Are you getting ready to file for divorce? If so, I recently wrote about four critical steps you need to take: 1) getting your financial paperwork in order, 2) assessing your credit, 3) opening your own bank accounts, with enough money set aside to fund your divorce and 4) assembling your professional divorce team. If you haven’t read that article, I encourage you to check it out.
Today, I’d like to back up a bit, and encourage women to begin their mental preparedness even earlier, by rejecting two pervasive societal mindsets: 1) that being divorced means there’s something wrong with you, and 2) that in marriage, men should handle the finances.
I’d say that as a society, we’re well on our way to dissolving that first mindset. Years ago, when divorce was considered something scandalous, divorced women were heavily stigmatized. We’ve come a long way from those days, mostly because divorce is so much more common than it used to be. Even if not divorced ourselves, we all have friends or family members who’ve been through it. So many people now have some experience of that there’s nobody left to do the stigmatizing!
It’s a good thing that ingrained societal messages about divorce are becoming more neutral than negative. Nobody should feel that divorce brands her as defective or inferior. As our cultural mindset shifts toward acceptance instead of judgment, women are able to take a healthier attitude toward their own divorces. Rather than feel a need to apologize, explain herself or otherwise deal with the opinions of others, a woman can make the legal changes she needs in her life, and move on.
Let’s all do what we can to think of divorce not as a personal failing, but simply as something that happens to some couples.
The second societal mindset — the one that says in marriage, men handle the money matters — is, unfortunately, proving a tougher nut to crack. It’s still common today, even among Millennials, for husbands to handle big-picture finances — investments, insurance, taxes, retirement savings, major purchases, etc. — while wives handle day-to-day household spending and remain essentially in the dark about those more consequential issues.
It’s essential that “traditions” like these become obsolete; however, that’s easier said than done, especially for women who were raised in households in which the wife did not play an active role in family finances. On top of that, financial literacy is not something that’s typically taught in schools. So, if you did not grow up learning how to handle money, you probably have some catching up to do.
But fear not: You don’t have to become a wizard at navigating the stock market. Nobody’s going to require you to develop expertise on trading commodities futures or investing in foreign currencies. What you do need is a solid grasp of your own financial picture: what you own (your assets), what you owe (your debts), your income and your expenses. Why? Because, in essence, divorce is just the legal division of marital assets and debts. You can’t make convincing arguments for a fair division of assets if you don’t know what they all are, and you could easily get stuck paying debts you’re not fairly responsible for if you don’t know they exist.
Don’t put yourself in the position of having to ask a potentially hostile soon-to-be-ex-husband to please tell you what he’s worth, so that your lawyer can argue that you should get half of it! Be in the know long before things get to that point. From your earliest days together, you and your spouse should be equal partners in your finances.
Schedule regular sit-down conversations about your financial status and long-term goals. Remember, your income doesn’t have to equal your husband’s for you to “deserve” a place at the table for these discussions! Even if your husband is the sole earner in the family, you are entitled to full knowledge of and access to all marital financial matters.
Many couples choose to evaluate their finances quarterly, on receipt of investment earnings statements. The important thing is to maintain a schedule that makes financial and practical sense to you both. Stick with it! Clear communication about financial matters goes a long way to keeping a marriage strong. And who knows? You may even find that talking about building assets together keeps you from ever wrangling over how to divide them.
Jeffrey Landers is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.