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Real Talk About Women and Money

This week's question: How do I handle my husband who's being a bastard about our divorce?

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Dear Emma,

Help! I thought I had the rest of my life all planned out, but then my husband of more than 25 years dropped a bomb: He says he’s no longer in love with me, doesn’t think he ever was and wants a divorce. As if that’s not horrible enough, he’s being a bastard about the whole thing. As a big-shot executive, he has always made the majority of our money, while I’ve tried to grow my floral shop and focus on raising our two kids. Now he has hired the most expensive divorce lawyer in town and is fighting me on every point when it comes to money — child support, maintenance, equity on our home, retirement funds — you name it. I thought I knew this guy — and I thought he was an honest, loving person. I’m so, so, so, so, so, so angry!

The worst part is that he has zero interest in how this affects our children. Without significant support from him, I’ll have to sell the house, move the kids to a new high school (they’re juniors and seniors!) and work a couple of jobs just to make ends meet. The kids will have to go without new cars (which we’ve promised them forever), and the designer wardrobes they’re used to — and forget about college funds. I can barely afford my crappy lawyer, much less try to get one to compete with his. I just don’t know what to do.

Singed in Cincinnati

Dear Singed,

You have a lot going on here. Your whole life as you knew it is now topsy-turvy, and you can’t see straight. Which is totally normal. The man you thought was devoted to you and your kids seems like he is having a moment. Let’s hope it passes and he snaps back to the good guy you assumed him to be. But until then, I want you to do four things:

1. Go find the best damned lawyer you can. Explain your case. Tell them how much your husband earns and lay out all of your assets. Ask about the likelihood that a judge could order your ex to pay your attorney fees. It sounds like you may have a very good shot.

2. Fight as hard as you can on behalf of yourself, but mainly, fight like hell for your kids. Do your absolute best to hold this man financially accountable to his children.

3. Fight only as long as it makes sense. Fighting takes time. It takes money. And it takes so, so much energy. You must be the best steward of your family’s time, money and energy resources. Accept what you cannot control.

4. Pour your energy into what you can control. If you focus on your ex, what he should do, how much he should pay — you miss out on nurturing the positive parts of your life. These include:

Build your business. You said that until recently you were focused on raising your kids, with the business as a side note. That must change. You are now responsible for much more of their financial well-being. You’re also much more responsible for your own financial well-being. Get serious about what it takes to make this baby flourish. The fruits of this enterprise will be far greater than just the income it produces — this will be a vehicle to independence (which, until now, you lacked), stronger self-worth (which no doubt sustained a big blow when your husband revoked his love) and a sense of control. Plus, you will provide such a fantastic role model for your kids who will watch you grow this business. Plus plus, your kids are almost grown! They don’t need to be “raised” any more. They need a strong role model.

Downsize. No matter what, when families divorce, there’s less money to go around. Accept this. A major step in feeling secure in your next chapter of life is to live within your means. Do you really need as much square footage? Can you easily afford your car payments? Looking at your bank accounts monthly without fear is a giant step in moving your family’s future. In addition, moving out of a home you shared with your now-ex will provide a psychological reset button that will help propel you forward. Maybe the time to relocate to smaller digs will come after the kids go away to college. Don’t be one of those women stuck with a big house, bigger mortgage and huge real estate tax burden with no kids at home. Those chicks are the worst.

Keep it real with the kids. It’s natural for a mother to want to protect her children from pain. But you don’t help them any if you sugarcoat their realities, or try to maintain a lifestyle that you simply can’t afford. They are likely to face future changes: a new home, a new neighborhood, new relationships in their parents’ lives. And you will likely have to cut back on many of the extras they’ve grown accustomed to, like nice vacations and a sense that their college educations would be paid for. It may feel devastating to take these things away from them — but if you do so with a sense of optimism and confidence, you may find that your children will learn valuable lessons that otherwise would’ve eluded them, had you not faced these challenges as a family.

Emma Johnson blogs at WealthySingleMommy. She is a freelance business and personal finance journalist, and mom of two. Send her your questions at emma@emma-johnson.net

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