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Ending a Marriage? Don’t Get Divorced from Financial Reality in the Process

Divorce Done Differently by Denise French

Sound financial planning may be the last thing on your mind when divorcing but it may never be more valuable.  A lawyer may be your first call when you decide you want a divorce.  A financial advisor knowledgeable about divorce matters should be your second

In many cases, a divorce has more impact on a person’s current and future financial well-being than any other event in their lives. Sound financial planning may be the last thing on your mind when your marriage ends — particularly if it ends in conflict — but it may never be more valuable.

Divorce happens in an emotionally charged environment.  While in this state of mind, you are making financial decisions which will affect the rest of your life.  It is critical to have a knowledgeable financial advisor on your divorce team walking along side you and your attorney.  Financial planners will give you the overview of financial guidance while your attorney will explain the law and guide you with legal decisions.

In general, for everyone except the very wealthy, divorce will hurt your standard of living. Two households are more expensive to maintain than one, and if one person in the marriage has been a stay-at-home parent, there is less income and assets to go around.  In addition, unless your marriage was short-lived and is ending amicably, you have no children and little marital assets and income, you should consult both a lawyer and financial advisor.

Online divorces are dirt cheap but a good idea only for very simple circumstances with mutually acceptable terms. Mistakes made in a divorce settlement have long-lasting financial effects.


1. Mediation versus litigation:

A divorce settlement mediated with a collaborative approach has major advantages over litigation for the divorcing family. It typically costs less and has higher compliance rates than with litigated settlements. It often requires much less time and emotional turmoil.

More importantly, it can save a parent’s ability to co-parent minor children after the divorce.  The biggest potential downside is that if the mediation doesn’t work, you’ll end up in court anyway prolonging the ordeal.

2. Budget for the long-term:

A clear understanding of your long-term living expenses is crucial to negotiating support payments and a settlement you can live with. That’s particularly so for parents who retain primary custody of children.

Larger expenses such as tutoring, special needs, extracurricular activities, vehicle purchases and insurance, senior trips and college are among the future expenses which need to be addressed in a settlement. Ideally, child-support payments should be protected by term life insurance.

When you come to the negotiating table, it is critical to think about your expenses not just two to three years after divorce but ten and fifteen years out. The more you can discuss about current and long-term needs — particularly if there are children involved — the better.

3. Watch your assets:

Marital assets are not all created equal. A savings account with $100,000 is worth much more than a joint retirement account that will eventually be taxed or illiquid equity in a home of that amount. Make sure you consider the liquidity and after-tax value of all assets and the different risks that they present.

Holding onto the family home could be a very heavy financial burden. While it may be a source of comfort in a difficult time, it could come back to haunt you.  Mothers with custody of children often understandably want to keep the house. Then they come to us, and we walk them through the costs to upkeep the home and a plan to do so, if possible.   We also find it valuable to have older homes inspected to uncover are any potential large costs ahead such as termite damage, foundation repair or major plumbing repair.

If there are more complicated marital assets such as private equity, restricted stock, business interests or even cryptocurrency holdings, an advisor is essential to evaluate and advise on those assets.

4. Mind your taxes:

Like everything else in life, divorce settlements have big tax implications. Understanding how different assets and income streams are taxed is crucial to the equitable division of assets.

It is also important to be aware of less obvious items such as pre-paid taxes which may have been paid already out of the marital pot but could be refunded to or used by a former spouse or tax-loss carry forward benefits if a large amount of non-qualified brokerage funds are owned.

5. Update your life:

The key things to address when your divorce settlement becomes final include updating your will, powers of attorney, beneficiaries, and other estate-planning documents to reflect your changed circumstances.

If you have been out of the workplace for an extended period, think about whether you need to return to it and if you need training to help you get back to work.  If you need training, it is wise to research how much it will cost and negotiate for that in your divorce.  It’s hard telling a stay-at home parent that they should go back to work but in some cases they really should. A person’s largest asset may be their earning capability.  It can help you add to your nest egg and enable a better retirement.

A knowledgeable, experienced divorce financial planner can show you where you will be with or without returning to the workforce and if you are working, help you readjust your retirement plan to get back on track.


Denise French, MAFF, CVA, CDFA, CRPC

Denise founded Divorce Strategies Group in 2014. Divorce Strategies Group was incepted because of her own ugly divorce in 2007. Denise desired to create a firm where others could have a better divorce experience, and to help other children not face the trauma her own child experienced. She helps other… MORE >

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