The 6 Steps To Surviving Divorce
How to prepare yourself financially and emotionally for surviving divorce?
|Written by Tom Yeung, CFA | CDFA
Investment Advisor & Fund Manager, Jurnex Financial Advisors
As a financial advisor who specializes in women and families, I’m often asked by clients about surviving divorce. My clients know that I’ve gone through a divorce myself, and so I get it. No matter how common divorce has become, it doesn’t make it any easier.
Fortunately, help is available. There are plenty of support networks that help people during their divorce. These networks also help those who are considering a divorce but aren’t entirely sure.
There’s a lot of fears and uncertainty that comes with making the decision to divorce though. So to help put you on track, I’d like to offer my six steps to surviving divorce.
Why YOU need to survive divorce
Firstly, it’s important to understand WHY surviving divorce is so important. And I mean this in a figurative way.
Life doesn’t stop for us during a divorce. Your responsibilities, like your career, kids, and mortgage doesn’t suddenly get put on hold. It certainly didn’t for me.
But I’ve known people who have broken down and stopped trying during a divorce. Everyone does it for a different reason. Some do it out of anger to their spouse. Others simply feel unmotivated, as if their internal flame has died. I’ve seen people literally break down in front of the TV, unable to do anything else.
But you know you have to deal with things. Perhaps you’re still at the stage of figuring out whether you can work things out. Or maybe you’ve already decided to check out of the relationship.
Ignoring divorce issues leads to more problems
No matter your stage, it turns out that 27% of women delay or avoid getting divorced at all because they’re afraid whether they can afford a divorce.
But guess what are the top causes of divorce?
Besides personal issues, financial reasons are the leading reason why people decide to separate. That’s why when it comes to divorce, I highly recommend people reach out to an investment pro to get a sense of where they stand financially. Not only can this help you regain confidence in your decisions, but it can also put you on a stronger financial footing for the future.
There are so many moving parts in a divorce, and being able to set money issues aside will help you think more clearly about your relationship.
The Six Steps To Surviving Divorce
Now that we’ve covered WHY you need to take care of yourself in divorce, let’s take a look at the six steps to take in surviving divorce.
1. Seek out the right support
Seeking out support can be one of the best ways for surviving divorce. You don’t have to go through a divorce alone. Having the right support network can be an incredible source of energy and motivation during times of stress.
Be wary of well-meaning advice. If you hire a lawyer, make sure they are aware of the relevant divorce laws in your particular state. Rules and regulations can vary greatly between states, and finding the right advisor can make an enormous difference. Finding the right tax accountant can also make a big difference. Keep in mind there are certain one-time federal deductions for separating couples that can greatly reduce your taxes.
Here are some key places to seek support.
1. Family and friends
Family and friends are often the best place to start looking for advice. You should find people who know you well and won’t just give “feel-good” advice. The best advisor will be someone who is honest about their feelings and can give you unbiased guidance if you need it. It might be difficult to get push-back from a close friend, because emotions can run high during a divorce. But that’s why honest advice is so important. Honest feedback will help you navigate the many pitfalls of divorce.
2. Psychologists and therapists
Professional psychologists and therapists are another area to look for support. Don’t assume that seeing a psychologist shows weakness on your part. Separations can be one of the most traumatic life events that people go through. And therapists are professionals who have been trained to guide people through these times. Remember that seeking support can actually be a sign of great courage.
3. Community and religious groups
Getting involved in your community can be a great way to build new connections during and after your divorce. We often don’t realize how many hours we spend with our spouse. Post-divorce, it’s important to continue building strong social connections.
4. Divorce groups
Check your local listings for divorce support groups. These are groups that meet to discuss relevant topics. They are often done with help of a mediator. Make sure you find the right group as well. Some support groups thrive on exploiting people in distress. Make sure you find a group that has your best interest in mind.
5. Divorce coaches
Divorce coaches are professionals trained to help people through divorce. There are a number of certifications available for divorce coaches, but you’re primarily looking for a coach who fits well with your personality. If you do better with a strong listener, make sure you find someone who matches that.
2. Have a plan for your finances
In a study conducted by Francis Financial, money is the biggest concern for women going through a divorce. A survey of 150 divorcing women found that among the top three concerns during divorce, 86% listed money, 74% listed children’s welfare and 70% listed future living situation.
Divorce often brings out feelings of insecurity. That’s why I suggest that you reach out to an advisor who specializes in divorce to help you make a financial plan. The last thing you want to do is put yourself in a bad financial situation during a divorce.
Create a budget for your spending
Total living costs generally increases after a divorce. Costs that were once shared now have to be split between two households. These expenses can include major items like housing and health insurance plans. But there are also less obvious expenses are easy to overlook. Hidden expenses can include increased grocery bills (from being unable to buy in bulk) and increased transportation costs for childcare. Creating a budget can help you keep costs under control and reduce stress.
Create a long-term financial plan
Divorcing couples should also create a long-term financial plan for themselves. According to the WDM survey, 64% of respondents said that a financial advisor would have been helpful to them during their divorce. However, only 35% of participants worked with a financial advisor, and even fewer found an advisor that specializes in divorce. According to the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts, having a specialized divorce financial planner can provide significant benefit to divorcing couples. That’s because having a detailed financial analysis done can uncover major issues in proposed divorce settlements. Settlements that seem reasonable may in fact have hidden faults. This is an important step in finding fair and equitable settlements for separating couples
Learn how to manage your full financial picture
According to Prudential, women generally focus more on day-to-day financial matters such as paying the bills and maintaining the family’s budget. Men tend to concentrate on investing. Once a divorce is finalized, you will find yourself having to deal with both the day-to-day as well as long-term investing. Make sure you educate yourself about finances, and prepare for independent living.
3. Spend time with your children
Divorce creates emotional turmoil for the entire family. For children, the situation can be even more stressful. Numerous studies have shown that, if handled poorly, divorce can be highly detrimental to children’s sense of well-being. But showing love and support to your children can reverse the effects. As John Bowlby writes in A Secure Base:
“In essence [the role of parent] is one of being available, ready to respond when called upon to encourage and perhaps assist, but to intervene actively only when clearly necessary.”
Helping your children can also help you cope with your divorce
Although it may sound counter-intuitive, talking with your children about your divorce can help both you and your child cope. Openness with your child will remove their fear of the unknown. Remember that half of all marriages end in divorce; it is important that you show your children that divorce is nothing to be ashamed about. In fact, divorce is often the right thing to do for couples with irreconcilable differences. Just remember how important it is for children to know that they are loved and prioritized in your life.
Helping reduce stress for your child can also reduce stress for yourself. According to a Harvard study, the emotional rewards for making others feel better comes back many-fold to the giver. Social connections are extremely important between parent and child, and nurturing that connection in times of stress can be beneficial for both. Remember, “the influence that parents have on the pattern of caring that their children develop starts very early” – John Bowlby
4. Keep your mind and body busy
Keeping active has been proven to help build happiness. Even mild exercise 2-3 times a week can improve people’s mood significantly. That’s because exercise releases endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. These are natural hormones that are essential in helping people maintain a level of happiness.
Being busy is a vital part of human existence
Humans thrive on self-improvement. And when you’re busy, you’re constantly improving. Albert Bandura of Stanford University writes “A strong sense of efficacy enhances human accomplishment and personal well-being in many ways”. He points out that efficacy:
- Makes you expect to succeed
- Allows you set challenging goals
- Gives you greater motivation to achieve your goals
- Helps you reduce self-doubt and negative emotions
When you’re busy, you don’t have time for negativity
Humans naturally focus on only one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is usually no more than rapid task-switching. So turning your attention to performing meaningful day-to-day activities will actually reduce the amount of time you spend dwelling on negative thoughts.
Keeping busy allows your mind to focus on the more positive things in life. That’s because when you’re focusing on the task at hand, you end up with a good kind of tunnel vision. One that can help you excel at the work you do. This is especially true for creative or intellectual pursuits. Try picking up a book or an old hobby and see how it can help you build a more positive image.
5. Accept help if it’s offered
Feelings of negativity can be extremely overwhelming for people going through divorce. Many divorcing individuals feel guilty about leaving their spouse. These emotions can culminate into feelings of pain, anger or despair.
This negativity can cause you to reject help when it’s offered. It’s natural to worry that people are only being nice out of pity. Or that accepting help can make you seem weak. It’s a strange irony that during the times of greatest need, people are often the most reluctant to accept the help.
Accepting help is a sign of strength
You must remember that a separation will be one of your life’s most traumatic events. The people close to you understand this, which is why they would offer help in the first place.
“The truth is that we all have gifts to share – time, talent, connections, insights, experience, skills, resources, hospitality. And most people love to share them!” – Margie Warrell
Rejecting help is often bad for both the giver and the receiver. The giver feels hurt that their help has been turned away; you’re depriving the giver of an opportunity to help you. The receiver is also worse off. So change your mindset. Accept help as it’s given. It takes a lot of strength to admit to others that you need help.
6. Have a plan for your future
Divorce can mean significant changes in your life. And surviving divorce means you must re-write much of your plans. There are eight dimensions you should consider
1. Physical environment
Consider where will you live after your separation. Will you move or live closer to family? Should you downsize to a smaller residence to save money?
2. Career and profession
Will you need to change careers, rejoin the workforce or go back to school? Retirement can also be an option for aging divorcees.
3. Finances and wealth
Remember that separations can significantly change your financial situation. You should consider updating your financial plan to reflect your new life outlook. This includes reviewing investments, retirement plans and day-to-day budgeting.
4. Friends and family
Separations can often lead to the loss of social connections. Consider if you should seek new social connections or strengthen your existing ones. Will your family play a different role in your life now?
5. Fun and recreation
You should also consider how you will spend your free time. Separating couples often find they have a lot more personal time to do the things they enjoy.
6. Health and fitness
Physical wellness should be a high priority for people going through stressful situation. Will you make any changes to your health and fitness routine?
7. Spiritual development
Do you have a plan for your spiritual development? If you aren’t religious, can you find fulfillment elsewhere in volunteering work or other service?
8. Romantic life
Even if you won’t remarry, you should consider whether you’re open to dating again. And make sure you leave enough time to let your own mind settle before reaching out and finding new romantic relationships.