Thought they could count on their husband's income, savings
and retirement to protect them -- and suddenly they can't.
While divorce is hard at any age, for women nearing midlife
whose time and energy has gone into their families -- not themselves
-- it's particularly important to shore up financial positions
before a crisis strikes.
The Financial Fallout
I don't mean to make my gender sound weaker than we are. Plenty
of women are not only equal financial partners in their marriages,
they'll fight tooth and nail for their share if it ends. Look
at Anna Nicole Smith.
But Marian, 51, one of the newest members of the Women in Red,
says most women don't protect themselves. And she would know
-- not only because her husband left her eight years ago without
a job or a dime of support for herself and her three children,
but because she's now a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
(CDFA) and she sees women get worked over all the time.
The No. 1 financial mistake women make? Marian and other divorce
experts agree: Nothing makes you more vulnerable than ignoring
money matters while you're married.
"Complacency is rampant in women," says Harlene Miller,
a bankruptcy lawyer in Santa Ana, Calif., "If you don't
know what's going out and coming in, if you don't know what
the debt is or how much is left over each month, when a crisis
arises you're going to have a real problem."
Expect the Unexpected
It may be daunting, but it's never too late to put yourself
on firmer financial ground -- even if your marriage is thriving,
and especially if it's not. "At the first inkling that
your marriage may not last, begin being proactive," advises
Marian, "but you should really be proactive from day one."
Get savvy. Take Miller's pop quiz:
If you can't answer
all of those questions, start digging for answers. Some experts
suggest that spouses swap financial duties once a month so that
both partners learn how the family's finances are run.
what you're signing when you sign the tax return -- or anything
else, for that matter," says Gayle Rosenwald Smith, author
of "Divorce and Money: Everything You Need to Know."
Always read the mail, advises Smith, and if the mail goes to
your spouse's office or a post office box, that's not a good
A big financial stumbling block for women is when they have
to go from two incomes to one, or from his income to hers. Prep
yourself by knowing any and all household expenses.
Make sure your name is on all assets (house, car, boat or other
property) and on all investment accounts. If you have valuable
antiques or collectibles, keep copies of the appraisals.
If your job skills aren't current, find ways to make them so.
Take a class, get a part-time job, volunteer to work in a friend's
Marian was shocked to find that many of her clients don't have
a credit card in their own name. "It's essential that you
establish your own credit before you leave the marriage,"
she says. If you're worried about falling into debt, applying
for even a secured card can help to build a credit record --
which you'll need if you have to rent an apartment or lease
a car, for example.
ready to downsize. The
style to which you've been accustomed may not be the style you
can afford, post-divorce -- a fact many women find hard to accept.
But keeping up appearances can lead to big debt; single women
with kids, many of them divorced, have the nation's highest
bankruptcy rates. Consider a smaller house or apartment, a cheaper
car or a tighter budget, at least until you're on your feet.
When a marriage crumbles, many women just want to put the whole
thing behind them -- which is often the worst financial move,
says Marian. "It hurts so much, you just want to get him
out of your hair, but we give up our financial security just
to 'get it over with'."
If things are really rocky, consult with a good divorce lawyer
or a CDFA, or both. Many women don't know their rights, says
Smith, or they have misconceptions about what a divorce settlement
might look like or how much alimony they might get. "A
lot of women think, 'The courts will take care of me' -- wake
up! You have to take care of yourself."
It's scary to think
of a marriage ending. But just because you start taking financial
responsibility now doesn't mean things will unravel further.
If anything, your greater interest, participation and support
around financial issues could bring you closer to your spouse.
Intimacy, after all,
is the deeper issue. For couples who have reared a family together
but perhaps lost track of each other in the process, the transition
into midlife can be unexpectedly bumpy. Rather than let problems
fester -- and possibly face the financial upheaval of a split
-- it might be wise to invest in a better understanding of the
different transitions you and your spouse are facing.
An empty or almost-empty
nest, looming retirement, aging parents, college costs, a stagnating
career -- all the travails of middle age -- these are the major
financial and emotional issues couples need to grapple with.
And in the meantime,
it can't hurt to get your own financial house in order. Just
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