Divorce is never an easy decision, but when finances are a major factor figuring out how to leave your husband can be even harder. In this blog post, nine women share their stories of how they left their husbands – and how money played a role in that decision.
Each woman offers her own unique financial advice, ranging from how to protect your finances during divorce proceedings to how to manage money as a single parent and build your career after divorce. This blog post is packed with information and advice to help you make the best possible decisions for your future.
Check out Part One Of This Series: Am I Ready for Divorce?
(Content warning: Domestic and spousal abuse discussed)
- Divorce can be an empowering transition for women, especially if their husband controls money as a way to control them
- Many women assert their own financial priorities as they build their new financial plan
- There are many small, positive steps women can take to ease the financial burden of the divorce process and improve their financial security
Why do women leave their husbands?
There are many reasons why women leave their husbands, whether it’s a first marriage or a second marriage: different money values, a lack of communication, emotional or physical abuse, or infidelity. Most often, it’s a fundamental incompatibility that becomes clear over time as your relationship develops and you grow in different ways. The good times end. But no matter the reason, leaving an unhappy marriage is a major life event and never an easy decision to make.
“Everybody’s journey is unique,” according to Divorce Coach, Claire Black. “Lots of people take a long time to decide to divorce. Others find themselves facing a sudden separation, which can be shocking and scary.”
If you’re considering leaving your husband, a solid plan for how you’ll support yourself and your children, during and after the divorce process no matter how much time that takes, will reduce that shock and fear.
Assess your financial situation
Before you decide to leave your husband, the best thing you can do (after ensuring your safety) is to understand your money and how divorce will impact your finances. It’s a journey both necessary and empowering.
“My clients are often surprised to discover that they are savvy financial managers,” according to – Kelly LaVallie, a happily remarried accountant who specializes in serving divorced women. “They are often surprised about the discoveries they make regarding the family finances including high debt loads or overspending and embrace a more conservative approach to their own financial management.”
Claire Black agreed, “Many of my clients are amazed by how empowering it is to take control of your finances, especially if this was a role your partner used to take. When you take control, step by step, you can make informed decisions, and take conscious control of your future.”
How to start understanding money
One of the best ways to get started is to gather important documents and information about any joint account and credit report. And as I always say, FREEZE YOUR CREDIT.
Shortcut: we have a complete leaving your husband checklist to help you!
Once you have this information gathered together, it will be much easier to make informed decisions about your life after the relationship and how you will care for your children.
Priorities for divorce and after divorce
By assessing your finances, you are working toward two things: an understanding of what you need in a divorce settlement and a clear vision of your financial starting point post-divorce.
The goal in any negotiation is an outcome that works for everyone. “Seek a mutually agreeable financial arrangement,” advised Erin, a divorced mom. “whether that includes the division of assets, child support, or both. Making this a priority will help give each party more control of their financial destiny as a single parent.”
Move toward your own financial values
A financial deep dive also allows you to build a good relationship with money and to build a vision for your financial future. For a lot of women, that means living different values around money.
“My ex was somewhat irresponsible with money and put a lot of emphasis in “keeping up with the Jones'” said divorced mom Erin. by buying new toys, including cars and… a boat. I was opposed to buying the boat and it came at a time when I already felt that the marriage was in trouble. For that reason, I insisted that it be in his name only.”
She wasn’t the only one whose marriage pulled her in a financial direction she didn’t want to go. “We incurred a lot of debt “keeping up with the Jonahs” especially living in Los Angeles. The debt buried and masked a pain and void already prevalent in the marriage. I’m now more successful and wealthier than any year of my marriage. I also manage it on my own and never have to ask or account for something I decide buy to treat myself. Love it!”
Money awareness = financial security
This process of getting to know your finances can also benefit you in the divorce process. Documentation of every joint account and asset and copies of important documents will help your lawyer build a strong case for you.
“No matter how much you trust your spouse, you want to make sure you win in the court of law. I also made sure to always keep an updated copy of all financial records in a safe place,” said Maria, a divorced woman. “After the divorce, I was awarded more than I expected and the paperwork was the only thing that proved how much money we made and how much we had in savings. I recommend following these steps to any woman going through a divorce.”
Build a financial bridge
“Once I finally made the decision to leave, I did start making some plans. I didn’t quite realize it at the time but I had sort of an advantage that allowed me to make the preparations that were most important,” said Linda, who is living her best life after a long marriage and harrowing divorce.
“With years of experience dealing with the ugly side of my husband, I was able to predict the most probable moves that he would make to try to hurt me, or exert power over me.”
To protect yourself as you cross a bridge to your new life, you will need to start building your own finances, which starts with a separate account and credit card.
Build your emergency fund
Additionally, it’s a good idea to have a proper emergency fund and family members who support you in leaving your husband. You and your children might not need financial support, but even a good man can behave erratically when their marriage ends, so a separate bank account your spouse can’t touch provides a minimal safety net.
“You are entering into an important negotiation and if you are in a desperate situation, that will negatively impact your ability to enforce your rights and reach a strong final settlement,” says Kelly LaVallie. “Consider using your savings, asking for help from close friends or family, or arranging for interim support with the help of your lawyer.
Protect your finances in the divorce process
The divorce process can be a lean time financially. When you file for divorce, you leave your husband, but not your joint finances. Also, the divorce process can take longer and cost more than you anticipate. Having access to money during the divorce process will allow you to comfortably pay for your living expenses and professional fees.
Kelly LaVallie has great advice on this. “Similar to building a house, divorcing will likely take far longer and cost far more than you anticipate. Make sure that you have a personal and financial plan to get through the “divorcing” phase as comfortably as possible. Ensure that you have access to money to pay for your living expenses and professional fees.”
Money needs during the separation
The details will differ from relationship to relationship, but every woman leaving a marriage will need access to cash in a separate bank account, both for her needs and for her children. Make sure you will have access to money during the divorce process before you leave your husband.
“Once we began divorce proceedings I insisted that we make it a priority to divide up assets, finances, and accounts, and sell cars that we jointly owned,” said divorced mom Erin. “My priority, above solidifying custody arrangements, was to become completely financially independent of him since I knew that it could quickly make or break my ability to successfully be a single parent.”
Claire Black points out that the process of leaving your husband is not just a matter of a legal or financial journey. “It is also an emotional journey, and the emotional journey can derail the legal. It’s also important to feel emotionally ready for the legal process.”‘
Save money for both you and your kids
If you plan on leaving your husband, you need to start saving money. The first reason for this: many women find themselves cut off from joint funds when they leave a marriage. The second is that both during a separation and after a divorce is finalized, there is a lot of financial instability, as accounts and assets change hands. An emergency fund or savings buffer can go a long way.
Saving money without a job
And that is particularly challenging for the stay-at-home mom or a woman who is changing jobs.
“Financially, I had been preparing to leave as I safeguarded some funds for my departure. Becoming a single parent came with lots of fears including financial ones as I had no job when I left the marriage…” said Dawn Burnett, a divorced mom who now mentors other women going through a divorce. “However, I chose to squash the fears, live in faith and the past 13 years have been the most magical years of my life.”
Child support and savings
When you are leaving your husband, it is important to have access to funds to support yourself and your children. This may mean setting aside money in a separate account before you leave or having a financial plan in place. It may also mean putting aside your feelings of financial independence.
Erin, who is now happily remarried, shared the guilt she felt about receiving child support each month. She also had great advice on how to translate that help into financial security for her kids.
“It felt greedy and dirty, but I knew that if I declined it or settled for less, I would regret it and feel resentment every time my ex bought a house, car, vacation, etc. Years later, I no longer “need” his child support payments so I stock them away in our son’s savings account for any big ticket items that may come our way, like an unexpected medical bill or our son’s first car.”
I also want to flag that women fleeing domestic violence have a hard time saving, because 99% of them are also victims of financial abuse. More on that in the bonus section below.
Increase your income
Nearly every household run by a single woman is less wealthy than before the divorce, especially in the early years. That is why it’s so important to focus on raising your income, through advancing your career or adding income through side gigs.
I love the way Kelly LaVallie discusses this part of the journey.
“I preserved my earning capacity. Balancing my career and motherhood, especially when my kids were young, was challenging…Now that my kids are older and I have witnessed many friends and clients struggle to find work – I am grateful that I persevered through those early years.”
Prepare for financial surprises!
When you leave your husband, you are opening a pandora’s box of surprises. Divorce Coach, Claire Black recommends you focus. “Work out what you can and can’t control, and focus on what you CAN control.”
Over 70% of women get a financial surprise during divorce, whether it’s finding out about a hidden bank account, discovering their husband has run up debt in their name or being hit with unexpected bills. Perhaps the best way to ride out some of these surprises is savings.
Surprises from erratic behavior
But sometimes, it’s crazy behavior.
“I knew that one of the first things he would do was shut off my cell phone,” advised Linda. “So, I purchased a track phone and started putting my contacts in it, waiting for the day that he would take me off the phone plan with no warning. As expected, that day did come.”
Financial surprises might include your husband hiding assets, incurring debt in your name, or shutting off joint accounts. It is important to freeze your credit, think ahead and be prepared for these surprises, and have a plan in place. You can’t control his behavior, but at the end of the day, you know him well and can be prepared for it.
Manage money as a single parent
Becoming a single parent can be overwhelming and scary, especially when it comes to money. But with a little preparation and planning, you can make the transition much easier, and even open up financial and career opportunities. Many women mentioned this difficult time resulted in greater wealth.
“With more responsibilities as a single parent, I had to charge more for my work. To charge more, I got to raise my skills. Actually, the divorce was the catalyst in my growth in my career…The divorce pushed me to grow as a person,” said trauma healer Winnie Wang.
Single parent money mindset
As a single parent, you may feel like you are constantly juggling and struggling to make ends meet. For many women, this requires a much greater focus on earning, budgeting saving, and a great deal more discipline.
“I had to learn to change my mindset,” reported single mom Maria. “What I never expected was how much my life would change financially. I’ve been divorced for a few years and [it] has been an exciting and fun challenge, but I’ll be honest with you, financially it’s been a struggle. I have to focus so much more on what I spend and how I spend it… I guess what I learned is to never give up on yourself and to learn to be happy with the life you have and the challenges you take on.”
Grow your income and advance your career
That mindset shift is the make or break factor. But many women I spoke with mentioned it’s not just a survival mechanism. The good news is it opens up opportunities in the long run.
“Once my divorce was finalized I made my list of things I wanted to accomplish. I successfully completed the list in just seven years and even graduated from college!” reported divorcee Linda, with her usual enthusiasm. “I now have my bachelors in construction management and I’m in a position that I love, working for a prominent architect in my area. I also stay involved in volunteer work in my community. I find that it helps me to meet new like-minded people and just feel good!”
Everyone gets a new life
While Linda’s enthusiasm might seem rare, almost every woman I interviewed reported that her divorce, despite all its challenges, opened up a new life.
“It is 100% possible to create an exciting, fulfilling and joyous life after divorce…It can feel impossible in the early stages to see the opportunities divorce can give you,” said Claire Black. She advised you “Set your intention from the start – ask yourself how you want to feel in a year/5 years’ time. Keep that intention in the front of your mind.”
Build a team – divorce lawyer, family member, family therapist
You’ll need all the help you can get, so it’s important to build a team of supporters. This should include a family lawyer, a trusted family member or your best friends, and even a family therapist for yourself and your kids. Mental health is important.
This sounds very expensive, but it is possible to put together through local resources (legal aid group, lawyers or a family therapist that offers a sliding scale, friends and family members calling in favors from professionals).
But it is extremely important, as Maria shared. “The best decisions I made in order to protect myself were to not sign anything and to get a lawyer who specialized in divorce cases. I wish I had known about an accountant to help me plan my taxes, a lawyer to help me protect my finances and home, and a coach to help me get through it.”
Build a new financial plan
Once your divorce is underway, it’s time to build a new financial plan for yourself and your children, if you have them. The basic foundation is to establish your own credit and own bank account, but from there you can start to think about how you save and spend money. The next step is to build a path to real financial independence.
Bonus: Women leaving an abusive relationship
Many of the women I spoke with were fleeing a domestic violence situation, and you can read more about how they found the courage to go. Leaving an abusive relationship can be a difficult and dangerous process. If this is you, there are additional considerations.
The first step is always safety. If you are in immediate danger, please call 911. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233) can also help you create a safety plan and connect you with resources in your area.
Build an exit strategy
Women leaving an abusive relationship need to be more thorough with their exit strategy and support. Check out our articles on how to prepare to leave your husband and the leaving your husband checklist for ways you can increase your financial security before you pull the ripcord.
Additionally, women leaving an abusive situation are likely to get popped to the front of the line for a pro bono divorce attorney or family therapist. Seek out these resources.
Stay strong and don’t give up
One of the overwhelming themes of women I spoke with was that the start of the journey and the end of the journey look very different, both personally and financially.
Kelly LaVallie, an accountant who works with women navigating divorce and happily remarried herself, says that the process of regaining knowledge and control over your finances is life-changing.
“I see that transition build their confidence, not just with respect to their finances, but more deeply with respect to their ability to handle whatever comes their way. This ensures their resilience in the face of setbacks including death, disability, or job loss of their mate, or divorce.”
At the end, according to Linda, what you will gain from the journey is substantial.
“When all was said and done, I realized that I had regained my own sense of identity and freedom, something that I thought was long gone when I was in the thick of the turmoil.”
Final thoughts on how to leave your husband
Leaving a husband peacefully is never easy, but when finances are a major factor it can be even harder. In this blogpost, nine women shared their stories of how they left their husbands – and how money played a role in those decisions. We hope their stories provided you with some insight and, most importantly, some hope for a happy new future where you can thrive.