Where's the Money? The Financial Impact of Divorce

By: Gitu Bhatia, Psy D
Last Update: December 27, 2017

The Ripple Effect of the Financial Impact of Divorce 

There are so many changes that everyone experiences when going through divorce. Emotional challenges for both you and your children are paramount to process and heal from. You may experience new legal situations as a result of this split. As much as you may try to shield your children and yourself from the reality – there are frequently financial impacts of divorce that will impact your family.

Both men and women may experience living at a lower economic level, and these economic changes translate into many related changes, such as needing to move to a different neighborhood, changing schools, not being able to afford the health insurance you once had, which can then lead to changes in health care professionals and teachers in your lives, and those of your children. These economic changes can lead to added levels of emotional stress and conflicts that you may not have anticipated or prepared for. It can be specially upsetting if you were not the one who initiated the divorce. Children may feel this helplessness and anger at the circumstances that did not ask for. 

This can cause frustration and anger for both parties and for the children as well – who may not understand the decision making or the dynamics. If you have children, you may feel guilty and responsible to maintain a certain standard of living. While people are married there may be one or two incomes supporting one household. Post-divorce, these same resources are now supporting two households which inevitably leads to fewer resources all the way around. Everyone feels a sense of loss: of self-esteem, change in address, possibly social activities. Some people have to turn to help and support of extended family. 

Your Children Will Undoubtedly Feel the Financial Impact of Divorce  

Children may lash out at a parent because they notice a significant change in finances. We live in a materialistic world and often people's sense of self esteem and confidence is attached to what they have and can buy. It is good to prepare children for the financial changes and talk openly about the emotional consequences and values and attitudes attached to changes in standard of living. Do this without blame, but just as a new reality for the family. Let your children know what is changing, but point out what will remain. And if there is financial devastation – then what remains is your love and care for them.

Maybe you don’t go out to movies and dinner, but you eat at home and watch something fun on TV. It’s the time you spend together that matters. Younger children may not be able to participate in talks about finances, but need reassurance that they will be ok. Older children may want to talk about how they can help – but it is crucial to differentiate between them helping or problem solving, versus feeling responsible for a new, depleted financial reality. Talk with trusted friends or a financial advisor to plan ahead and help the transition to a new financial reality.

Many times the values of the divorcing parties are not the same and their standard of living may end up being disparate. Finances can be an ongoing struggle, which frequently necessitates return trips to court. Look deep in yourself and determine if the ongoing fight is worth it on may levels. Is fighting, or controlling the finances, a way to continue to let your ex know how angry you are? Is the battle, frequently with associated attorneys fees and courts costs likely to have a good outcome? Would it be better to use a fraction of that money on your children and/or a therapist who could help you come to terms with a new financial reality.

Divorce inevitably brings with it a sense of insecurity about the future. Whether our estimation of financial insecurity is realistic or exaggerated, each person has to come to terms with it in their own way. Ultimately, it is important to understand our relationship to money and the relative costs and benefits. 

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