"I Can't Afford to Get Divorced"; A Case Study

Many of my readers live in a bare bones budget. Some may not be making it through the month financially, and some just barely are making it through. If any of you are or were contemplating divorce, it would be a very logical conclusion that if you aren't making it or are barely making it financially as a married couple, divorce would mean financial ruin for you, and therefore you can't get divorced because you cant afford it. Even if divorce is very necessary for you.

But the question is, is it always like that? Does divorce always mean financial ruin for you? 

My friend, Deb, shared this post with me, about her situation, and how divorce actually eased her financial stress somewhat instead of increasing it. Hopefully her story will give you some insight and hope, that it is possible to get divorced and have your financial situation improve. If anyone else whose situation improved financially post divorce wants to share a guest post with my readers as well, I would gladly take such contributions.

“I can’t afford to get divorced.”

Sound familiar? That was me for several years. Now I realize that financially, separating my finances from my (now ex-) husband’s was the best thing I could have done for myself.

Let me take a step back. Like Penny, I live outside the United States. I am not a U.S. citizen, though my Ex is. This means that when FATCA was introduced, along with increasingly tedious reporting requirements for “U.S. Persons” I was caught in the system, being married to a U.S. Person. My four children are not Americans either, and the thought that MY income, and my KIDS’ money, would be subject to reporting to the IRS violated my sense of privacy. Looking back the U.S. government did me a very big favour because I opened my own bank account, separate from my Ex, due to the new regulations. EVERYTHING that was “mine” or my kids’ went in there. My salary, “my” child allowance, “my” working grant from my national government. The joint account was only for my Ex’s salary and the mortgage payment. All other recurring expenses were paid on my credit card paid (in full) from my bank account. That’s not to say I never transferred money from the joint account to mine to cover the credit card. Oh, I sure did! By the end of my marriage we were a family of six living on under $2570 most months.

Our mortgage was $528
Groceries were around $457.
Municipal taxes were $185.
Water, electric, and gas were $117.
Medical was $115 (including things like speech and occupational therapy for more than one child).
Transportation was $115.
Insurance (non-medical) was $137.
Savings for the kids was $171.
Telecommunications (internet and mobile phones) were $33.
Clothes and shoes were $57.
School and childcare related expenses were $128.
Summer camp (summer childcare) was $171.
We had a loan we were paying off at $151, and another $29 in bank fees and interest (not included in the loan).
And around $285 was disappearing in “bits and pieces” – HOA fees, meals out, transportation for the kids (not included in the $115 above, as it was inconsistent), donations, community events, and holidays.

I could barely make ends meet married, how on earth was I going to do it as a single mom? Yes, I knew that where I live there are some social benefits for single parents; a 20% discount on my municipal tax bill, an extra tax credit on my taxes deducted at source, and a grant designed to help offset back-to-school expenses, paid to single parents over the summer. But I also knew how much of our combined income was mine and how little I could expect from him. After all, you can’t get water from a stone, right?

Well, apparently you CAN get water from a stone and I’m doing better since my divorce than we ever did as a family.

I still live on under $2850/month. Most months. But some months it’s as high as $3150 or $3430 if I get one of my work grant payments or I had extra reimbursables. (For the record, the working grant is not a single parent benefit and we got it even when we were a two-parent family.) I cashflowed a bar mitzvah in February. He contributed $570, I paid over $2850. (I got most of it back when the savings account noted above in the $171 line became liquid, so in the end he was out of pocket around $428 and I was out $857.) I have SAVINGS. That loan? I had to take out some more when he took half the furniture. I’m on track to pay it off two years early. I have more funds than I need available for the (neverending) summer vacation. I have the funds available to pay my whole contents insurance policy up front this year instead of in installments. I just replaced my computer (desktop) and my phone, not on a payment plan. I’ve started to put aside funds for the next bar mitzvah (next year) and closing costs because we have to sell the house and move next summer. I have an extra month’s mortgage payment put aside (in case for some reason he DOESN’T make a child support payment…).

So what’s the secret?

There isn’t one. We waste a LOT less food. (Don’t ask.) We break fewer things and have fewer household repairs. (Again, don’t ask.) I have slightly lower medical and phone bills (really, slightly, the difference is 28/month). I get along better with my neighbours who are more willing to help me out (minor repairs, being available in an emergency so I don’t necessarily need a sitter all the time). Yes, the discount on municipal taxes helps a little, and the single mom school grant helps A LOT (slightly over $285/year per child in grades 1-12). My kids getting older also helps - I will have no after-school care next year, though I will have an extra tuition payment. Tuition is still cheaper. The kids had basically no extracurriculars last year (can be $230/month otherwise), and I’m sure that helped. I don’t know what the upcoming year will bring in that regard. And yes – though for most of the years of my marriage I worked full time, towards the end I was only part time (netting more though than the previous full time job due to reduced child care costs) and I’ve been able to go to full time and bring in a bit more that way.

I know I’m lucky. I know I’m probably not the norm. And even though I was always the one who did the finances, I’m now able to set my own priorities for the family’s funds in a way I was never able to do before. I’m also able to include the kids in some of the decision making, something he was never willing to do. And in that way, I’m able to make sure we can afford what we NEED and a lot more of what we WANT.

Anyone else find their finances improved once separating/divorcing? How did that happen?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. I got married the first time at 24 and divorced 18 months later. It was cheaper to get divorced than married. Did it myself, going to the library (before Internet) and copying the forms for the court. I did save a lot of money in the end because my ex was a drug user and alcoholic. Even though we had a child, it was still cheaper in the long run. So glad I got out of that marriage.

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