5 financial lessons I learned after going through a divorce
By Natasha Pearce
Oct 20, 2023
Read time: 3 min
There was a time when I felt like the poster child for “We all make mistakes.” The truth is, everyone lives and learns. That’s especially true when we decide to leave a relationship that we thought would last forever. If you’re contemplating a divorce, or yours has already begun, I feel for you. Really, I do.
Mistakes will be made, and that’s okay. But maybe hearing about my experience can help you get through your own tough time. I’ll be honored if it does.
I was the lower-earning spouse. My divorce was contested. I needed to leave my then-husband, who I now know was a financially abusive partner, but there was never a chance for a civilized split. He fought brutally for every penny.
Here are the financial lessons I learned while going through my divorce.
It takes money to leave a relationship
I wish that I’d taken the time to put a “go plan” together—a separate emergency fund I could use to get away and establish a new home—before leaving. Everyone needs their own go plan. I’m not saying to hide money from your spouse, but to keep something separate. Separate. Not secret.
Divorce lawyers get paid up front
Hollywood makes it seem like all you have to do is find a lawyer and they’ll take it from there—and you “pay as you go” for their services. That’s not true. Divorce lawyers normally require upfront payment before agreeing to represent you. That makes it really hard when your spouse holds the purse strings and doesn’t want to let you go. I was in school at the time and wondering how I’d find a place to live, cover my tuition, and pay for my divorce.
Selling things may be easier than taking on new debt
I learned that it’s often better to let material things go. I wish that, once I’d decided to leave, I’d done more to avoid the payday loan trap, like selling more of the things I owned for extra cash.
Divorce loans can cost a lot
I found a way to finance my divorce and my freedom—the hardest and most expensive possible way. I maxed out my credit cards, took out expensive loans, and borrowed from payday lenders. About $15,000 at extremely high interest rates. With a good credit score and reliable income, I might have been able to get a more affordable personal loan instead. Or if I’d understood that divorce can represent a true financial hardship, I might have been able to reduce my debt through debt resolution.
It took me four years to get out from under that divorce debt mountain. At one point, I worked three jobs to make it happen. No one should have to go through that.
Money talks are a component of a good relationship
I regret going into marriage without first having a discussion about finances. How we each felt about money and how we’d handle it once married. In my case, red flags would have emerged and saved me from making a bad decision.
Despite the regrets, I have hope for my future. My next relationship will include plenty of conversations about money. I want to work out ahead of time how we’ll deal with money issues, good, bad, or ugly. It’s not a bad idea to agree before getting married how you’d divide assets if things don’t work out. Don’t fall for the myth that prenups are just for rich people. Anyone can incur sky-high legal bills if a divorce gets heated, and you never know what your financial situation will be in the future.
I’m older, stronger, and wiser now, and more capable of handling my finances than I ever was before. Divorce was a hard way to learn those lessons, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to become the independent woman I am today.