What My Divorce Cost Me

My money and my dignity, for starters

Divorcing after 20 years of marriage left this 44-year-old mother of two financially devastated and almost homeless. Two years later, I’m emerging from the fog, but I made some embarrassing mistakes along the way.

Let’s go back to 1995. Although marriage and children were never my goals, 23-year-old me ended up making other plans. I became smitten with a man, and a whirlwind romance resulted in a pregnancy after seven months.

Marriage and baby number two soon followed. We both worked full time, and my grandmother helped out with childcare because we were nervous about strangers watching our daughters.

Shortly after 9/11, it became clear that New York City living wasn’t what we wanted. So, we moved north in search of a better life. We were steadily improving our lives and steadfast in our desire to beat the nearly 50 percent divorce rate.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. To get to our jobs, we had to endure a 152-mile commute, which took a physical and financial toll on us both. Most of my income paid for day care, transportation, and the smaller house bills. My husband paid the mortgage (sometimes on time) and spent hundreds each month on gas, tolls, and other expenses that were not in our budget.

I loved being a “permalance” travel writer and fact checker at Brides magazine, a post I held for nearly a decade.

But as my children — and their needs — grew, the few days a week I was required to be in the office became a logistical nightmare. Then, when the recession ripped apart lives, I was laid off. At the time, I made $33 an hour, plus the freelance work I did on the side. I had about $17,000 in my 401(k) and very little debt.

Rather than have me take another commuting job, my husband and I decided I’d try full-time freelancing from home so that I could be there for the girls and their slew of activities. Besides, the math said my inconsistent paycheck didn’t trump hubby’s consistent wages, which were boosted by extras like overtime and holiday pay. I had none of those benefits.

When we were nearing 16 years of marriage, it became clear that divorce was inevitable.

My husband worked overtime, which I felt was unnecessary, while I spent most days alone at home, working for new clients I acquired. The second shift began when the girls returned home from school and lasted until their bedtime. After that, I was alone again — in bed, working and waiting for my husband to get home.

These hours of waiting became longer and longer. I felt inadequate and blamed myself. I even tried to avoid our problems, thinking we could make it work until our daughters went to college. And like many couples going through major marital issues, I did some things I’m not proud of. My antics, too embarrassing to detail, devastated everyone in my family.

I was served divorce papers the day after our 19-year anniversary. Afterward, things spiraled quickly. Many court dates and rulings later, including an order that I vacate our home and pack with the police present, I was shattered. Where could I go?

My best friend generously offered a room at her house, but I was too proud to accept and didn’t want to intrude. I moved in with my dementia-addled grandma at her one-bedroom senior citizen’s apartment complex. I slept on the pull-out couch.

And I’m not alone. One in five women experience post-divorce poverty, one-third of women lose their homes after divorce, and many women do not receive full child support or alimony. Add to those statistics the fact that divorces can cost between $15,000 and $20,000, and you can see my issues.

Knowing we couldn’t work it out on our own and that our joint bank account was painfully empty (I’m talking tumbleweeds-empty), I applied for a “Poor Person’s Relief” lawyer. Yes, that’s the official terminology for a pro-bono attorney.

My newly appointed lawyer’s secretary (who was also his wife) told me how much the firm didn’t need another “free” client. I felt small. Humiliated. Afterward, I shed what seemed like an ocean’s worth of tears.

When the divorce was filed, I’d only made $5,200 so far that year from freelancing. I was heavily depressed, and I’d cashed out my IRA to try and keep up my responsibilities. Bad mistake.

Having to wait almost a year for spousal support led me to borrow money from my grandma for simple things like gas or to pay for the storage unit where I stored some small items from my former life. Eventually, I humbled myself, got a part-time job at the local pizzeria, and sought help from Social Services.

That daunting and soul-crushing process made me question every decision I’d ever made. How could I, an educated, military-raised, black woman in her 40s, have absolutely nothing to her name? Wasn’t I taught better?

Past neighbors avoided looking at me when they came to the restaurant or, worse, if I had to deliver their order. So-called friends fell to the wayside. The loneliness became unbearable. I fell into a dark hole, avoiding social events, networking, and traveling. Looking for work was exhausting. On top of that, my grandmother’s health was rapidly deteriorating, and I needed to stay with her full time to care for her.

Now, two years later, as I wait for the ink to dry on the divorce papers, I’m emerging from that dark place. Things aren’t perfect, but I have a better relationship with my family, thanks to steady therapist appointments, anxiety and depression meds, and the support of others who have also gone through divorce.

I’m working on getting help for my grandma so I can get a full-time job and save for my own place. Plans are being made. They will come to fruition, eventually.

And the funny thing about that divorce rate? According to a 2015 study by Bowling State University’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research, divorce rates are at a 40-year low.

But rather than being ashamed of my past, I choose to believe it’s part of the path leading to my future.


Join the Discussion

48 Responses to “What My Divorce Cost Me”

  1. Joan

    Thank you for sharing your story. I hope this will help others who are in the same situation. Being divorced with children is more common than one would think. The mistake we make is being ashamed. I implore all woman in this situation to shake off shame, and stand strong.

    • disqus_nbnHTKSbAj

      I am going to guess that your husband will file for divorce. You can’t be a nice person to live with- if you are this judgmental to a stranger I pity what few friends you have must endure. You need some balance in your life. Instead of depending on your ” hard working husband” maybe you need to seek your own identity. Seems your very caught up in every ones life but your own.

    • Nancy Howells

      Again, I ask: where did it say that she cheated on her husband? Mine filed for divorce, and HE was the cheater. He filed because he knew damned well I was going to do what his whore asked me to do: shout it from the mountaintops. He can’t stand to look bad.

    • Ariesx3

      why dont you shut up? quit being so judgmental

    • Alva Noonan

      That wasn’t Mad Libs you dont make up pieces to the story.
      Either we read 2 different things or I missed alot.
      I saw nothing about her having sex with all takers.
      So Eli as far as I’m concerned your an asshole extrodinaire.
      She was sharing her story at the hope it opens the eyes of others. If you only have mean remarks to make maybe you need to take alook inside yourself.

  2. LVD

    Thank you for sharing your story. You have incredible strength. I do question that study on divorce rates being at a 40 year low. And how many people are in unhappy marriages that can’t afford to or are just too complacent to get a divorce though?

  3. Vicious vixen

    Thank you for telling your story. The ordeal sounds devastating and I hope your children were unscathed during this time. It sounds like you are in a much better place and I wish you success in your future endeavors.
    I think the divorce is lower because millennials are choosing to cohabitate rather than marry.

  4. Laura Jacquemond

    Wow, Eli, I can’t imagine what kind of misfortunes you’ve endured in your life, but this kind of comment is unacceptable.

  5. Katie

    Actually, if you look at the underlying research, there never was a 50% divorce rate. It was never true that 50% of the marriages started in a single year would end in divorce. There was one year (in the 50s as I recall) in which there were 50% as many divorces as there were marriages. These numbers are not comparable: it measures marriages begun in a single year against end of marriages made ever. But it’s such seductive data that when (I think it was in Time first) it was presented wrongly that it became one of those Accepted Lies that everyone is just sure is true, and figures it must have been researched or counted or…

    And I know you were devastated and I hope your children are okay. One thing I think it’s important to remember in traumatic situations is: You need help! accept it when it’s offered; ask for it wherever it might be found; seek it out in unexpected places. This is not a time for that most seductive of sins: pride. This is a time for survival.

  6. SashaMoniqueTalks

    I was saddened hearing your story. It just shows that there are no guarantees that you will stay in the same income bracket throughout your life. Life happens, and women need all sorts of support during these difficult times. I agree with some of the other commenters regarding accepting help when it is offered. Hopefully you will find your way back and accomplish even more than you did while married. I do not know you but you will definitely be in my prayers. Many blessings to you!

  7. Serene


    • Serene

      Eli, what a potty mouth you have. Yes she made mistakes and she sure is paying for them. I would never shame someone who is just owning her truth. She is working on fixing things now and she needs support. Have empathy , if not don’t speak.

  8. Tanqueray Hart

    Oh, please. This has nothing to do with anything you just said, it has more to do with the fact she disclosed she was a black woman. The moment you saw that, you decided she was unworthy of making mistakes. Check your privilege and realize white women make just as many mistakes as black women.

    • SashaMoniqueTalks

      You are telling the truth Tanqueray! He wants to pick her apart because of her race.

    • Nancy Howells

      Where did it say she cheated?

    • edg


  9. ebony williams

    Really?? You can’t be serious Eli… So what part of this story makes her a whore?? She was married for 19 yrs and had two children with her husband. He left her and she was financially stable at the time. So now that’s her fault?? Maybe your commenting on the wrong story or maybe your comprehension skills are so low that this whole article went right over your head. Well anyways you need to be told that if you do not have anything nice to say then you shouldn’t open your mouth.

    • JAG884

      I think Eli needs a rude awakening. I’ve never read something so sad and read a response such as Eli’s. There’s no way this male chauvinist pig of a so called man has not even a little piece of a heart. OMG how can he comment like that??He nauseates me! What kind of person would say what he said?? Charlize I would like to apologize for this creep of a man. I feel so bad for everything you had to go through.

    • Vannessa Flores

      I agree that all the negative posts are unnecessary! I cried while reading this article. It’s very courages of this woman to have put herself out there by writing about her story to try and help others who may be going through similar situations. Keep moving forward; what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

    • terrilynnmerritts

      She began cheating on her husband with other men which is why he filed for divorce. That is whorish behavior. She doesn’t have the whole story here. She is rightfully ashamed of it. And he didn’t leave her- he filed for divorce on grounds of adultery and the judge made her leave. He got the house and kids. It’s a matter of public record. Yes, it WAS her own fault.

    • ebony williams

      If this information that you have provided is in fact true then she did bring this situation on herself.

    • Tanqueray Hart

      I’m going to hope that you know this person on a personal level and that you did not just goggle her name, because that is some real stalker-ish behavior.

    • Nancy Howells

      There is nothing in her story that says she cheated on her husband. I was dumped by my husband after 21 years of marriage, and HE was the cheater – not me. I did things I found embarrassing, but I never cheated. So please, don’t assume that her comment that she did embarrassing things meant she cheated.

      PS – I also ended up living with others for six months until things got worked out to where I could afford my own place. I have three degrees, and held a responsible job, but it was in the arts, and didn’t pay anywhere near enough to keep up with the house, or an apartment in that area, AND to pay off the debt I inherited because he managed all the money, and had racked up a huge debt on his addictions: computers and sex.

  10. Cranky Franks

    Good God
    I’m praying for you.
    It’ll get better; you’ve got a [stranger but nonetheless] friend in DE.

    Also, fuck whoever that Eli character is.

  11. terrilynnmerritts

    The lesson to learn here is that if you have a good hard-working man as your husband, you do NOT cheat on him with other men! Of course he filed for divorce! Of course you, as the guilty party ,was made to move out and he got the kids. Don’t bring disaster on yourself by dishonoring your marriage and husband.

  12. Nancy Howells

    I didn’t see anything in the article that said she cheated on her husband.

    I had a “good, hard-working” husband. We were married for 21 years, and spent an additional year in the courts. The man said, during deposition, that he’d had “hundreds” of women during our marriage, some online, many in person. He was such a sexual addict he masturbated between meetings at work, in the bathroom. He had video sex, constantly, I know now. I had no clue – we worked different schedules, and he always seemed so on top of everything.

    He controlled the money, and as we divorced, I found out that we were deeply in debt. I, too, could have ended up homeless, but I had friends, and they cared for me. Eventually, I moved back to my home state, and am retooling to have a different career, because my career was curtailed by him, and I never reached full potential. He refused to do the one thing that would have allowed me to do do so – move. He needed the hunting ground of a large city to find new partners.

    I did things I wasn’t proud of, too – but at no time did I cheat on him. Don’t read her statement that she did thins she wasn’t proud of as an admission of cheating. I’m not sure. Maybe it meant that, but maybe it didn’t. I know in my case, it didn’t.

  13. Ariesx3

    wow you are the biggest asshole!! bet you think you’re perfect?

  14. Gary

    You know, sometimes who cheats first is not the issue (even though that is not cool) – the marriage either works or it does not, period. My ex did an Eleanor Roosevelt – we’re married, but deep down she was gay – it does not matter that FDR was a big cheater (which from what I read, he was) – if she was gay, than how can there be a marriage in the “mainstream” sense – which I think most of us really want. Yes, she and her female boss fell in love. So after 25 years – I had to start over – I paid her every penny I owed in child support – and extra (to my daughters) as they needed. Her being overextended was not my problem. Yes, I lost the social club aspect – but still play cards with the guys I care to.

  15. ebony williams

    I didn’t see anywhere in this article that she cheated but if that is true she has to except the consequences of her actions.

  16. edg

    That’s extremely mean and nasty, Eli. I notice you aren’t brave enough to tell your story. After being laid off, only having made $5,200 in a year, because it made more financial sense at the time with her husband working – you’d be financially devastated too. No matter how much you try to shame someone for GASP! having sex and children.

  17. Shelley

    Things will get better. Do not beat yourself up for having to start over. I have started over several times and filed for bankruptcy twice. As long as you believe in yourself and keep trying you will make it work. Find positive people to support you and encourage you. The individuals who couldn’t look at you or offer help were never your friends. Your Ex did not know how to balance family life and work. Most men don’t, so when problems arise they use work as an outlet to avoid dealing with family matters. He chose the path of least resistance by filing for divorce, and blaming you for the mess that he gladly participated in. Just remember to use the situation as a stepping stone and lesson in the journey that is your life…..

  18. Yeomer

    All women, single or married, need the emotional support network of other women. Never judge another woman.
    While you’re in high school, college, and out in the work place, the love that lifted you and made you strong as a child may seem far away when you’re out in the world. You MUST have other women in your life to replace your former daily support from mother, sister, grandmother, and female teachers and childhood friends. Men are great as friends but you need women too. You may feel strong and may think you’re independent, but you will NEVER stop learning from traditional female wisdom. You don’t need a lot of friends, just a few GREAT ones. I made the mistake of having only my husband as my best friend and after a 20-year marriage ended and the kids were going out into the world, I was suddenly all alone. I am blessed by God to have had some amazing women recognize my circumstances and rush to my emotional rescue. Financial struggles were secondary to feeling broken. Every dream and plan I had – dissolved nearly overnight. Much wisdom came flooding in my direction and I eventually came out on the other side of divorce and am loving life and people again. I still love my ex-husband and see him every few weeks since our families are long-since intertwined… but we are both happy now and I see, I was not the right person for his next phase of life. I’m okay with that and I have so much more freedom to choose how I spend my free time, where I travel, and who I surround myself with. For me, it was no accident that God put many angels in my path. God eventually put a new man in my life and I’m in love all over. Now, I try to be that angel for other women in emotional or financial crisis. If you show me a woman who seems to have a smooth sail, I’ll show you a woman who has or will weather some stormy seas. Be there for that woman. We are our sisters’ keeper. Not everything is in our control, but we are totally in control of our own human outreach. When you’re down, lift someone else up, and you will be lifted up yourself as a result.

    • Chanize Thorpe

      This was wonderful to read. Thanks for sharing.

    • Terri

      This is simply amazing. If we all had the grace and compassion you have, imagine what a beautiful world this would be.

  19. Marshonne Walker

    To EVERYONE here calling out this woman for cheating; take a number for a reality check. Having sex outside of the marriage is not the only “not proud of…antics” that a spouse could possibly commit.

    Let’s see… recklessly spending money out of the joint account/fiscal irresponsibility; badmouthing ex-spouse/ reputation slandering; stalking in hopes of catching THEM cheating; physical/emotional bullying… and lots more. ALL of the above are no where committing a sexual act outside a chosen covenant. Yet all of them happen at some point or another.

    Y’all dirty birds need to have several seats. Black, White, Latin, Eurasian, or what ever… don’t throw stones when your own house has glass sides.

    • Joan

      You are right, we should not throw stones. A friend of mine used to say “just live a little”, meaning life happens, things happen, not one is perfect. Eli will get her due, as you can sense, she is bitter and nasty, not normal person is that bitter without some scars or pain.

  20. Joan

    Eli, I pray you are without mistakes in life, your comments were brutal, never judge, let God be the judge. You just don’t now where your life will take you. I pray you never find yourself homeless or in a place of lack.

  21. Melodee Forbes

    Thank you for sharing your story. Please know it isn’t the end of your story, it’s just a chapter that has closed. Your future is so much better and brighter than anything in your past. Don’t give up! <3

  22. Boonie

    You can rebuild yourself up! Don’t give up learn from your mistakes and move on.

  23. Meghann Lynch

    This gave me chills. Thank you for sharing your story. I wish you every success in your new life.

  24. Kelly Pratt

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I don’t see your “mistakes” as all on you. We don’t educate our kids – especially our daughters – when it comes to having our own backs in marriage.

    1995 was the year I married as well – but I was 35. Old enough to “know better.” But I still went in with starry eyes and the belief in partnership and all-for-one, one-for-all.

    I too learned lots of lessons – the biggest was HAVE MY OWN BACK. I went in a successful professional, came out emotionally abused and bankrupt. 12 Years later – I can say that I’m happy – and I wouldn’t change my decision to marry in ’95. I gained some amazing step kids and experiences that I can now share with others.
    However I am still dealing with the challenges and the climb out of the financial quicksand.

    Teach your daughters to have their own backs. Love their spouses, but love themselves the most.

    After all, we are the only people we know for sure we’ll spend the rest of our lives with!

  25. Steven Kane

    Thank you for sharing your story, and your strength. While the traumas and challenges of starting over have been severe, hopefully you will find a fulfilling and happy new chapter, a new purposeful rewarding life to live, and someday all the craziness and difficulties of those tough years will feel like — will be – a distant memory. We’re pulling for you!

  26. Chanize Thorpe

    Thank you for your support! Whatever comment this Eli person wrote, I’m glad I didn’t see it. FTR, my divorce was not based on adultery. Parts of the story were cut out for space. I can only hope that the message I wanted to give is clear–try to be prepared. If things remain intact, at least you’ll have a comfortable future. If not, you’ll have the means to stand on your own that much easier. Thanks for reading.

  27. Terri

    Chanize, you are a remarkable woman, strong and smart and fierce. Your story is far from over – in fact, the next chapter will be the best chapter. Count on it, love.

    • Chanize Thorpe

      Tootie, your support means everything to me. This was a hard piece to write, but I’m glad I did. Preview for the book? 😉

  28. Shannon Christopher

    Oh how I can relate… 30 years of marriage… over. I was devastated. I am so thankful that I can across a resource that taught me how to overcome my fear and get me back out there.
    No sign up cost and first week free.. Finding that resource was the best thing that happened to me.

  29. Ikeyah Williams

    ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ Awww my love. It gets better