Things To Consider As A Mum Before Divorce
Posted by: Sue Atkins
Making the choice to divorce is an incredibly difficult and challenging decision to make.
Sometimes it is agonising as you become transfixed in fear about whether it’s for the best. Is ‘the grass greener on the other side’ or is it really better to stay with ‘the devil you know?’
Will the children be damaged forever by the change, will I be happier, what will it do to my partner? How will I manage financially? Where will we live?
These questions often go round and round in your head, particularly during the night.
Before parents chose to separate, they often ask other divorced people how they knew when they were done.
“What was the deciding factor? How did you know it was right?”
No one has the magic answer as it is different for everyone but that said, at some point, they knew that divorce was the answer.
There is always a defining moment.
I’ve had clients who can tell me exactly when they made their mind up from ‘ he came home drunk again and put bread in the toaster – as it popped up I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore’ to people lying on the beach in ‘paradise’ in St.Lucia where they have nothing left to say to each other and realise ‘there’s got to be more to life than this.’
I wish I could tell you that, once you decide to divorce, you’ll never doubt your decision but that would be a lie. In the end, though, I know it was the right choice for me even if it was a really hard one and it’s not all plain sailing afterwards.
So if you’re considering taking the plunge and severing your marital ties, here are some things, as mums and potential single mums, that are helpful to think about.
I remember sitting down on a Saturday evening with a hot chocolate, instead of a glass of wine, and pulling up the Excel Spreadsheet that my ex used to manage as a Chartered Accountant and feeling like I was having a panic attack as it was in such a mess.
I took a deep breath and decided there and then I was going to get to grips with the huge mess no matter what it took. So I began the hard decision to shine a light on each mess and take small actions towards sorting them out. It took me many weeks and months of stress as I also had to open 6 black bin bags full of unopened mail that I discovered hiding in a cupboard but I did it. I mastered my fear and it was about being brave and facing the problems, not hiding from them.
You really mustn’t put your head in the sand.
The 1st steps are about finding out information.
The next steps are about being incredibly practical.
In the end it boils down to 2 things: the children and the money.
I believe from knowledge comes confidence, clarity & empowerment.
So start with your bills and outgoings.
Write a list, create a spreadsheet – whatever way feels right for you.
Look into your credit.
Are you able to support yourself?
How much marital debt have you acquired?
There are so many things to be considered before heading for a divorce. I am not a financial planner or an adviser. I am also not a lawyer. What I can tell you, however, is marital debt, (as well as your assets) is typically split and that maintenance is not guaranteed nor is it typically permanent. This means you should evaluate your own means of income to see what you are capable of bringing to the table financially, as well as your own individual credit debt.
If you’re thinking divorce, it would be a good idea to speak to a lawyer as well as an accountant or financial adviser simply to get a sense of where you might be headed financially.
The biggest fear is around money but a little investment in a trusted and recommended professional will help you to make good decisions NOW that will have a good long term impact on your whole life going forward.
On the whole, divorce is hard on both parties financially. No one walks away feeling euphoric and rich, unless you are a celebrity & the media have sensationalised their story. It’s rare to see a mother or father walk away from divorce financially intact. Talking to a professional about whether you should be paying debt down or considering putting money aside instead (if it’s possible) is the wisest move. A lawyer can also give you some frame of reference in terms of what you might be entitled to financially from your spouse (or if your spouse is entitled to any money or property from you — yes, this happens!) as well as child support advice and guidelines.
What if I haven’t balanced or managed my own books before?
You’re NOT alone. I delegated the finances to my ex, well as a friend pointed out , you would wouldn’t you, seeing as he was a Chartered Accountant? I have also worked with really successful professional women who delegated this to their husbands, to stay at home mums, but If you’re not in charge of money now and never have been, a tutorial is in order!
Savvy Ladies, a nonprofit organisation that brings financial planning education to women, is an excellent resource for mothers looking to educate themselves financially.
Look also on Savvy Woman https://www.savvywoman.co.uk
What if I am not working?
If you’re not working, you may find that that will change.You might be advised by a lawyer to hold back on going back to work in order to get the most amount of money, so go with your legal advice first, but getting yourself set up in work again is important, if you’re not already working, as it gives you control, security, independence and financial ways forward on your own. When I separated, I was working for myself but I made sure I took on full-time work in addition to my freelance work as we started to move through the divorce process.
It felt less scary than relying on my husband.
The fact is I wanted to rely on myself and be totally independent and if you have children it gives you a degree of independence going forward in an uncertain time of change and transition.
This is the hard fact of reality going through the process. You may feel emotionally exhausted but you also have to face the legal and financial side to the process too.
The big question I ask my clients when I’m working with them on my 6 week Divorce Coaching Programme is, ‘This is going to be tough but will it be worth it?’ If they answer ‘yes’ I know they are ready and I’m there to be their professional and compassionate soundboard, confidante, cheerleader and independent coach who asks them the often difficult questions to help them find their own answers.
I always say that divorce is a process NOT an event and financial stability is no joke as a mother, and it is scary when you are first out on your own. Do everything you can to get a sense of security yourself before making this big choice, if possible.
Your Child Care Resources
What will your child care scenario look like? You may or may not know what type of custody your partner will want, but you should have a good idea whether or not you will have some support and help either from your family or from a childminder, or from the free childcare help offered by the government for younger children, but you need to think about this NOW as you plan going forward as you’ll need more help juggling everything after your divorce.
If you think you’re going to be left to your own devices with very little help from family or friends, you may want to start interviewing babysitters now, explaining to your partner that you’re simply looking for reliable, regular help with your children. Nothing else needs to be said.
If your divorce requires your children to go to day care, Breakfast Club, or an After School Club start now exploring prices and information as well. This will take away any shocks and overwhelm and give you some confidence for if and when the time comes.
Your Living Situation
A lawyer will be the best person to give you feedback on what could happen to the marital home. If you think there’s a chance you might have to move out, start researching areas around you and near enough to your potential ex-spouse. It is a good idea to get an idea of what the cost of living is like, as well as rent.
A lot of people assume that dads will just be weekend dads and not co- parents but that’s not the case today. Many parents are doing 50/50 splits or at least doing more than the standard every-other-weekend dad routine.
It’s not the divorce that your children will find difficult but the level of conflict between you. So put respect, dignity and adopt a business like arrangement when you are dealing with your ex at the heart of the process.
Be flexible around co- parenting as it really is important for your children to see their Dad and for him to be actively involved in their day to day lives.
Mentally prepare yourself for what it will be like to share your kids. It won’t be easy all the time. And to be honest, there is nothing that can prepare you for Christmas or holiday time without them, but focus on raising happy, confident, independent, resilient children free from trauma and rancour and you can’t go far wrong. Take the bigger picture.
Your Children’s Perspective
Be prepared for a potentially challenging time as you all adjust to the changes. I have written many articles around this subject that you can explore in my Divorce Archives. You know your children better than anyone. So ponder and reflect on some of the potential setbacks they could have, as well as how you might help them through it. I wrote my pack of ‘Talking To Children About Divorce’ Conversational Cards to start the often difficult conversations off – you can explore them here ->
Talking To Children About Divorce
The Top 20 Questions Kids ask about Divorce
Talking about Divorce – Legal Conversations
Don’t leap into another relationship too quickly without doing what I call ‘The Work’ on yourself.
Divorcing is a major life change so don’t try and replace what you have lost immediately – yes you will grieve, feel loss, feel lonely but work through it. It’s more honest, it’s a chance to discover who you really are now and what you want out of life going forward. Lots of exciting things happen in time – in what I call The Phoenix Stage
Read my 7 Stages To Recovering From A Divorce article
Don’t get out of marriage expecting to jump into something successful right away. It doesn’t happen. If you choose to divorce, be patient with love.
Some people don’t have a very realistic picture of what it will truly be like to divorce. Yes for some it’s a relief, yet for many it’s painful for longer than they imagined.
Talk to friends but don’t join the ‘Pity Party’ or the ‘Let’s slag off my Ex All Night Club.’ It keeps you trapped as a victim, swirling around and stuck so ask yourself the tough questions or work with me, as I’ll ask them! Listen to things you may not want to hear.
It’s not always ‘fun’ to have lots of time to yourself as you will experience a host of other situations that none of your friends would ever want to deal with.
Money is a worry. Starting over is challenging. But over time you will rebuild your life, laugh again and have fun – you can create a more compelling future for yourself. It’s about your mindset and attitude.
Ask yourself what staying in a loveless marriage teaches your children about love.
Most parents I work with have agonised over this very important decision it’s not made on a whim as sometimes governments or the media like to have us think.
Take some time to reflect on things you can do to take responsibility for what went wrong but don’t beat yourself up unnecessarily or get stuck in guilt.
Learn to forgive your ex but more importantly learn to forgive yourself.
If your partner is abusive, however, then it’s time to get out ASAP and seek legal advice.
In a Nutshell
This article is not intended to deter you from divorce. Sometimes a divorce is absolutely inevitable, and the best thing to do for everyone, including your children, but as a Mum, preparing yourself for what life will be like as a divorced single Mum is important. Divorce is a big life change and it’s not all going to be a bed of roses.
But if you feel deep down that you know the answer, then don’t let your family, or your religious beliefs, or ‘what will the neighbours think’ deter you from personal happiness and fulfilment. No one else can answer for you whether divorce is the best choice or not, and that’s the hardest part about all of this, it is your choice, but get informed in all areas from finances, to childcare. Take wise small steps, based on consideration, not impulsive decisions made in anger, towards empowering yourself into a new phase of your life.
As Socrates said, ‘The Secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.’