A guy that I grew up with recently tracked me down to discuss a situation with his marriage that has taken a turn for the worst. His wife of 15 years told him that she wanted to get a divorce. I could hear the pain in his voice. He was devastated. He did not understand why she would want to leave. He wondered if she’d been having an affair. He wondered what he’d done wrong. The subject of divorce blindsided him. He knew that they were having financial problems but he did not think the problems were big enough to end his marriage. The guy that I remember growing up was hardworking, opinionated, handsome, charming, engaging and funny. It was odd speaking to a guy whom I’ve always seen as strong and independent sounding broken down, beaten up and vulnerable.
Divorce is one of the top four negative life experiences. Divorce is a gut wrenching and heart melting. It negatively affects all parties involved. Families and friends are divided, children are caught in the middle, and both husband and wife will inevitably experience a reduction in income and/or an increase in expenses. The reality is 52 percent of all marriages end in divorce. The number one reason cited for divorce is money fights and money problems. He thought his marital problems were money related. I told him that money problems are surface issues. Chances are your values, priorities, goals or methodologies are not in sync. I could help you reconcile your checkbook and your marriage will still be on the rocks. Your marriage can only be saved if you two can come to grips with the fact that you’re on the same team and you want the same things out of life. You’ll have to come to an agreement about the order and methods of seeking the things that you want in life. I asked him why he believed their problems were financial.
He shared with me that his wife feels that he needs to earn more money. There’s never enough money to go around. They’re behind on various bills. She’d prefer he cover all the bills while she uses her money to shop, take vacations and splurge on simple pleasures like massages, hair and nails—girl stuff. I told him this was a classic example of “the spoiled princess syndrome.” She’s been watching too much romantic comedies, reading too many romantic novels and listening to too many of her girlfriends exaggerated stories about how their men place them on a pedestal and buy them any and everything they want. I’ve watched several male clients try to live up to this fantasy. They finance everything including the kitchen sink to provide their spoiled princess with all her worldly pleasures. Reality strikes when they run out of borrowing options and can no longer finance this fake lifestyle nor afford the debt they created.
Wake up Sleeping Beauty and stop looking for a fairy tale prince! You’re dealing with real life, real salaries, real responsibility and real bills. It’s okay to want nice things and work toward having and doing nice and fun things. It’s only logical that you first get current with bills, save a dollar or two and have realistic expectations.
There are two sides to every story. Sometimes it’s the man who’s “the spoiled prince” “lazy bum” or “spendthrift.” I delved into why she believes he’s not earning enough money. I asked how much are you making? Where’s the money going? Guess what I learned. He made good money but he was not properly managing his money. He could contribute more to the household budget than what he’s doing. She had a right to be angry—her reasoning was a little off. I told him that she’s sick and tired of struggling. She doesn’t see you making any changes in the amount of money you make or the way you manage your money. She’s lost confidence in you. She’s lost hope in your situation. She figures that she can do badly by herself. I told him he needs to have a heart-to-heart with her and tell her and show her that he loves her and that he’s going to do better. If she’s unwilling to work it out, you’ll have to create an exit strategy and you’ll have to rebound after the divorce.
Rebounding after a divorce
•Get your swagger back. If you are to move on with your life, you’ll have to pick your head up, dust your shoulders off, and reclaim your confidence and your strut.
•Modify your W4. Your withholding allowance certificate (Form W4) probably reflects married with (X) number of exemptions. Now that you’re single, you have to claim single and your rightful exemptions or risk owing “Uncle Sam” come tax time.
•Change your beneficiary designations. If your ex-spouse is the designated beneficiary on your retirement accounts, pension plans and life insurance policies, etc., you may want to change it or risk leaving your ex-spouse and his/her new spouse sitting pretty.
•Update your will, living will and power of attorney. Do you want your ex-spouse to inherit various assets? Do you want your ex-spouse deciding on major medical decisions for you? Do you want your ex-spouse to have control over your finances should you become unable to make decisions for yourself? If not, you should update your will, living will and power of attorney.
•Close all joint loans and credit cards. A divorce decree and separation agreement may spell out who’s responsible to pay certain bills. However, if both names are on the loan, both spouses are liable. Close out all loans and credit cards and transfer balances to accounts listed solely in the name of the person who’s responsible to pay them.
•Special handling for re-titling of homes and cars. To get name off a title, deed, mortgage and car note, you’ll need expert help to ensure that you do it right.
•New lifestyle and expenses should mirror new income. The most common mistake divorced couples make is trying to maintain the same standard of living, lifestyle, and expenses they had when they were married on a reduced single person income.
(Mortgage and Money Coach Damon Carr is owner of ACE Financial. Sign up for Damon’s FREE Online Newsletter at www.allcreditexperts.com. Damon can be reached at 412-856-1183.)