Let’s face it, divorce is expensive. Attorney bills can run in the tens, if not hundred of thousands of dollars. And even if you settle out of court, there’s still the dividing up of assets and possessions that leaves you with somewhere near half of what you started with initially.
But there is another group of expenses that often exceeds those losses, one that couples rarely consider, and that is ongoing living expenses. Only after the divorce is finalized and the parents settle into their new lives, do they begin to see how much their overall standard of living has changed as a result of the divorce.
The math is simple: If the monthly income(s) that previously supported one household must be divided in two, some sacrifices will have to be made—two can no longer live as cheaply as one if they must each maintain separate households. And household expenses, it should be remembered, are much greater than the monthly sums paid for the dwellings. Consider the following:
When couples separate, furniture, utilities, newspaper subscriptions, phone, cable TV and Internet services are all doubled, while car and health insurance, food and wireless services that were cheaper when bundled, go up significantly. New court battles will place additional demands on these dwindling resources. And if one or both spouses remarry, new financial burdens will be added, particularly if the remarriage produces children. And should the second marriage fail, and the likelihood of that happening is greater than for the first, even more demands will be placed o the available money.
To this must be added duplicate items for the children: when the bicycle goes to one house, a second one will have to be purchased for the other house because neither parent will want to be seen as less generous and caring than the other, and this is true for all items, essential and non-essential alike; clothing, beds, towels, doll houses, video games, school supplies, and so on, plus the time and money required to replace, repair and upgrade these items. Certain expenses, such as daycare costs and doctor visits, may be divided more or less equally (assuming both parents are willing and able to pay, which is oftentimes not the case), but for daily living expenses, a safe rule of thumb might be to count the number of kids you have and multiply by two—then add the costs of a second home.
And if, for example, the parents live an hour apart and transfer their children back and forth thrice weekly, that adds up to another thirty hours of driving time per month, plus gas, and related expenses, not counting delays, schedule changes, forgotten items, extra pick-ups and drop-offs, and extracurricular activities that were previously managed through some sort of division of labor, but must now be done separately. In varying degrees, this holds true for most other household activities—efficiency is lost when spouses must function without the support of each other—and as the old saying goes, time is money.
This change in our financial picture, however, does not stop at the home front, but reaches into the workplace as well: the U.S. government reports that half of all single mothers receive public assistance, while divorced men earn between 10% and 40% less than their married counterparts having similar educations and backgrounds. It should come as no surprise then that at the age of retirement, divorced couples have a significantly lower net worth than those who remained married. After divorce, the yellow brick road quickly loses its luster, and life is rarely easier.
Of course, here we’re just talking about money matters, and as we all know, divorce involves a lot more than financial losses. Divorcés also experience significantly higher numbers of early death of almost all the major diseases, as well as higher rates of in and out-patient psychiatric care, suicide, physical abuse, accidental injury, and drug and alcohol use. But those are other issues. Here we’re focusing only on dollars and cents. One hurdle at a time.
In summary, although divorce leaves us in a highly emotional state, we should be careful not to let those emotions rule our thinking, particularly those that blind and bind us to the grim consequences of such decisions. Before making that call to an attorney, or presenting your spouse with your decision to leave, make sure that you’ve taken the time to ask yourself if divorce is really worth the financial price you will pay. If it is, then fine, you can move on to the other matters mentioned above. But do you homework first—and make sure that your pencil is sharp.