My Dear Divorcing Moms:
My heart is heavy for you as it is for me. Not only have you had to suffer through the loss of your relationship, now you must determine your and your children’s future over maybe a three-hour mediation and face the long-term consequences of these quick decisions.
The caring for children while healing. The worry about their well-being. The constant waves of grief. And the anger. And now you must plan while in this anxious state. Oh, the stress about it all.
Do not do what I did. My focus became the custody of the children and all the parenting plan details – not the finances.
While I did research and hired one of the best lawyers I could afford, the realistic economic outlook for my life after was a blip on the horizon.
I did find articles on how to plan financially after a divorce as a stay-at-home mother. I did advocate for him to keep paying the children’s insurance and acquire a life insurance policy to secure his child support payments if anything happened to him (note – this was not a suggestion from lawyer but something I read about online from another divorced mother).
In the state where we divorced, it is 50/50 everything – parenting time, medical bills, private tuition, extra-curricular activities. I thought I understood what this meant.
The words from a former acquaintance after his divorce echoed in my head: “She calls herself a feminist but still wants me to take care of her after the divorce. We don’t have kids. We weren’t married that long.”
I also remember hearing others talk about that same divorcee’s recent vacation pictures on social media as her “alimony adventures,” as if to suggest her financial decisions post-divorce were still tied to how much he had to, unfortunately, pay to her.
I would not be like her. Ah, my feminist pride.
My divorce was seen as “equitable” because I agreed to the split 50/50. However, this is a limited perception. And while this agreement seems fair because you may receive spousal support for half the amount of years you were married, what happens financially after that?
Yes, I am highly abundant in some ways. I was able to pay off my house and put some in a retirement account. This is, I know, more than what most people have.
But, long-term, I am distraught.
While I do wholeheartedly believe in the capabilities of women to work, to find meaningful, decently paid work while allowing flexibility for caregiving as a single mom is vastly limited.
I am a highly educated woman. I hold a Master’s degree and a certificate in Women’s Studies. Before staying at home after the birth of my first child, I was an English professor. And before that, I taught high school English full-time.
Educational professions are still highly gendered, meaning a career that is mostly dominated by females, which further means generally underpaid. There are not many opportunities without constant professional development demands (that require late nights, weekend classes) to achieve, once again, limited roles and salaries for minimal upward mobility.
This is important because although teaching provides flexibility like time off in summer, the disparity between a teacher’s salary and, let’s say, a CEO’s salary is massive.
Nevertheless, instead of proclaiming an arbitrary rule of 50/50 in all finances, long-term earning power should be a determining factor for financial decisions. If our main concern is the care of the children, then this idea isn’t shocking or anti-feminist.
If you were a stay-at-home mother for years before the divorce, your financial future is even more imperative.
I have applied to 127 various jobs in three years. I have tutored on the side. I have piecemealed adjunct positions all the while being asked to pay half of a private/preschool school education, medical bills, and other emergencies.
My retirement investment portfolio has substantially decreased in this post-covid economy. Teaching positions are few but have overwhelming numbers of applicants. Scouring the country to find a full-time professor job takes my children away from their dad. This is my reality.
My salary hardly covers the caregiver I must hire to pick children up from school or take them to school in the mornings on my days. And this is not a new concern: we have been rallying over child care costs for years.
Perhaps you may ask why I haven’t requested for the children to move schools or asked my ex to pay more tuition. What if it was immediately shut down? What if I was told that was a clear manipulation tactic, that I was leveraging how much he cares about the children to make him pay for it because it was just another way I was trying take him for everything?
And let’s say your ex has a different “lifestyle” than you. Perhaps they drive luxury sport cars, or just built a new home, only wants their children in private schools, or has a house manager who does laundry, cooks and cleans,, i.e they have more than enough to provide a level of care for your children that you no longer can, a level your ex expects to be the norm.
Well, what is equitable here for all involved?
When does this get seen as an issue on earning power instead of an issue about revenge?
When does this become an issue based on seeing what each parent truly values instead of the well-being of their children?
When does this asking to look at finances in a different way stop being seen as focussing on excuses and victimhood instead of illuminating very real financial concerns for our children’s futures?
The economic warfare between divorced parents must cease.
I wish I would not have been so short-sighted.
But let me be clear – I do not believe stay-at-home mothers are financial victims.
Yes, systematically, we are disadvantaged (lower-waged careers, being the primary caregiver, breaks in work history seen as a negative, etc).
But part of this is our own lack of financial knowledge and giving away our power as independent actors once married. We may have deferred all financial decisions to our husbands.
Or your power/agency/partnership may have been exploited as your ex might not have been upfront and honest regarding finances during the marriage and that is in part why the divorce.
But when I think about it, when half of marriages end in divorce, we are clearly doing both: setting ourselves up or being set-up for economic peril, especially as we give up our earning power to become the primary stay-at-home-caregiver.
Yet, we have power by recognizing our part in the situation. Let me remind you I said a part. This is not all our fault.
We have control in the outcomes of what we advocate for in our divorce. We have control in what we advocate for financially during our marriages.
So, I advise you: please look ahead. Pay attention to your financial future. Do not take your power and hand it over to yet another man, a lawyer, during your divorce.
You absolutely can ask for a different ratio for expenses. You can ask for anything that works for you and your family.
And I know, I am giving you yet another concern on already full plate. I hate that for us. And I recognize here I am asking us women to keep demanding we should be seen and heard and understood in a world that doesn’t always do that.
I’m sorry, honey. Lots of work to still do. The only thing I can offer you to lighten the load is community. I’m here. I am hearing you. I am seeing you. I am understanding you.
We must learn. We must speak. We must. We absolutely must.
(a variation of this article was posted at Divorcedmoms.com )
Emily Brown is an English professor and a writing coach. Her course, High-Conflict Co-Parenting Communication is available on Udemy. She blogs about peaceful parenting, divorce, and how language creates and reflects our values at Transcendingmotherhood.com. Her podcast, EvesDropping, explores the myths and beliefs that make us miserable. Emily resides in the beautiful mountain state of Colorado where she loves finding new trails to run and the closest Tiramisu at all times. If she isn’t spending time with her friends or family, she is reading a non-fiction book while drinking Pinot Noir.