This post is in collaboration with TIAA to empower women experiencing divorce, encouraging them to take control of their financial future.
When we're young, many of us have a vision for how our lives may turn out...we are living an amazing life, we have a successful career, we are married to the person of our dreams, we are raising amazing children, maybe we have a family dog...and for many of us, that vision actually comes to fruition. We get married, we raise a family and we live happily ever after. However, it doesn't happen for all of us. Or if it does happen, it may not last long.
In my early 20s, I met a man with whom I thought I would spend my life. We were happily married for a while, in fact, I was blissfully happy. Then suddenly, I wasn't. Things went south and when they did, it wasn't pretty.
You see, I grew up in a very traditional, old fashioned household. My parents had a very traditional marriage; my mother never worked, my father was the sole income provider, and I was taught that divorce wasn't really an option. No one in my family got divorced, it just wasn't something we did. Yet, here I was. It wasn't my choice. I fought it. I fought for it. It was devastating to say the least. While it came as a complete shock, and out of the blue - at the same time, it didn't. There were signs there all along, and I think that somewhere in my subconscious, I knew that my marriage was unraveling. I'd already saved a nice sum of money for my taxes that year (as a self-employed person, taxes can be quite a bit, so I'd always save a big chunk of change for tax time). I didn't have any debt solely in my own name, my car was paid off and I refused to buy a new one because I didn't want car payments. When I stepped back and assessed my situation, I realized that I had been mentally preparing for the worst case scenario.
I took a look at my life. I looked at my daughter, just finishing her junior year in high school, I looked at our home (our FAMILY HOME). I looked at...I looked at everything. I sat down and really thought about our lifestyle - Angeline and mine - and how much our day to day lives really depended on the financial security that my husband's income provided. It was substantial. While I earned quite a bit with my blog, my husband earned more...
We've all heard stories about women who lose everything in a divorce, who struggle to make ends meet. It may seem shallow and superficial, but I didn't want to lose my lifestyle. We had a really good life. We traveled a lot, we had our nail appointments, we went out to eat, Angeline was about to need a car...of course we didn't NEED these things in order to be happy in our lives, but they sure help! I didn't want to wind up like one of those women who were financially devastated because her husband left her. I didn't want to struggle with bills, or have to say no when Angeline needed something. I didn't want Angeline to suffer in any way; losing her stepfather was bad enough. So many things change when you get divorced, the entire family dynamic changes. I didn't want to add to that stress and hurt by also going broke!
To learn more about my story, watch this video.
So I stopped crying. I sat down and looked at our bills, our debts, our assets. Our divorce process went so quickly. Looking back, I am actually shocked at how quickly the ball began rolling once set into motion. Within 10 days, we were meeting with a professional to help walk us through the paperwork.
However, I didn't wait until then. Within a few days of my husband telling me he wanted a divorce, I was searching alimony laws, information about the laws in Florida, and coming up with a plan. I was NOT going to be taken advantage of. I wanted to take control of my financial future. Within a week, we were creating separate bank accounts. He removed me from his phone plan, his car insurance, and I was opening up new credit cards in my own name (we'd only had joint everything during our marriage).
We sat down and went over our debts, our assets.
I made my case. I explained why I wanted our home, why I wanted our property in North Carolina - these were things I'd purchased from my grandfather and I wanted them to stay in the family. It made sense to him, and he agreed to let me keep them, even though they were really our only assets. I was fortunate when it came to our debts, because I was not a big spender, and most of the debt was for things he'd spend money on. I argued that he should take all of the debt because he had a solid, stable income and I did not, as I was self-employed. I was also left with the financial responsibility of raising Angeline, whereas he would walk away with ZERO obligation to her expenses because he had never adopted her.
These were all things I focused on while I was also hopeful that he'd change his mind. He moved out within a few weeks - three weeks, to be exact. It was a really emotional time for me, but I tried as hard as I could to set my feelings aside and make sure that I was taken care of, and that Angeline was taken care of. I've seen so many people go through a divorce and then later realize that they were taken advantage of because they just didn't have the strength to fight for themselves. It's understandable! Divorce is like a death, and I was definitely mourning, grieving - it was the hardest thing I've ever gone through.
Divorce changes everything...but I didn't want to let it change my life any more than it had to. I wanted to continue living the same life I had led for 14 years - just without my husband.
I recently collaborated with TIAA to help women who are going through similar situations. Some of the stories I heard about others' divorce process were heartbreaking. I don't know where I got the strength to fight for myself during my own divorce process, but I want to let people know that it can be done. Women don't have to lose everything. Isn't losing your marriage bad enough?
I encourage you to visit TIAA.org to learn more about you can take control of your financial future!