s finances, the amount of money you have access to, your options for the future, and whether or not you’ll get alimony.
Divorce laws differ in each state, and there’s very little legislation on spousal support. If you’re not careful, lawyers can engage in endless back-and-forth tussles debating the issue, sending legal costs skyrocketing.
If you’re a stay-at-home mom, you need to take action to look after yourself and your children’s day-to-day needs. When that involves securing alimony, there are some practical steps you can take.
Collate All Your Financial Documents
If you haven’t neatly filed your tax returns, investment account statements, details about loans and mortgages, and any other financial documents, make sure you organize them now.
You should also find out if you’re entitled to collect social security benefits from your Ex, and you may have to familiarize yourself with other family-related expenses too. The idea is to get a clear picture of the financial situation in your mind. That may be daunting if your Ex handled all things money, but it’s the first step in negotiating a fair settlement as a stay-at-home-mom.
Find Out the Value of All Property
Get an up-to-date valuation on your primary residence, plus any other houses, apartments, vehicles, or other assets that you’ve acquired together over the marriage. This can get a little messy later on if your Ex withholds information, and you have to resort to forensic accountants to uncover hidden assets. However, for the time being, try to remain as civil as possible.
Get a Good Handle on Credit
Even if everything goes according to plan, divorces cost money. Going forward, two households need to be maintained instead of one. That’s two sets of rent or mortgages, insurance plans, and utilities—just for starters.
The fact is, there’s a good chance that you’ll need to rely on credit somewhere along the way. Find out your credit score using one of the reputable online checking sites and improve your current rating if possible. Settling old debts or long-term loans will give your score a boost.
If you have a good rating, banks will be more willing to extend your line of credit. This could help to cover your monthly expenses when you’re in a pinch.
Consider Plans to Return to Work
If you’ve never worked or left the workforce many years ago, you’ll probably feel uncertain and anxious about joining or rejoining the proverbial rat race. There’s certainly a lot to consider, including what skills you have, those you need to develop, and what you want out of your career.
From an alimony point of view, your future employment plans could affect whether you ask for temporary or permanent spousal support. The type of support you request may determine how a judge rules in a contested divorce, or what your Ex offers if the divorce remains uncontested. Think about this when you’re considering jobs, and when setting a goal for how much you’d like to earn.
Create Possible Budgets
Armed with all the financial and career information you’ve gathered, create budgets that deal with several possible scenarios.
What would happen if you sold some—or all—of your property and split the proceeds? How much do you spend on groceries, and how much can you expect to spend in a month if your Ex is sharing custody?
You should also work out how much all your monthly expenses (insurance, phone plans, et cetera) add up to. And while it can be challenging to work out how your career would have developed if you’d been in the workplace instead of at home, financial analysts and job experts can make it a lot easier. Their services do cost money, but they could result in securing you more funds down the line.
Retain an Attorney
Divorces are undoubtedly difficult, but you can handle them amicably, and that’s what almost everyone wants. That’s why so many people choose divorce mediation, and why it’s something you should at least consider.
Having said that, you should still retain a divorce attorney. If mediation is successful, you’ll be using your lawyer a lot less. However, you’ll still want the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have a legal expert who is helping you vet offers from your spouse, or whose reviewing things from your perspective and how they will impact you long term. This is critical to making sure you have protected yourself. One of the biggest mistakes women make throughout the divorce process is that they don’t plan adequately FINANCIALLY for their future.
If you are looking for support, education, and a community of like-minded, resourceful women, you’ll be interested in Annie’s Group, our powerful, virtual group coaching program for women thinking about or beginning the process of divorce/separation. Read more here.
Consider Divorce Mediation
With all the data you’ve collected and your budget scenarios, you’ll be in a great position, potentially, to talk frankly with your Ex. You can discuss the children’s needs, and what you require to continue being the mother your kids know, love, and deserve.
Mediation is a time to negotiate fairly. It’s about people and families rather than lawyers and money.
Be as honest as possible; for example, don’t say you’re not planning on going back to work when you are. As tough as it is, be respectful towards your soon-to-be ex-spouse, regardless of who decided to leave. This creates the best-case scenario for a fair divorce that’s granted quickly, giving both spouses and any children the chance to move forward with their lives.
Caution: If you never had access to the finances in your marriage, your spouse controlled everything regarding money, or your spouse is accustomed to negotiating with lawyers (in work or otherwise), or there was any form of deceit, lying or betrayal in the relationship, you are NOT a good candidate for mediation. Mediation is about two parties being on an equal playing field and being transparent with each other. If you never had that, don’t expect it to magically appear with the help of a mediator. Use a traditional divorce attorney to advocate on your behalf.
Remember That You’re Worth It!
As a society, we’re still learning how to value stay-at-home moms and caretaking versus breadwinning in a marital or domestic situation.
Often, stay-at-home moms don’t receive long-term alimony. This is because judges are increasingly recognizing that the historical gender disadvantages have lessened. As a result, judges may award short-term alimony, but will require that stay-at-home moms will need to seek employment in the future. However, the time you put into running a household, rearing children, and supporting your spouse’s career is invaluable. As you enter these negotiations, remind yourself—and your Ex—of that fact.
Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.
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