Managing Finances During Your Divorce
This is the fourth in a series of posts on dealing with the business aspects of your divorce. This material is adapted from the award-winning book by Ed Sherman, “Make any Divorce Better.” Ed Sherman is one of the founders of Divorce Helpline. His dedication to providing compassionate and cost-effective personalized legal support to those facing divorce resulted in the unique service model that distinguishes Divorce Helpline from other California divorce attorneys and divorce document services.
Trying to support two households on one income is the most common of all divorce problems and a powerful source of fear that fuels conflict. Spending suddenly goes up dramatically while income stays the same. If anything, the ability to earn money is reduced during this prolonged crisis, yet two households now have to live on the same old income. It is the unknown that makes us afraid of the future, afraid of change. What will you live on? How will you make ends meet?
Once your physical safety is assured, your next most important need is financial safety. The difference between a desperate existence and a good life is knowing that you have enough coming in and an emergency reserve that will see you through several months.
Living securely on a low standard of living is far better than a higher standard of living that is always at risk. Many people don’t seem to know that.
Here is a seven-point system you can use to solve money problems and plan your future:
• Make an inventory of assets that you own, bills that you owe
• Study your past spending patterns
• Make an inventory of income that you can count on
• Plan your future spending
• Create a control system
• Seek creative alternatives and set goals
• Review and change
1. Make an inventory of property you own and bills that you owe. Your net worth is the amount by which your assets exceed your liabilities. If you own valuable property after your divorce, you may decide to sell it and use the money for living or for investments. As to debts, any budget you make will have to include a plan to pay them off or discharge them in bankruptcy.
If you find that you are overwhelmed by your debts and repayment makes your budget impossible, you may have to consider plans to reorganize or discharge your debts. You may want to research consumer credit counselors in your area who can help you to consolidate and repay your debts.
2. Study past spending patterns. Gather up all the old records, bills, receipts, and check stubs you can find covering at least one year. Offer to make copies of records in your spouse’s possession and offer to give your spouse copies of your records. If your spouse won’t turn over records you need, a lawyer can force them out through a legal process called “discovery.” If your records are incomplete, make estimates from memory. Start now to save these financial records and track your expenses over a period of time.
Most people have never analyzed their spending patterns and have never made any organized effort to control their spending. If your income is going to become reduced or uncertain, you may have to start some new habits. Consider it growth, an adventure.
3. Inventory income you can count on. What income can you count on? Naturally, you will want to learn your rights or your obligations regarding child and spousal support. How much can you get? How much will you be expected to pay? What is reasonable?
Figure a low estimate for irregular or uncertain income, because if your actual income falls short, your planning will fail and you’ll end up in a squeeze. Unfortunately, speaking statistically, child and spousal support (alimony) are often an inadequate and unreliable source of income. But there’s hope: (1) there are more teeth in support enforcement laws than ever before; and, (2) spouses who reach an agreement have a much higher rate of support paid in full and on time. Go for agreement – divorce mediation is a great way to get there.
4. Plan your future spending. Now that you know how your money has been spent in the past, you are in a good position to make an informed estimate of spending needs in the future. Make sure the spending you plan is no greater than the income you can count on.
If you occasionally take in more than you spend, that money should go to emergency reserves and investments for future security. Everyone should try to accumulate enough savings to live on for several months in case of an emergency. That’s the only way to be secure.
If your spending needs exceed the income you can count on, you have only two alternatives: reduce your spending needs or find new sources of reliable income. Living on a lower standard of living is much better than the emotional stress and insecurity of living beyond your means.
If forced to, you can spend your savings or sell off assets to raise money, but these are non-solutions because you aren’t solving your basic problem of more going out than comes in. When you run out, then what do you do?
5. Create a control system. A budget only works if there is some way to keep track of your spending and keep yourself within its guidelines. You don’t need to label every penny, but you do want to watch your spending by budget category. Keep track of separate categories such as food, housing, insurance, entertainment, etc.
6. Seek creative alternatives and set goals. Now that you have a handle on your income and spending, you may want to set some goals for the future. Be as specific as possible. Creating a reserve of emergency funds sufficient for several months should be high on your list.
Beyond that, you may want to consider a plan for investing in your future. If your budget is too tight or your income is too low, you will want to try to find ways to create more reliable income. This means looking for new work, more education and training, new opportunities, a new career. Read books on careers and consider seeing a career counselor.
7. Review and change. After your system runs for a while, you should sit down and review it carefully to see how it is working. Has anything changed? If so, you may need to change your budget. If you can’t stay within a category, try to figure out why. Adjust and fine-tune your categories, revise your goals.
Problems? If you find the budget process too complicated or difficult, you may need to see a financial or credit counselor for help and support. Consider the consumer credit counselors mentioned above, or you might ask your local bank loan manager or an accountant if they know any professionals who specialize in helping people with budgets.
If you have questions about any aspect of your divorce process, please give us a call at 1-800-359-7004. We’re here to help.