It can be challenging to assemble the pieces necessary for a comfortable existence after ending a marriage. It takes some people several years to feel “right” about being divorced and making decisions independently. If you relied on your spouse for budgeting, cooking, shopping, or even finding daycare, your workload will multiply.
First, collect those documents that comprise your divorce records. These copies of your income statements, divorce decree, tax returns, bills, and lease or deed will all help you map out your next move.
A rule of thumb is to wait a few months before making any significant changes in your life. Let the dust settle and do some short- and long-range planning. You may decide that selling everything and moving to Thailand should wait, or that running a marathon with just a few weeks of training might not be the great idea it once seemed. If you decide to follow through on those plans, waiting a bit will only improve your planning and make the experience better.
Expect a few bumps in the road, like forgetting to pay the bill that your spouse once took care of, or going through periods of depressed binge-watching movies with a pint of ice cream for company. If you can maintain a full-time job, do your laundry, and maintain your health while sorting through your future options you will be ahead of the game.
Finances are the biggest issue for anyone recovering from divorce. If you are going from two combined incomes to living on yours alone, you can expect to struggle. Before jumping into any new financial obligations like splurging on that new sports car, you should request copies of your credit report from the three credit reporting agencies to ensure that you’re up to date on all accounts. If you find a hidden credit card account that your spouse used without your knowledge you won’t be the first person that has happened to. Keep your divorce attorney’s phone number handy for any follow-up advice on resolving this situation.
Even if your spending and lifestyle are already within reasonable means there are many adjustments to be made:
- Is it necessary to move in order to save money? Does getting a roommate make sense instead?
- Establish an emergency fund equal to several months’ pay;
- Budget for retirement savings so that you have ten times your annual salary in an account by age 67;
- Investigate subsidized health insurance rather than going without;
- renegotiate student loans and credit card payments to reflect your change in income, and
- consider a financial advisor’s counsel (or a good book on the topic) to get you on track. And
- prioritize paying off debt with high-interest rates.
Adjusting to single parenting is a major challenge, even if your ex-spouse is nearby. Maintaining a collegial relationship is very important so that financial concerns can be discussed and perhaps relieved through cooperation. Still, your child or children cannot be completely sheltered from changes to their lifestyle. You may want to confer with a psychologist, school counselor, or parenting resource when cutting back on activities due to a shortfall of time or money. Some programs will make exceptions for single parents, whether offering a sliding-scale fee or scholarship.
Showering your child with gifts or other distractions (a puppy!) in the midst of a divorce will only delay any inevitable reckoning and may further damage your finances. Instead of indulging him with material goods, invest more time in your relationship and start an age-appropriate project together, whether repainting his bedroom, volunteering at a pet shelter, or learning a new skill like riding a bike. A shared activity will provide bonding opportunities and open conversations about the future you will share.
What makes you happy? Being divorced allows you time to pursue your interests without compromise: you may now take a long daily walk, get the pet that your former spouse balked at, or turn the living room into an art studio. Focus on things that don’t cost a lot of money or require a big up-front investment. A $10 monthly gym fee is a better deal than a $5,000 home spin bike if you’re on a tight budget.